Thursday, April 12, 2012

Cautious Debut For Luna Rossa In Naples

Steve Erickson (USA) is Sailing Team Coordinator for Luna Rossa, the Italian team making its debut at the America’s Cup World Series in Naples this week. Erickson has a long time relationship with the Italians, having sailed with former Luna Rossa skipper Francesco De Angelis back in the 80s and 90s. As we chatted Erickson noted that he was looking across to a castle where he and De Angelis celebrated after winning the One Ton Cup together in 1989.

During the 1998 stopover of the Whitbread Race in Auckland while Luna Rossa was training there, De Angelis asked Erickson if he would coach them when the Whitbread ended. He’s done every Luna Rossa campaign since -2000, 2003, 2007, and now AC34. His role has shifted some - in his first campaign with the team he was sailing team coach while Rod Davis did the afterguard. In the second campaign he sailed as a member of the afterguard and for the third campaign he was Operations Manager, essentially the same job he holds today.

Let’s talk about Luna Rossa’s performance over the past few days here?
SE: The first day for us was survival - it was real rough and real windy and we really didn't want to capsize like Artemis and be up all night fixing stuff for not really a lot of points for the overall event. If you look into how the event works, you really have to be on your game come Saturday/Sunday. It was the roughest day we’ve been in the 45s and not that we took it easy but the guys did a nice job of just getting the boats around the course with the wing still in the air.

You did a lot better today?
SE: We did - today was a really nice day of sailing. When we came to Naples and the time we spent an hour north of here, that was the kind of conditions that we’ve been sailing in - just a nice 10-knots in relatively flat water - kind of what you expected when you come here. It’s spring time so it can be anything and there’s more coming so there’ll be some excitement this weekend.

How’s your crew development coming along?
SE: It’s the second day of our first event - the wing is new for everyone, the boat is a little bigger than the Extreme 40s, the experience is pretty balanced between the two boats with crew coming from the 40s, and half the team coming from the version 5 or some other form of monohull sailing so they’re getting up to speed with catamaran sailing. I think it’s going just fine considering just a few months ago a few of those guys hadn’t never been cat sailing. At the end of the day you get the good start, you play the shifts and you go fast and it’s a yacht race.

Are the boys getting used to the physical demands of the 45?
SE: I think the real work is getting the A sails up and down physically. That’s a big job for two people and it happens quickly. Yesterday on a few of the runs the boats didn’t even bother putting the kites up - farther into the race the positions were so defined as they were - the boats are pretty powered up just with the wing so you’re not going to double speed just because you have the A sail up. We just wanted to get through the day with the result that they were getting and be happy with that.

How’s the course in Naples?
SE: It’s my first event and the races almost seem a little long - 35 minute races. It was almost surprising as to how long the beats are but that said, it’s cool that they put the gate right down at the leeward wall - I would bet it’s within 75 yards of the wall - it’d be crazy to be down there at that railing looking down at the boats coming crashing into the gates - it’s pretty neat.

How did the training with Emirates Team NZ go?
SE: It went well - I pinch myself a little bit and use the analogy of the New York Yankees - to be let into an institution like Team NZ when I’ve been on the outside for 20 years - pretty interesting, there’s smart, hard-working people, people who’ve been at it a long time, and a lot of continuity. Grant (Dalton) has kept a real neat institution there. He’s a tough guy but I have a lot of respect for him. The guys who are good at what they do are very good. You find a lot of teams - including Luna Rossa - you spend quite a bit of time of the campaign getting to where you can just work together, speaking the language, using the same computer software, creating the same sailing techniques - that’s why Coutts and his merry men were such a force back in the 80s in match racing - they’ve sailed together for 25 years. People who put teams together and try to overcome a group like that…you’re always going to be coming up against those relationships that you can’t put together over night.

How much sailing have you had on the 45s?
SE: It was maybe three weeks, if that. A couple of those weeks involved physically receiving the boat - painting it, putting it together, then sailing it so it wasn’t quite three weeks of sailing before it went in the container to ship it here.

Have you had many days in Naples before this Event?
SE: Same thing happened with the second boat - we needed a yard where we could put the boat together and found a shipping yard an hour north of here where we received the boat and it takes a solid week to put them together. We managed to get another week of sailing in there and the nice thing is that we got the two boats sailing together which was easier to organize and monitor our training rather than going out and finding people to sail with. You’re a lot more efficient if you’re managing the two boats. Even with Team NZ, it was just not as efficient as if you’re on the radio talking to your people saying, ‘this is what we’re going to do’.

