2003 in review

Part one: January to March

Monday December 22nd 2003, Author: Andy Nicholson, Location: United Kingdom
The first three months of the year were heavily dominated by action in the southern hemisphere. All eyes were on Auckland for the Louis Vuitton finals in January and then a month later the start of the America’s Cup match itself.

All this drama was unfolding with a backdrop of Geronimo charging around the bottom of the globe with the Jules Verne Trophy well within her sights. Further drama was to be added to this story as Ellen MacArthur lined up Kingfisher 2 to attempt the same record.

The first major action of the year was on Sydney Harbour as the 18ft skiffs raced for their unofficial world championship, the JJ Giltinan Trophy. It was the Manly ferry that was to finally snatch defeat from the jaws of victory for the British team on RMW Marine. Howie Hamlin on General Electric won the event on the final race to retain their title.

Back in Auckland and in the Alinghi camp, the top Kiwi talent within the team had received a number of anonymous threats, which were to be reported to the New Zealand Police. Fortunately for all involved the racing was where the action was and Alinghi faced Oracle in the finals of the Louis Vuitton Cup.

True to form the Auckland weather did not cooperate and the first race was cancelled due to strong winds. This was the 19th day of racing that was cancelled in 55 scheduled racing days. The following day Alinghi chalked up a convincing win, and eventually went on to win the final 5-1.

Meanwhile the Around Alone fleet were enjoying a stopover further down the coast in Tauranga, following Bernad Stamm’s third consecutive victory in reaching the New Zealand stopover before his rivals. On behalf of thedailysail, The Snake filed his stopover report, and everyone was much the wiser about everything you don’t read in the press reports. The Snake also found time to slither into the Alinghi victory party.

A brief skip back up north, and the annual pilgrimage to Key West, prompted discussions over global warming and its impact on sailing as the event was run in uncharacteristic cold and windy weather. The local chandlers ran out of anything that had any fleece or thermal properties. Dobbs Davies posted a number of reports for thedailysail.

Back to Australia and the first ever Commonwealth Sailing Championships took place at the end of January. Hosted by the Sandringham Yacht Club, it was the home-grown talent of Michael Blackburn that shone through - winning seven of the ten races in the Laser class to claim gold.

With Geromino setting record after record during the first part of her Jules Verne voyage, 28 January saw Ellen’s Kingfisher 2 enter the fray. On paper, it was Ellen’s big cat that was favoured. Sailed by a crew of rock stars, the boat itself had gone through a big refit and was in the best possible condition. James Boyd managed to get an interview with the busiest person in sailing. Things however did not start well. Just as they were lining up for the start off Ushant, with two reefs in damage to the mainsail track was spotted. This resulted in a hasty pit stop in Plymouth, before they had even got down the starting straight.

In some ways this was to always put the team on the back foot, as their all important weather window started to close. Just a day later they were off and running again, but were to make painfully slow (in maxi cat terms) progress south.

Back down under and in a sort of half-time entertainment style, the Millennium Cup kicked off in Auckland on 10 February. An entry form that probably included the wording ‘only the seriously wealthy allowed to enter’, ensured a healthy dose of America’s Cup patrons taking to the water in various lengthy craft. Victory went to the 118 foot Ipanema, hailing from Brazil, with Prada’s Torben Grael at the wheel.

The first big Olympic classes regatta of the season was held in Miami with 526 sailors attending. The weather had much improved and provided excellent sailing conditions and a perfect opportunity for some photos. Half of the entries were from outside the US, but it was the host nation that was to pick the most silver ware. The most notable performance was in the Laser class, where the American Mark Mendelblatt beat Paul Goodison (who had won in 2000 and 2001) into first place on the final day's racing.

Just a little further north than Miami, Steve Fossett set two new aviation records. His maxi cat Playstation was in Cadiz waiting for the right weather for an east-west transatlantic record attempt ( which he did achieve). It took Fossett all of a day to fly three times across the continental United States to set two new world records, one for a jet plane and one for a turbo prop.

The new format Volvo Ocean Race was announced in Auckland on 10 February. Out were the Volvo 60s and in was the new Volvo 70, the new boat estimated to be 10% faster than the old, with a canting keel, water ballast and reduced crew numbers. The format of the race was changed too, with the start in southern Europe and in port racing during the stopovers. The debate started to rage about just how much cheaper a campaign would cost – Illbruck’s $20m budget on the last race was thought by many to be going over the top. thedailysail also spoke to Bob Williams about how his Antarctica Cup was progressing.

And so to the main event. In January Oracle, Alinghi and Team New Zealand had shown the world their bottoms in the grand unveiling on the dock. Team New Zealand’s hula had got every pundit across the globe into a frenzy and it was the home nation that were the bookies favourite before the gloves came off. Prada's ousted designer Doug Peterson explained to The Daily Sail what his take on the form book was.

