29 déc. 2014
The team for the 2002 Bermuda Ocean Race
I am the owner-skipper of Chantecler and the writer-webmaster of these web pages. This race has always been in my sailing dreams and in my mind when Françoise and I purchased Chantecler, a new J/Europe-build J/105. This race would not have been possible without the love, help and support of Françoise.
The key factor in our 2002 success and the major issue in amateur racing is getting a good team together. I pooled my 2001 team around the end of the racing season and discovered a shared keen interest in doing the BOR in three of them: Kevin, Paul and Bertrand. Kevin was the best, most complete sailor in my 2001 team by far, having raced numerous boats in heavy-air-San-Francisco, done several offshore races and even worked a few years as sailmaker. That day, I decided to go for it in 2002 as opposed to later and start explicit preparation for the race.
Preparing a blue water race for the first time is a tough job as you have to explore new grounds on so many levels and so many directions. My only blue water experience was in 1995 when I did Annapolis- the Azores as a crew on a 45' Jeanneau Sunkiss owned/skippered by Bernard Montfort. My practical Bay racing experience was still limited. So I had no choice but to find good sailors with offshore experience who would have the proper reflexes when no shore was in sight.
During the preparation and training phase I got good advice and assistance from sailing professionals (mostly Will Keyworth and Jeff Todd from North Sails and Bob Muller from Muller Marine). However the most focused advice came from Howard Siemers, a former J/35 owner-skipper who did two BORs (and WON the overall trophy) and three Fastnets from 1981 to 1991. I got in touch with Howard through the crew listing on the BOR web page as he wanted to race offshore once more. He soon become the core of Chantecler's BOR team but unfortunately broke a bone in his foot a few days before the start.
When I was immerged in the early phases of team and boat preparation, Kevin unfortunately informed me that he had changed his mind and could no longer do the race. Fortunately, at about the same time, Howard, Chad and Larry came on board and this kept me going because they had good offshore experience.
The team was organized into two watches of three people. The watches were four hours at night and six hours during daylight.
Chad McMullin has good racing experience on small boats and good offshore experience on larger boats. He joined Team Chantecler from the BOR web crew listing in early 2002. When Howard could no longer make the BOR start, he automatically became the watch captain. His sailing skills, his experience and his systematic approach to risk prevention and problem solving were a great asset. Furthermore, he was good on the foredeck (something that is not the natural strength of older guys like me) and at doing navigation. During the race, Chad and I shared navigation duties but Chad also contributed to numerous race preparation aspects and decided to bring his video camera and equipment for documenting the race.
I was disappointed that Chad could not do the return with us. But I was elated when soon thereafter, at a post-race party hosted by Larry, he showed us the video he had assembled and what a tremendous job he and Santiago had done!
I met Paul Hillier at West Marine in 2000 and for a couple of years Paul did many week end racing with me on my first J/105, #208 "Jay Boat". We enjoyed sailing together, even though I was a novice skipper and Paul was an experienced racer. Paul has lived on or near the Bay all his life and is a motorboat builder by trade. He is the best foredeck guy I have seen and the fastest to react and do the proper thing in case of trouble. He had also learned on Jay Boat the specificities of trimming all three class sails on a J/105. So I knew, when I asked him in the Fall of 2001, that I would not race the BOR in 2002 without Paul and I was glad that he agreed to do it. Paul motivation was that he wanted to widen his sailing repertoire to offshore sailing.
Paul helped tremendously during the preparation and training phase and was a unique asset during most of the BOR race, unfortunately, we could not train in the Bay for the beating the Gulf Stream gave us when we crossed it, with a good 25 knot NorthEaster in the nose, just opposite the current and thus creating a chaotic sea with pyramidal waves or very steep and short waves. At a little below 11,000 lbs fully loaded during the race, Chantecler was only but a cork under these conditions and whoever was not completely immune to sea sickness, could not be fully functional. A fellow J/105 competitor, Dark Star, had to abandon the race in the middle of the Gulf Stream crossing because of sea sickness of the entire crew. On Chantecler, some of us, including myself, were sea sick to various degrees but all stayed basically functional, except Paul. Paul was in my watch and I saw his tremendous effort to stay functional and at the same time I saw the tremendous grip the sea and his stomach had taken on his body and prevented him to do anything. He never missed a watch during the worse sea conditions Saturday night but spend most of it either flat on his belly at the bottom of the cockpit or vomiting at the leeward rail. I was not feeling too good myself, so I could easily imagine how terrible he was feeling. When we were getting ready for our mid-night watch, with waves regularly reaching the cabin top and then water making its way inside the cabin through an instrument wire conduit that had not been properly sealed (I did know that at the time but discovered it soon after the return), at that miserable moment I watched the effort that Paul was making to get ready and contemplated giving up the race. When I shared my thoughts with Paul, his reaction surprised me and energized me right away. I do not recall his exact words but they had a tremendous impact. No way this was going to stop us. Paul was enduring his pain and fighting and we should all do the same.
