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Upffront 2020 Foredeck Club SW LEADERBOARD

Reflections on a life afloat: Redefining my notions of fast aboard Lending Club 2

by David Schmidt 14 Jul 08:00 PDT July 14, 2020
Lending Club 2, as seen from the Golden Gate Bridge © David Schmidt

Like many sailors in North America, I've been using the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as an "opportunity" to reflect on some of my favorite moments afloat. Call it a survival tactic, given that I don't have ready access to my activity of choice right now, but I've found that this reflection also helps to provide some mental lift during the tough times, such as hearing that the USA is now recording (ballpark) 60,000 new cases of COVID-19 per day.

While this is a tragic and absolutely unacceptable metric coming from the world's richest nation, memories such as sailing with skipper Ryan Breymaier and company aboard the 103-foot trimaran Lending Club 2 (nee, Groupama 3; now IDEC SPORT) on the windswept waters of San Francisco Bay in June of 2015 still bring huge smiles to my face, especially when I consider our top speed for the day.

Some backstory: Breymaier and his crew were in San Francisco ahead of the 2015 Transpac Race, giving corporate grin rides aboard the massive multihull. The team's mission was to break the course record for this venerable offshore contest, but a less-than-desirable weather forecast made a record-breaking run a non-starter. Instead, the team chose to drop out of the Transpac and instead seek out a better weather window (read: more wind) that would ultimately allow them to set a new reference time for the run from Los Angeles to Honolulu of just three days and 18 hours - more than 24 hours faster than the previous record. (N.B., this record was surpassed in May of 2017 by skipper Brian Thompson and crew aboard owner Lloyd Thornburg's former MOD70, Phaedo 3; it now stands at just three days, 16 hours, 52 minutes and three seconds.)

I was lucky enough to get the call from Breymaier to fly down to San Francisco and join him aboard Lending Club 2 for a truly memorable day of sailing.

The morning dawned classically grey and overcast, with patches of San Francisco's trademark fog clinging to the north and south towers of the Golden Gate Bridge. I remember walking from my friend's apartment in the Marina District to the dock to meet the team, constantly updating PredictWind on my iPhone. The good news was that there would be breeze, but the less-than-great news was that it looked to be building as the morning turned into early afternoon. The rub? I was scheduled on the first of several hospitality rides of the day, when the winds were forecasted to be relatively modest.

I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't actively hatching a plan to try and stay aboard for the second ride. I'd also be lying if I said that I wasn't virtually walking on a cloud as I passed San Francisco's famous piers, my brain filled with thoughts of seeing what this powerful machine of a sailboat could do with some proper laminar flow moving over her mighty sailplan.

Nothing about the day disappointed, from the RIB ride out to the boat to the opportunity to meet Breymaier's crew and tour the massive "Ultim", to the grins that would later unfurl.

Standing in the cockpit, studying the yacht's relatively simple running rigging, it was impossible not to notice that the cat's paws were barely stirring the water near Alcatraz Island. Breymaier seemed to read my mind when he casually said something along the lines of "the breeze will build later, and there might be room on the second ride".

My first unborn child's destiny remained safe.

The rest of the corporate guests were transported out to the giant trimaran some time later and the crew quickly hoisted sail, an effort that clearly required serious grunt given the sheer size of the boat's massive sails.

We headed out towards the Golden Gate Bridge, easily posting boatspeed numbers that were two to three times faster than the true windspeed, which was hovering around ten knots. Having spent a lot of time on the Bay, it was simply stunning to see how fast the mighty trimaran effortlessly devoured brine.

Even more impressive was how fast time unfurled. Before I knew it, it was time to rotate corporate groups. I quietly tried to make myself invisible in the cockpit, but this effort was wasted as Breymaier gave me the nod and told me to stick around for the next session.

The RIB returned to the massive trimaran with the next corporate group as small white caps started forming. I felt like a little kid at Christmas, knowing full well that the next ride would involve significantly more adrenaline.

I wasn't wrong.

After a few hot laps between the Golden Gate Bridge and Angel Island, Breymaier kindly offered me the wheel, which I giddily accepted. Fortunately for me, he kindly stood nearby and whispered the kind of tactical sweet nothings that allowed us to tag almost 33 knots of boatspeed. While this was nothing for Breymaier or Lending Club 2, it was - and still is - a personal driving record for me.

While the fun-meter numbers were big, even more impressive was how I needed to look three - sometimes four - puffs down the track in order to keep the boat moving fast. Having sailed aboard some fast boats before in my role as a sailing journalist, I was used to looking ahead, but this experience instantly redefined any notions that I had about apparent wind and what it takes to keep a massively powerful multihull properly heated-up.

I (reluctantly) handed the wheel back to Breymaier as the true wind speed climbed to the mid-teens, just as PredictWind had forecast. I scurried up to a spot just abaft the forward crossbeam, conveniently next to the fun meter, to see how someone far more talented at driving an Ultim (or any boat) than myself could make the boat fly.

It wasn't a long wait.

A few tacks saw us climb our way back up to the Golden Gate Bridge before Breymaier lined us up for our final speed run of the day. I watched as he carefully set up his angle before dropping the hammer.

It only took a minute or so for Lending Club 2 to build up a huge amount of apparent air. We blew past my driving high-water mark of almost 33 knots as if it was standing still, but instead of leveling out, the yacht's speedo kept climbing. Alcatraz Island started getting bigger and bigger in our metaphorical windshield as three small rooster tails started pluming behind Lending Club 2's svelte waterlines.

Then, an even bigger puff hit the trimaran's huge sailplan and Breymaier firmly planted the flag at 39.51 knots.

Looking back now, some five-plus years later, I can still remember the feeling of just flying across the water, my hair pinned back and my face threatening to crack from smiling so widely. I can also remember how relatively flat the boat felt, and how seemingly effortlessly the boat posted these gob-smacking numbers.

The rest of the day was a blur of recalling the experience to friends ashore, and of wishing that I could have stowed away aboard the mighty Ultim for their soon-to-be successful run to Hawaii.

Jumping forward to 2020 and the nightmare of the coronavirus pandemic, I often find myself daydreaming about chasing down all the blue in between California and Hawaii aboard that brilliant apparent-air machine, and of what it must be like to helm her at night under an inky sky punctuated by distant suns.

Many thanks to Ryan Breymaier and the Lending Club 2 crew for a fantastic day of sailing on an amazing boat.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt North American Editor

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