Seems the locals are really getting into the Naples event?
SE: It’s crazy! You look at the sea wall - it’s basically a 4-lane road which is what I’m kind of looking out at and if I glance up and down there’s about 300 hundred people just looking at the boats moored, just hanging out (7pm-ish local time). They’re into Prada they’re definitely into Luna Rossa, they’re definitely into sailing and there’s something about the America’s Cup. It’s been a part of Italy for quite sometime. And, the event is pretty cool - I’ll say that about it. It’s hard not to miss it. It’s literally physically taking up a big area of a very prominent nice waterfront - even if you wandered anywhere within a mile from here you’d be affected by parking and people and the chatter.

Is it great being back in the Cup and doing what you’re doing?
SE: Yeah, it’s what I’ve been doing since 1987 so it’s what I do - LOL - Steve Erickson needs to win the America’s Cup! Really, its long days and hard work, but good fun.

Has much changed within the Team since you’ve been involved with them?
The America’s Cup changes every day…but as far as the Team goes, the main change is that there’s Luna Rossa the brand, which has become a big brand in the America’s Cup. Within Italy Luna Rossa is a big brand and it’s beginning to represent what the All Blacks of the world, or the New York Yankees of the world do. The Team has always been pretty international - except perhaps for its first Cup campaign. All meetings get done in English and have for as long as I can remember… although my Italian is finally pretty good after 25 years!

Why do you think Mr Bertelli wanted to do this again?
SE: He definitely stepped away - as I did - I was with Team Origin for a year and a half and the decision to go to the catamaran was what killed that team as they thought they’d be so strong in the monohull. I don’t know for sure, but I think it took Bertelli up to that point to realize that this was the game now. In the interim he had the STP 65 that Robert Sheidt (BRA) sailed - kind of keeping their hands in the monohull. The way I see it is that he did have an Extreme 40 team that did win the season championship in Singapore last year, which was Paul Campbell’s team - Max Sirena the skipper of Luna Rossa was involved in that program also. I think he tried to keep his hand in the game a little until things sorted out, then getting together with the Kiwis played out…

Are you missing anything about previous AC events in mono hulls?
SE: Not really. The only struggle I have with the 45s is to go out and have - call it 90 minutes of racing. Stepping back a bit, the old guard used to call what we used to do, ‘dock out’ - the AC version 5 boat would dock out at say, noon. Everybody would work toward that, get their foul weather gear on and walk down the dock, get on the ribs, get on the yachts and ‘dock out’. Now what we have termed it is - LOL - ‘roll out’ and that is the physical moment when you start pushing a wing or a platform down under the crane. I can tell you that from roll out to roll back in probably 8-9 hours go by for those 90 to 120 minutes of sailing. It’s not stressful but it’s all hands needed - all 11 people are needed constantly to put the wing up, monitor it, lift the boat into the water, monitor it there, attach it to the ribs, motor out to the buoy - that takes two hours and now we have two boats. You then have to do the reverse when you come in from sailing. That’s what I miss about the version 5 sailing - the hours of sailing versus the complexity of getting these boats ready. I can only imagine what it will be like with the 72s!

How’s your 72 build coming along?
SE: Hulls are getting close to being finished - perhaps another month. Then they’ll be shipped to New Zealand May/June to be assembled. It’s coming together - probably three months out. The idea is that we’ll sail it for the first time there. Our team’s energy has really been focused on getting through this regatta and Venice.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Opportunity for Wounded Vets to Learn to Sail

I had the pleasure to chat with Ronnie Simpson recently, after discovering that he needed help with a fundraising mission. There’s a lot to know about Ronnie, most of which was beautifully captured by author Tim Zimmerman in an article published by Outside Magazine January 2011*.

Simpson is holding the first clinic teaching wounded veterans how to sail, in San Francisco on April 18-20. He’s recruited ten wounded veterans from around the country and will use a fleet of six ACCESS dinghies that belong to the Bay Area Association for Disabled Sailors (BAADS), as well as some smaller keel boats from Spinnaker Sailing. Over three days he’ll introduce these guys to the sport of sailing culminating with the South Beach Yacht Club’s Friday night race.


Simpson is a wounded veteran of the Iraq war. The 27-year old was wounded in combat in 2004 and eventually medically retired. Now an aspiring solo ocean racer, he’s completed one Single Handed Transpac and a couple of Transpacs. He recently won the Double Handed Farrallones Race with crew Ruben Gabriel, in class and overall, on his Moore 24 (with a mere 50 knots of breeze in the pre-start), and again this summer he’s doing the Singlehanded Transpac - on his Moore 24.