It is only after we finished crossing the Gulf Stream and reached a better sea state that Paul took longer rests flat on a bunk for a while before regaining his usual competitive nature. It is fortunate that sea sickness subsides when one is in such position.
Larry Vazzano was another recruit from the early BOR crew list. He had done a couple of offshore trips along the NE coast, he owned a 30 footer in the Bay and when I met him at one of the BOR seminars organized by EYC, I immediately liked his personality and enthusiasm. When we later started practicing and racing in the Bay, I attributed to Larry a couple of goofs that cost me money, but they were due more to unfamiliarity with some of Chantecler's features and over eagerness than carelessness
In the course of the preparation and training, as he had some experience as a chef, Larry agreed to do a very large share of tasks and chores, the most important being all food aspects. With Howard's help he prepared several delicious and nutritious home made dishes that he froze and arranged in layers in the boat's cooler. Good food is an important morale enhancer offshore and Larry supplied it to us. He further contributed to our morale by being completely unaffected by sea sickness and always available at any time for any task. Lastly, his bright smile and constant good humor were regular uppers if you felt down for any reason.
Larry is a survivor of a recent plane accident. He was interviewed on the CBS early show on December 9, 2005.
Santiago Dellepiane also wanted to do the BOR and started practicing and racing in the Bay with us in early 2002. He had a good sea experience with boats of various kinds, was fit and energetic but as he had only limited ocean experience, I had earmarked more for the return than for the race. However, he started to impress me in these Bay races, mostly with his foredeck work, and when Howard was injured, I asked Santiago to step in. That was the week end just before our Friday departure and we had to wait until Monday for his boss to confirm his leave of absence from work. I am glad he did because Santiago may well have been the most important contributor to our silver during the race and to our safe return.
I quickly discovered that Santiago was in fact our best offshore driver. He was a natural at the wheel and this was most important crossing that Gulf Stream at night with the wind opposing the Stream. Our position in Division III was last at the Chesapeake Bay exit but that changed to first just after crossing the Gulf Stream. This was achieved even though we had to shut down our navigation computer and had drifted too much to the North that night. Good team work, good sail trim and above all good driving are the best explanation for our performance then.
In addition, we soon discovered that Santiago was also gifted behind the camera.
Finally, at the start of the return trip, Santiago, as watch captain, was the first to notice that something was wrong after we got a major source of water in the forepeak (the two-inch depth transponder had popped up after its lock mechanism had been open accidentally by the storm sails stocked above it) and calmly directed our first response to the potential disaster.
Bertrand Belleguarde was relatively new to sailing when he joined the team before the 2001 season. He had lots of punch, strength, balance, energy and stamina and he was bugging me to do the race but initially I wanted to do the race with only five people (the J/105 weakness offshore is its low freeboard, thus going light is the safer way to do it, and limiting the crew to a total of five made sense particularly if factoring that 10 days of food and water was made mandatory by the sailing instructions; water was the heaviest item onboard) and I wanted to have a more blue-water-seasoned sailor in that spot to compensate a bit for a relatively green skipper. Bertrand kept bugging me and then Howard persuaded me to go with a total of six people. It made the watches more balanced and reduced fatigue for the five-day sprint.
I knew that Bertrand would be a great asset for the race and the return and I was not disappointed. Bertrand is a fast learner and knew the boat, the sail trim, the sail changes, very well by now. He also is a natural on a sailboat and loves it when the going gets tough and he keeps his balance even when pyramidal waves appear from nowhere fast.
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