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one for the ages

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one for the ages

By now you all know why this particular race meant so much to me, sailing for my friends Catherine and Matt and for the family and friends of many of you. I’ve lost two friends to cancer this year. Both too young.
Two other skippers whom I’ve sailed with for years have recently been diagnosed and treated for cancer.
And early this year I held another friend’s hand while she was infused with chemotherapy drugs. Among my friends these close encounters with cancer are just the tip of the iceberg.
-Paige Brooks.

One reason I think I will have a life long love affair with sailing is there is always something new to learn. I was invited to join the all female crew on the storied Dorade for the Leukemia Cup. This gorgeous classic is a 52′ long 10′ wide yawl designed by a 21 year old Olin Stephens in 1929. After she was built, she went on to win many ocean races. Her new owners, Matt Brooks and Pam Levy have lovingly refitted the boat and are planning to sail them all again. This race was a kick off race for Dorade’s re-introduction to San Francisco Bay. There is a lot to learn on this sort of boat.

My first lesson this weekend was the sails necessary to make a classic yacht go fast. Looking back on my job on the bow, I realized we hoisted one sail per person – a total of eleven sails. Learning the sails and their ranges was the primary focus of our Saturday practice. From back to front, we have a Mizzen Sail, Mizzen Staysail (not in any of the photographs, but it went up more than once on Saturday and Sunday), Main Sail, Inner Forestay Sail (IFS), and Jib. Then there are the 2A and 3A kites, and the only sail we didn’t use on Sunday, the spinnaker stay sail, which is of course the easiest one to deploy because it furls.

But back to the race at hand. The San Francisco Yacht Club’s Leukemia Cup event planners invited only 5 classic yachts to this event, Yankee, Yucca, Santana, Dorade and Copperhead. Dorade’s owners, upon this invitation, decided to bring together and all star women’s crew, many of whom were a part of an America’s Cup challenger team, and others who’ve won Olympic medals, match racing and world championships, Emmy awards, raced around the world, the list goes on…..

From stern to bow we had: Pam Levy (owner and mizzen trimmer), Sally Lindsay Honey (navigator), JJ Fetter (skipper), Melinda Erkelens and Genny Tulloch (head sail trimmers), Melissa Purdy (main), Liz Baylis (tactics), Pamela Healy (floater, mast), Susan Daly, me, and Laurel Gaudot on the bow.

At the SFYC guest dock on Sunday morning, Dorade and Santana were docked across from each other. Yucca was tied up stern to stern behind Dorade. Any one of these boats is spectacular to behold; together in one place, they leave one speechless.

But there was some competitive kerfluffle. The talk on the dock was that Dorade’s handicap rating was changed after the Jessica Cup which they raced the prior weekend, from a rating of 75 to 120, evening her up with the schooner Santana. Yucca, the 8 Meter sloop, was rated 90. With the change on Dorade’s handicap from 75 to 120, we went from owing Yucca 15 seconds a mile to Yucca owing us 30 seconds a mile.

Yucca’s owner felt the number was too high and that we should be more evenly matched, both being long narrow boats built to charge upwind. The PRO Bartz Schneider evaluated the results from last weekend and said even with our new rating of 120, we still would have lost to Yucca by 2 minutes in that race. In the scores for the Jessica Cup, Dorade lost to Yucca by 8 minutes, which is a lot. So he felt it fair (more on that later).

Thus there was that bit of contention among the crew on the dock until the luminaries, Ted Turner and Gary Jobson (who sailed together on the America’s Cup boat Courageous) arrived to sail on board Santana. Immediately behind them was an entourage of photographers, well wishers and a body guard, who traipsed up and down the dock talking to and shooting our group of gals on our 83 year old Dorade, Ted and Gary gearing up to race Santana, and the beautiful Yucca and crew. It was a moment I won’t soon forget. We asked Ted and Gary to come over and get a photo with us on Dorade and they snuggled up on either side of JJ. When he returned to Santana and sat down, Ted looked at us then at Gary and said with that twangy Southern accent, "I want to sail with the girls." However that would have compromised our all girl race plan.

Around 11:30 all three of us cast off our lines and headed to the start just west of Angel Island, only to find flat water and teeny zephyrs. So we waited. And waited.

My second learning item: Classics have cannons.

Small cute little things, cast in bronze of course, and easily mounted on a winch. Laurel, who knows the boat backward and forward, pulled ours up from somewhere down below and mounted it while JJ steered over toward Santana. We worried that the noise may startle them, but they realized our ploy and took evasive measures. We caught up with them and fired our cannon (blanks). It got everyone’s attention in the area and nearly blew out our eardrums. Liz Baylis was our gunner and she was loving the action. We all saluted after our shot across their bow, and just as we did, Santana hit the mallet against their cannon and off it blew in our direction. Liz promptly returned fire. It was enough to get us all laughing, then the wind started to fill and we got serious.

Off the line, Gary Jobson called a perfect start for Santana. Dorade and Yucca weren’t far behind. Yucca tried to carry a kite, but were really overpowered which allowed us to pass them on the reach across the bay to Fort Mason. Upwind we traded tacks, and they came out ahead at the top mark, Blackaller. Parenthetically, the mark is named after another AC legend, Tom Blackaller, who was missed by many this weekend. We chased them to our next reaching mark, now with all 5 of our sails up. I am not sure what happened after that as we had set up to potentially launch the kite if our line was deep enough, then struck that sail and were consumed with dousing our light #1, the wrong sail for what had become much bigger breeze.

We changed to the #2 in an amazing feat well executed by our supremely skilled Laurel on the bow. Both sails have hanks and we hanked on the entire #2 below the first hank of the #1, dropped the 1, switched the halyard, unhanked the 1, hoisted the 2, and dropped the IFS before rounding Little Harding and heading back to Ft. Mason. I have no idea what was going on in the back of the boat, but they easily managed all the sheets flying their way and got the boat around the mark. Yucca was still quite close by. Santana was behind us both, the upwind leg is not the best for schooners, and we still had another short upwind leg to go. Again we traded tacks and Yucca was ahead by a little. One more reach to the middle of the bay and then another possible kite launch at the next mark. Meanwhile the mizzen stay sail had gone up and come back down too. At the last reaching mark we turned down to the finish, Yucca launched their kite and we followed suit. They finished 14 seconds ahead of us.

Whew what a race. The tension off, we knew we’d won the race and beat Yucca, thanks to the rating. The scores corrected out to a win of 4:04 ahead. Bartz later gave Hank Easom a mea culpa and by phone yesterday told me there’s likely to be another adjustment should Dorade race against Yucca in the future. I hope we do race them again. It was a well fought battle on the water. We were enthused and tuckered. And there were still eleven sails and their respective sheets to clean up.

When we arrived at the dock, the entire Yucca crew stood up on their boat and applauded us. A commendable corinthian spirit.

At the trophy giving Gary Jobson called the Dorade crew up on stage to give us our trophy and then presented Pam with a special trophy for raising the most money in our classic class. So to all of you who contributed to my page or to the Dorade page, Thank YOU. The San Francisco Leukemia Cup as of Saturday night raised over $750,000, and I expect will reach a million dollars, all of which goes toward helping battle cancer. We talked about our cancer stories on board, those we’d lost and those we were sailing for. It was an incredible and powerful event. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.  – Paige Brooks.

My fundraising page
The Dorade page