by Rich Roberts
A ferry passes close the the 18ft skiff fleet
So how big a deal was the first victory for a team from New Zealand in the Nespresso International 18 Skiff Regatta hosted by the St. Francis Yacht Club?
'We got on the news [Down Under],' skipper Alex Vallings said Saturday.
The Kiwis had already clinched first place with a pair of first places Friday, so they didn't even have to sail the last two of 10 races, in which they scored a close second to the USA's Howie Hamlin followed by a runaway win after a close call with a San Francisco Bay ferry boat at the start.
New Zealand’s victorious C-Tech team of (l-r) Josh McCormack,Chris Kitchen and skipper Alex Vallings
Hamlin suffered a poor start in that incident but recovered well to place third and, in discarding his two worst of 10 races---both on Friday---fought his way back to second place overall four and five points head of Australian veterans John (Woody) Winning and Grant Rollerson, respectively.
After a few blustery days on the The Bay, conditions settled down slightly to a shifty 15-20 knots.
'It was the crew, really,' Vallings, 41, said, 'Josh and Kitty doing a good job.'
That would be Josh McCormack, 24) and Chris Kitchen, 28.
'We hoped to do well if we had good breeze. It hasn't been that windy, just very lumpy. We hoped to do well. We haven't had a lot of good breeze at home … [and] it hasn't been that windy here, just very lumpy.'
He can expect more of the same if plans proceed to stage the Mark Foy Regatta on these same waters during open dates in the America's Cup next September. The 18-Foot Skiff racing in its present form was started in 1892 by Mark Foy, a keen sailor and founder of Foys Department Store in central Sydney, Australia, and in recent years has come to rival the Aussies' JJ Giltinan classic in stature.
The same Kiwi team placed fourth and fifth here the previous two years, but 'this is the first time we've had this boat here,' Vallings said. 'It's a lot faster.'
It especially looked so in the final race's runaway win, and made a mark for New Zealand's emergence as a power in the class otherwise dominated by Australians.
Howie Hamlin and C-Tech duel past Alcatraz
Another New Zealand team led by David McDiarmid finished fifth overall.
'It's great,' said Winning, an Aussie. 'The class is coming of age. They have the technology, and we want to keep the money equation out of it. There are a lot of world-class sailors---America's Cup guys, Volvo racers and so on---that they paid well for sailing, but they also do this for nothing. That helps the development.'
But … Kiwis? They sell T-shirts that say, 'My favorite teams are New Zealand … and anyone playing Australia.'
Winning chuckled. 'We have fun competing against each other,' he said.
Hamlin and his crew of Matt Noble and Matt McKinlay also would like to see Americans grow in the class, especially with such an ideal venue to offer … even if one should keep an eye out for ferry boats.
'That's just sailing in San Francisco Bay,' McKinlay said.
Nespresso began their association with the sport of sailing as co-sponsor of Team Alinghi for the 32nd America’s Cup campaign between 2004-2007, as well as being the Official Coffee to the event. In 2010, Nespresso and Wally, the world leader in yachting innovation, launched the Nespresso Cup, an international regatta exclusively for the Wally Class in Portofino, Italy, bringing together some of the world’s most respected world-class sailors, to deliver one of the most aesthetically pleasing sailing regattas. America’s Cup sailors Loick Peyron, Paul Cayard, Francesco De Angelis, Jochen Schuemann were the Nespresso Cup Ambassadors, adding their own individual style to this unique event.
Nespresso is now Proud Sponsor of Emirates Team New Zealand, Challenger for the 34th America’s Cup to be held in San Francisco in 2013. More information on Nespresso on www.nespresso.com
The final leaders
(18 boats; 10 races; two discards)
1. C-Tech, Alex Vallings/Chris Kitchen/Josh McCormack, New Zealand, 1-1-(3)-(6)-1-2-1-1-2-1, 10 points.
2. CST Composites, Howard Hamlin/Matt Noble/Matt McKinlay, USA, 4-5-1-3-3-4-(19/DNF)-(12)-1-3, 24.
3. Yandoo, John Winning/David Gibson/Andrew Hay, Australia, (5)-3-4-5-(19/DNF)-5-2-3-4-2, 28.
4. Mounts Bay W.A., Grant Rollerson/Justin Healey/Marco Schurman, Australia, 3-4-6-1-2-(19/DNF)-3-4-(8)-6, 29.
5. Yamaha, David McDiarmid/Andrew Archibald/Mark Overington, New Zealand, 10-(13)-9-4-4-(19/DNF)-4-2-6-5, 44.
Howie Hamlin gets the winning gun seconds ahead of C-Tech (r.)