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Sailing in Newport
The purpose of attending the Nantucket Conference was to network and get to know other Internet people in the New England area. For me, one of the fallouts occurred a few weeks later. Mark Anderson of LavaStorm called. Would I like to be a "celebrity captain" on a 12-meter America's Cup yacht in July? I remembered having a nice conversation with him in the evening in Nantucket, and learning about the huge web sites his company made. Going from talking about servers and business models to yachts was a real jump. I like this networking stuff!

Here was the deal: LavaStorm builds huge web sites for others -- ones that get millions of hits a day or handle terabytes of data. Being pre-IPO (how's that for a new term that's come into use? We used to just say "privately held") they aren't as well known as competitors who've gone public and made a splash. They wanted to have an event they could invite people to, something for partners, clients, and potential clients. They wanted a "get to know us" day. All sorts of other companies were doing golf days, flying people to Pebble Beach or something. A day racing America's Cup yachts was their attempt to stand out with something different and enticing. In Newport, Rhode Island, boats that used to vie for the America's Cup are rented out with crews for such things. You'd get the extra cachet of history and international racing along with the beauty and fun. (For an example of another technique that my company used to reach potential customers, see "Trellix "Tell the World!" campaign".)

Now, I know almost nothing about boats, especially sailboats. I do know that 25 years ago I sailed a very small, two-person sailboat with a friend in the bay off Chatham on Cape Cod during a meeting DEC was having. I got seasick. The other time with a sailboat was a tiny Sunfish on a lake with friends -- just mild seasickness but not very pleasant. I also remember going on a whale watch and seeing a few wonderful whales between heaves over the side of the boat. The image of the "celebrity geek" losing his lunch over the side was not my idea of a great time. On the other hand, I loved riding a friend's jet-ski on a choppy lake, and hadn't been too seasick in a few years. I told Mark I'd call him back.

I called friends who assured me that 12-meter boats in the bay, with no diesel-engine fumes, should be fine stomach-wise, and anyway, I could use a "patch" for seasickness if I wanted. These people, who love sailboats, couldn't imagine how I could turn down such an offer. I called Mark and said "yes".

A few days before the event, directions arrived. Not knowing about sailing, and remembering how much water got on the little boats I'd been on, I took them seriously. "Sunscreen", "Deck shoes or sneakers (no black-soled jogging shoes!)", "Windbreaker", "Sunglasses with croakies". With croakies?! I guess this might get rough. Deck shoes? I have an old pair of deck shoes I used to wear years ago. I always felt funny wearing them since I never used them on a boat (I ran in running shoes, hiked in hiking boots, etc.). Now, finally, I could feel proud I had used them while racing a 12-meter yacht. (The fantasy of doing something "for real" is so much fun.)

The day of the event I awoke at 5:40 am, and left an hour later to drive to Newport. I carefully had a normal breakfast. Nothing unusual to tempt my stomach. Maybe that's what it was in Chatham, I thought. I'd never gotten around to getting a patch for motion sickness.

I got to LavaStorm's tent on the lawn of the Hyatt on Goat Island just as registration opened. I took a chance and had a bit more breakfast: a bagel and cream cheese with more tea.


We got shirts, color-coded by boat. Mine, the Heritage (which raced against the Intrepid), was red. The other two, Nefertiti and Columbia, were black and white. (The Nefertiti came in second to Weatherly in 1962. The Columbia actually won the America's Cup in 1958.)

At 9:30 we walked over to the dock. There were boats everywhere. Newport is boat country:


We trooped onto our boats, then had pictures taken:


 

The boats are utilitarian but gorgeous. All are wood-hulled, ours being the last of the wooden hulled 12-meters built for the race (that was in 1970):


I went down into the hold to stow my bag with camera, etc. You can see the wood in the close-up:

 

We started off. The bad news: the boat uses a diesel engine to move near the dock and there are fumes. The good news: It's pretty smooth and there should be no problems using the digital camera and keeping it dry. Once we clear the other boats in the harbor the captain turned off the engine.

The real crew members got the sails up, and we went out into the bay towards the huge suspension bridge that crosses it:


We pass under the bridge. What a sight!


The crew taught a few of us how to do some of the jobs to move the sails around. On a moment's notice you were wrapping ropes or turning things.

 

Most of the time, though, and always for those without jobs, we just sat around and enjoyed the view, sun, sea, and wind. See my deck shoes? Yes, my beard needs a trim...


We did some trial-run racing. Basically, we start on one side of the bridge, go to a buoy far on the other side, turn around, and race back to the start. Being on the boat, we can't tell much about what's going on, except sort of where we are relative to the other boats. Every once in a while, the crew shouts out some directions, we do them, and then go on lounging on the boats. My stomach behaved quite well. Yay! Here're some pictures I took during that run, since I didn't have a job to do:

 


It looked just like on TV or in the movies! Here's what it looks like on the boat when it tips over like that in the wind:


There's not much to keep you from sliding off, except the skimpy fence around the edge. Once I planted my foot on a piece of rope by mistake and almost slipped under the rails as the boat leaned over. I was much more careful after that. I'm happy my deck shoes worked.


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