Corsair Nationals: These Trimaran Sailors Show Commitment
Here’s a game I invented at the 2013 Corsair Nationals. Ask the owner of any of Corsair’s folding trailerable trimarans for an opinion of the boat—and take a step back. You’ll need some extra space to absorb the superlatives. These people don’t just like their boats: they bear the passions of the misunderstood.
If we poke Phil Styne for his thoughts about the Nationals—his Speedster was first both overall and in the 750 class over the seven races sailed on San Francisco Bay—the good Dr. Styne might reply, “Thank you for the question. But first, can I put a question to you? Name me a boat that can be trailered across the United States, have the mast raised by one person and then raced in 25-knot winds. Name a trimaran that can pop a chute and hit speeds to 18 knots with no problem, that can be folded up to fit a berth of ‘normal’ width, or cruised, if you want to go cruising.
“I’ll tell you, the boat that can do that is the Corsair. You asked about the Nationals? That was fun racing, but the real story is a group of people connected by their boats, wherever the regattas take them and wherever they go in between. It’s like the Corvette Corral at Sebring. We’re a little obsessed, and I’m sorry if I’m getting preachy, but it’s because so many monohull sailors just don’t get it.”
See what I mean?
The nationals were sailed June 13-16 out of the Ballena Bay Yacht Club, located on San Francisco Bay on the south shore of Alameda Island. By comparison to the famed “wind slot” near the Golden Gate, this relatively protected East Bay neighborhood offers warm(ish) milder winds, plus warmer and flatter water. With the seabreeze building through the day, afternoon races included conditions in the high teens and the occasional slap of flying spray, but it wasn’t until the longer, concluding “Bay tour” race that the 20 entries received their wind-slot baptism, and locals could tell them, “OK, now you have truly sailed on San Francisco Bay.”
Jim Lawson, down from Klamath Falls, Oregon, with his F-31RS, WaterWings, allowed that during the Bay tour, “Stuffing our ama at 21 knots was somewhat spectacular. Several sailors afterward were asking what we did wrong—were we scared, did we damage anything? I’ve had the boat 12 years. I just thought it was something that happens from time to time.”
Aboard Denny Gatien’s Yippee Ki Yay, the owner/skipper was getting initiated into this racing thing. Gatien’s first missions with his new Dash 750 had been a Pacific Northwest cruise and then some knocking about in Southern California, mostly singlehanded. “The boat is OK to sleep on, but I also take advantage of restaurants and marinas,” Gatien says. “When I call ahead and tell a harbormaster that I’m 24 feet, my chances of getting a spot go way up, and if I have to fold the boat, it’s an easy 10-minute job.”
Gatien, a retired firefighter and paramedic, spent a month exploring the San Juans before trailering south to sail to Catalina Island and San Diego. “The experiment was a success,” he says. “Now I’m fired up to do the East Coast from Key West to Maine.”
Styne could tell him something about the East Coast, being based in Orlando, Florida, and dividing his time not quite equally between cruising (mostly) and racing. “I liked the Lightning that I had years ago,” he says. “But with this boat we did the Miami-Key Largo Race—about 35 miles—in 2 hours and 10 minutes and came home directly upwind at 70 mph.” Being the owner of a power trawler, a Weta trimaran, and kayaks, the man knows something about task-specific water toys. He reports, “I routinely take four or five non-sailors out on my Corsair, all 24 feet of it, and we don’t feel crowded. I wow ‘em.”
From its former facilities in Southern California, Corsair Marine has long since moved production to Vietnam, apparently without compromising the build quality (“almost bullet proof,” according to Phil Styne) that Corsair owners roundly endorse. This may have some bearing on why the boats have been happy through the years on windy San Francisco Bay.
Travis Thompson calls himself “not quite local,” due to his four-hour commute from Reno, Nevada, over the Sierra Nevada, across the California Valley and through the battleground of East Bay traffic. Even so, the Bay serves as home to his F27, aptly or not named Chaos. He was the regatta’s top F27 entry and overall winner of the final long race out to the central and west Bay waters that are more like his regular fare.
Like Styne, Thompson has pretty much the same it’s-about-the-people take, but from a distinctly San Francisco Bay sailor’s point of view. The Bay is ringed by towns and harbors with sailors who are focused on that central arena, but at the end of the race, on most days, all those boats and sailors disperse along their many separate routes, and that’s it. By contrast, Thompson says, the Corsair Nationals provided a means by which these disparate sailors could get to know each other a little better. “There are people I’ve sailed against for years, but the National Championship was the first time we met. The fact stands out for me, because we’re also small-cat sailors, and cat sailors are always together on the beach before and after, and you want that.”
Thompson’s observation resonates with the observation that, while the Bay’s long seasons of races go on, many of the most popular events are the special regattas that bring people together ashore. A hint to anyone building or sustaining a fleet?
And what could have been more natural than holding a national championship for multihulls on San Francisco Bay in the year of the 34th America’s Cup? Looking far across the waters we could see—blazing fast tracks—Oracle Team USA’s giant racing machine that probably has no future beyond the 34th match. Fine and dandy in that world, but the boats in our more humble ‘hood are going to be around for a while, mark my words. And there will always be one more guy, obsessively polishing the shiny stuff, smoothing the bottom(s) and fussing about the sails, to remind you, really, it’s all about the people.
Photos by Kimball Livingston
Kimball Livingston is an international
sailor, author and journalist. His favorite
boat is “whatever I’m sailing now”
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