Simpson claims that sailing has pretty much saved his life, a life that at 19 years of age he wasn’t sure he wanted after returning severely injured from Iraq.

Hit by a rocket propelled grenade, his injuries were mostly concussive related to the explosion. Both of his retinas were detached - his right retina has a large tear in it and both cataracts were replaced. He took burns to his face and upper body. He was in a medically induced coma for 18 days. He broke every rib on his left side, and had to have half of his left lung removed with surgery. He suffered ruptured intestines and spleen, and if that wasn’t enough, sustained temporary brain damage.

For young Simpson, the worst was that much of his eye damage was permanent.

“My eyes are pretty bad,” he says, matter-of-factly.

His discovery of sailing came literally at a moment when he’d reached an all-time low in 2008, long after his return to civilian life. His brother called and suggested that they buy a boat to sail around the world. For whatever reason the vision set with Ronnie and he instantly began researching sailboats. He’d previously never set foot on a sailboat.

He was living in Texas at the time but decided to move to California and buy a cruising boat. He sold his house, broke off an engagement, quit his job, dropped out of school, moved to California and bought a Palmer Johnson Bounty II, a 41 foot full-keel fiber glass boat built in the early 60s.

Figuring he could learn on the go, he quickly took on the challenge of sailing solo to Hawaii but in hindsight agrees that first big trip was overly ambitious. He lost the boat one third of the way between California and Hawaii, not long after he bought it.

“It was a bit too much for me to handle,” Simpson admits. “I was single-handing and a cat 4 hurricane was about 100 miles away. I was in about 50 knots of breeze in 30-40 ft seas. The rudder was ripped out of the boat. I ended up stepping off the boat and getting onto a freight ship.” Lesson learned the hard way.

Today Simpson lives on a cruising boat in Alameda, California, with his Moore 24 tied up on the same dock. His sailboat racing is sponsored by Hope For The Warriors (HFTW), an east-coast based non profit that aids veterans returning to civilian life. It’s the first time the organization has been involved with sailing.

Simpson’s working not only to raise awareness for HFTW, but also for the bigger cause that he’s championing - introducing wounded veterans to sailing.

The benefits? Sailing is inspirational and that’s what returning vets need, Simpson said.

“I’m passionate about sailing and I want to use this tool to inspire these guys,” he said. “I don’t care if they ever take to it but my goal is to inspire these individuals through sailing to not give up and that they can lead fulfilling, rich lives.”

Simpson said that with the advances in medical technology, a lot of guys who would have died in previous wars - like the Vietnam War - are now living but with significantly worse disabilities and injuries than ever before.

“I lived in a dormitory full of these guys awaiting my own medical retirement,” he said, “It was heartbreaking to see because they start out as a fit 19-20 year old young man, go to war and come perhaps still only 19 years old like me, but they are burned, they are blind, it’s very depressing.”

Simpson also considers that the rate of suicide, drug/alcohol abuse and homelessness among veterans of foreign wars is exponentially higher than the rest of society because there are so many hurdles that vets face.

“They basically give up on life,” he said. “What I’m trying to do is say is, “so you have no use of your legs but you’ve got one good hand so let’s put a tiller in it and teach you how to sail. Then after sailing, let’s get them back to the yacht club for a beer and celebrate with friends. Let’s show these guys that they don’t have to give up and they can still achieve extraordinary things. They just have to be inspired.”

Simpson needs help to cover expenses for his first clinic April 18-20, starting next week in San Francisco and would appreciate any help with fundraising. He plans to hold a clinic in Seattle in September, and again in San Francisco in October. He’d like to see these become an annual event. If you can help out, please contact Simpson at

Simpson will be speaking/fundraising at the Strictly Sail Pacific boat show, Saturday April 14, 11:45am.

* Great read:

Simpson's website:

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

First for Equation at BVI Spring Regatta

Sadly, the crusty Caribbean salt’s washed off, the sunburn’s beginning to peel, and the rum’s done for sailors who raced this year’s BVI Spring Regatta held off Nanny Cay last week. More than 100+ boats competed in the 41st edition of the regatta, with as many new faces as repeat players, including Bill Alcott from Michigan who celebrated his 15th event - this year on his newest boat Equation, the TP65 formerly known as Rosebud.

Equation took first place in Class 1, a particularly sweet prize, as it’s been a while since the racing beauty’s enjoyed the taste of success. The boat was designed by Bruce Farr and built in 2007 at Westerly Marine, Santa Ana, Calif. Originally owned by Roger Sturgeon, she won the 2007 Sydney Hobart among other international prestigious races. She dismasted in heavy weather during the Middle Sea Race off Malta in October 2009, and shortly thereafter was purchased by Australian Ray Roberts in early 2010.

