Putting numbers on the centerboards

The locals have a saying, usually uttered as they gaze out upon a racecourse littered with victims, “Welcome to San Francisco Bay.”

It wouldn’t be right to overplay this. Most of the 77 starters in the early races of the 2005 29er Worlds got through their races just fine, thank you. But there were enough casualties to inspire one voice, crackling over the race committee frequency, to wisecrack about creating a new rule calling for “numbers on the centerboards.” Craig Williams’ wake-jumping shot, above, was taken during the pre-worlds.

The championship is being sailed on the San Francisco cityfront, with the boats kept in a temporary, fenced enclosure at Crissy Field, just upwind of the St. Francis Yacht Club, and launched from the sand (an earlier plan to build a temporary, wide ramp from the club docks to the waters of the marina fell prey to imperial entanglements). Here’s the rigging exercise aboard the Gutenkunst yacht (Miles and Morgan). And yes, it’s been a mite foggy at times in the Golden Gate.

With Britain’s reigning world champions moving on to Olympic 470s, the stage is open, and conditions here make it clear that whoever comes out on top will be a worthy successor to a class invented as a trainer for the Olympic 49er—to carry on and expand (expand as in viral marketing) the Down Under traditions of fast skiff sailing.

29ers have been designated as the platform for the youth worlds, when the event comes to San Diego, California in 2007, and skiff sailing appears to be on the ascendant in the USA. Think of it as speed poisoning. Designer Julian Bethwaite reported downwind speeds in the 20s on the San Francisco Bay courses, and it works, Bethwaite said, because, “American youth are going toward extreme sports.”

Bethwaite defines a skiff as a boat where you ignore the rhumb line, downwind, and sail the apparent wind—the race course gets wider. It’s also a boat where the crew is more important than the skipper, because there’s mojo happening, big time. To put that a different way, Bethwaite says, “The boats are more team-driven than anything that came before them. You can’t get anywhere combining a good skipper with a poor crew because they’ll be beaten by a mediocre team that works well as a team.”

This is the fifth world championship for 29ers. The fleet of 77 is broken into qualifying flights leading to gold and silver fleets for the finals, continuing to July 10. US Sailing Team member Molly Carapiet of the Yale University sailing team is mostly concerned with winning selection to the women’s 470 for the 2008 Olympic Games. But she’s sailing a 29er here for the experience, and she makes it sound as if this really is a good high performance trainer. “There’s not much to think about in setting it up,” she says, “you just nail it and go.
—Kimball Livingston

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