The first race was to signal the beginning of the end for Team New Zealand. Lively conditions on the Gulf saw their boat fill with water, the end of their boom break, followed shortly after by their headsail coming out of the headfoil and the team heading for home without even completing the course. Alinghi sailed around the course by themselves to get the first point on the board.

The second race was to see Alinghi roll the black boat on the final gybe into the finish in a superior display of match racing skill. James Boyd was out on the water producing a blow-by-blow account of the racing, which even now makes for fantastic reading. (Race 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

The third race was the infamous call to go right off the start line for Alinghi. After the event it was found out that one of the Alinghi weather boats had spotted the shift a long way up the course and relayed the sighting to Brad Butterworth - just before the communications were switched off. This one perfect shift off the line handed control of the race to Alinghi and ultimately it was 3-0.

The weather decided not to play ball for the fourth race and when it finally happened - the final nail in the coffin came for Team New Zealand. On the second beat the rig snapped and allowed Alinghi to cruise round again to take the match to 4-0. Two days later and Alinghi won the America’s Cup 5-0. For the first time since the event was first held in 1851, the Cup was coming back to Europe.

During all this drama, the Around Alone fleet left Tauranga and headed were heading for Cape Horn and up the coast of South America for the Brazilian port of Salvador de Bahia. The big upset was when Graham Dalton on Hexagon dropped his rig just north of the Falkland Islands. This was the second time for Dalton, as he had also lost the rig on his transatlantic qualifier prior to the start of the race. Dalton was ultimately to retire from the race. Race leader Bernard Stamm had to put into the Falklands to effect repairs to his damaged canting keel, which nearly parted company with the yacht at Cape Horn. This 22 hour pit stop meant he had a real race on his hands to get back into the lead. He did in fact take line honours into Salvador de Bahia, but a time penalty handed to him because of his pit stop gave the leg victory to Thierry Dubois on Solidaires.

Disaster struck Kingfisher 2 on the 24th February. She had had a difficult time getting down the Atlantic, never really getting in touch with Geronimo’s markers. Things changed for the better as they entered the Southern Ocean and started putting the hammer down. However disaster struck when the mast broke 100 miles from the remote Kerguelan Islands. At the time the team were ahead of the current record held by Orange and conditions looked favourable for many days to come. With no engine MacArthur and crew had to sail under jury rig to Fremantle, a trip that was to take two and half weeks.

Meanwhile Geronimo had been romping around the Southern Ocean. They rounded Cape Horn five days ahead of the Jules Verne record held by Orange. Remarkably conditions turned against them in the Atlantic and they could only watch in despair as they watched their lead evaporate to nothing as they progressed north. They were still 600 miles from the finish when the sand ran out.

A major uproar was sparked in March following the announcement that the Little America's Cup was to be held in one design F18 HTs, not the traditional state-of-the-art C Class catamarans. The Daily Sail led the debate against the board of trustees for the International Catamaran Challenge Trophy (as it is properly known), there was a furious statement from the Australian Catamaran Challenge, who were putting the final pieces together to mount a challenge against Steve Clark's holder Cogito.

While on the topic of speed, we caught up with Sail Rocket’s Paul Larsen and his quest to break the 50 knot barrier.

The unusual venue of Kenya was to host the Fireball World Championships. Writing in thedailysail eventual winner Chips Howarth was positive about the new location. The ever more popular Worrel 1000 catamaran adventure race announced a $1m prize purse for the 2004 event. However the big talk was followed by the shock news at the end of March as the organisers cancelled the 2003 event due to a key financial backer, backing out.

Back in the UK and the season was starting to get into gear. The Spring Series was under way and the traditional Hamble Warming Pan took place. After a tense last few months the wholly impressive new club house for Hayling Island Sailing Club was opened. Thedailysail was there on opening day and got the tour of the new facilities and spoke to the man behind it all, HISC Commodore Tim Hancock. (right, Princess Anne opens the new club).
Following the ever popular Dinghy Show at Alexandra Palace, two articles went up onto the site. One, an interview with Olympic hopefuls in the 49er Alister Richardson and Pete Greenhalgh, about life on the Olympic road. Also on display at the show was North Sails new product for the dinghy and keelboat market the roto-moulded 3DL.

Perhaps fittingly, for a year dominated by a range of very big and very large sailing yachts, March ended with the launch of Bols . This High Welbourn-designed 93ft maxi, sponsored by the Dutch distillers was conceived by 31 year old skipper Gordon Kay who we caught up with in Auckland.

This first part of the year also saw the introduction of The Weekend Papers. Published every Friday, this ten page PDF ‘newspaper’ summarises the main points from the week on thedailysail. It has proved extremely popular with readers and is now an established add-on to the site.

Latest Comments

Add a comment - Members log in


Latest news!

Back to top
    Back to top