Roberts fixed her up, including a new mast, and sailed a Newport regatta with the intention of taking her back to Australia later that year. But he didn’t.

Instead, the sleek 65, one of three including Money Penny and Luna Rossa built to the Rule, was purchased in spring 2011 by the American partnership of Bill Alcott, Ed Palm and Tom Anderson, aka ‘TA’, all from Michigan. They renamed her Equation.

Alcott says that the partnership was looking for a boat to race on the Great Lakes in summer, and also be ocean competitive for winter racing in the Caribbean. He said, “Rosebud was very successful when Roger owned her and we thought that maybe we could learn to do the same thing.”

Alcott, who has owned some 14 boats, says Equation’s a very technical boat and a step up for the boys. “We’re more traditional boaters and when it came to adapting to a boat with hydraulics, we had to rethink how we were going to do things and it’s been a slow learn, I think, for us. We intentionally looked for guys who had sailed her when she was Rosebud as they know the boat and that’s been an immense help.”

Guys like Matt Smith…who has a long career in the America’s Cup behind him and is currently involved in the Bella Mente Racing program, managed pit on Equation for the BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival.

It was a kind of homecoming for Smith, one of the original crew on Rosebud. He was involved in her build and raced on her for the three years following.

“It's been lots of fun to come back,” Smith said. “She’s still fast and easily sailed. I sail on a lot of leading edge boats and Equation still has a lot of potential for a niche boat.”

This year’s BVI Spring Regatta was number two for Smith - he previously raced it on the old Rosebud 52. “It’s a real diverse fleet that caters to all different types of racers," Smith said. "The course is also refreshing - sitting on the rail passing beautiful islands is very cool.”

For Alcott, this year’s regatta was only disappointing in that there weren’t a lot of big boats to do battle with. “We thought there would be more in our class - but the other boat that did show up - Passion 4C (Turner 56) was fun competition.”

Asked if the Regatta keeps getting better, Alcott replied, “I keep coming back with different boats so no, it’s not always better - LOL!”

Alcott, 74, has become enamored with Caribbean racing over the years as he loves the warm water, balmy temps and great racing, especially in the BVI where the water is relatively flat. “How can you not?” he challenged.

The BVI win was good regardless, especially after Equation was forced to pull out of the recent Heineken regatta in St Maarten after breaking a spreader. Project Manager Stu Argo, who has worked with Bill and his boats since 1995, says they were sailing upwind in about 18 knots of breeze in big seas when the second spreader broke.

“We came off a wave when the spreader broke but very happily we kept the mast - it’s very unusual that the mast would stay up - it’s also very unusual to break a number two spreader. The mast probably had 22 days of sailing on it - it was all pretty new. We sent the spreader back and Hall Spars ran some tests. We sent the lower spreaders back also and they made those spreaders stronger as well.”

“The boat’s an all around good boat,” Argo commented. “The wind range in the Caribbean is probably a little better suited to the TP52 - that mid range - whereas the TP65 is good in light and heavy air. I don’t think the 65 has a particular wind level that it’s weak on other than a jib reach which occurs with a lot of boats with non overlapping jibs. But that’s the fun part of the race - getting the right sails up at the right time,” Argo said.

There’re no plans for any major modifications on Equation, just general tweaking and replacing sails, which are key to success in the Caribbean as Smith pointed out.

"The racing here does offer up some navigational challenges and it’s key to have really nice sails for the island approaches - sails can make or break this regatta for sure, they make a huge difference.”

While she needs about 16-20 sets of legs over the rail, Argo says he’s never had any difficulty recruiting crew. “These events can logistically be a challenge - it’s easy to find 16 pros and pay for them to come down but that gets expensive. It’s not so easy to find that number of good amateurs who can take the time off and pay their own way but people do like sailing with us. We throw 2-3 pros in the mix in the specialty areas then get a crew together who have been sailing with us for the past few decades so we know them - seems to have worked out the past few weeks!”

Full Class 1 Results:

Results for the 2012 Bitter End Cup, Nanny Cay Cup, Sailing Festival & Spring Regatta:

* Ron Sherry wrote an informative article on Equation’s technical attributes last year, after Alcott et al purchased her: Equation is a very complex machine capable of doing amazing things as she does battle with the wind. In reaching conditions in light wind, Equation will sail 3.5 to 4 kts. faster than the wind speed. Sailing up wind, the Equation's target speed is 10.2 kts, and tacks inside of 65 degrees including leeway. -- Read on: