Wednesday, May 29, 2013

It Doesn't Get Any BAADSer Than This - Disabled Sailing With Loick Peyron

Loick sizes up the fleet for Awareness Regatta 2 in San Francisco     May 25, 2013

There are good days and there are great days. Then there are those indescribably great days which materialize into significant life events. The Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors (BAADS) hosting Loick Peyron for the Awareness Regatta 2 ticked the latter box with such a strong hand for so many of us that it has pushed the pencil right through the table.

It started a few months ago when I had the pleasure of working with the BAADS for the first Awareness Regatta, a concept from the ma(d)stermind of event coordinator Fernanda Castelo, a disabled sailor with an infectious smile and a spirit that can't be contained or deterred. Her passion for sailing is addictive, once she leaves her wheelchair and is hoisted into her dinghy she hits the water with her eye on the prize. Her flair for the race course is tastefully punctuated by her trademark black velvet equestrian cap on her head and despite her fierce competitive nature, the infectious smile is ever present. Fernanda's idea for the original Awareness Regatta was to have a day of inclusive sailing with representatives from Team Oracle racing in the BAADS access dinghies. This would be an opportunity for the BAADS to share a little of their world with the big dogs, and to also gain some insight into the highest level of professional sailing; the America's Cup. All in the name of fun.

Oracle Racing Team embraced her idea with open arms, and after careful planning, Fernanda's vision materialized on Pier 40 and throughout the day of racing in McCovey Cove. Oracle had sent Brian MacInnes and Sam Newton, both intelligent choices; their formidable sailing backgrounds and friendly demeanor lent itself nicely to the intended Awareness Regatta aesthetic. Returning to the South Beach Yacht Club, we enjoyed drinks and a nice Q & A session with Brian, a complete gentleman and athlete both on and off the water. The evening wrapped up with cheers echoing across South Beach Harbor and wide grins on every face. Awareness Regatta was a huge success.

What struck me most about that day happened early on. As I sat on board the media Whaler, idling in the harbor watching the dock-out, I was overcome with emotion and I couldn't hold back the tears. Witnessing these disabled sailors being lifted out of their chairs and onto the hulls of their boats was so incredibly moving to me... when just an hour before I was complaining to myself that I had to walk so far to get to the event. Despite their physical limitations, these 'disabled' sailors aren't disabled at all, they have more strength and ability in their minds and wills than myself and most everyone I know. I wiped my eyes and shook it off, and just as the BAADS were heading out to the breakwater, the Artemis AC72 gave us a fly by with a hull in the air. My first reaction was not the popular 'yeahhh AC action', it was: 'mann Loick would love the BAADS experience'. Back at the yacht club after the regatta I mentioned it to Fernanda who said 'Really? do you think he'd do it?' Of course he would. We instantly began strategizing over a margarita..
The next day I asked Loick for his thoughts and he said "Yes, definitely, I'd love to, let's do it dude".
And so the wheels were put in motion for the next chapter in the Awareness Regatta story. From that moment it has been a complete pleasure working with Fernanda, Loick, BAADS Commodore Cristina Rubke, and South Beach Yacht Club's AC Chairman Lisa Gidley to bring this vision to life. Before we knew it, the sun was high in the sky above the dinghy docks at Pier 40 on the big day.

We rumbled up in Loick's '65 Ford truck just in time for the skipper's meeting, the dock was already a hive of activity, sailors and volunteers bustled around while the media tried our best to stay out of the way.
The BAADS were thrilled to see Loick, and he wasted no time rolling up his sleeves and immersing himself into the preparations and dock out procedure, providing a motivating soundtrack with his signature whistling lilt and occasional percussive chuckle. There was a very comfortable level of focus & organization on shore which maintained the necessary dynamic of seriousness and laughter. No surprises there, efficiency and smoothing out the edges while putting everyone at ease is what Loick does best. One by one the sailors departed from the dock with Loick's assistance, and when the dock was clear he climbed into his boat and headed off to the course. We gathered our gear and Lisa swung the media Whaler around.. I hopped on board with Chris Barrineau and Jen Edney and we motored out to the race track at Piers 30-32. The little access dinghies were already in place rallying around the front yard of the America's Cup team bases... game faces were on. We zipped around to get some quick portrait shots of the sailors and then the 5 minute gun for the Liberty class popped off.

The racing was close while it lasted, the BAADS were in hot pursuit of their new french friend. Two races in and after Loick had nailed both bullets, the breeze started to kick up significantly and the remaining races were called off. Fernanda was skippering a double-handed 303 with her crew mate Kathy Bello Shephard and they also won their two races... she gives her account of the racing:

"A windward - leeward course was set, with the length of about 2 piers from leeward pin to windward pin. The start line is set at beam reach (directly across the wind), and the pin was slightly favored with winds up to 10-15 knots. We had a great start in spite of not having a watch/timer on our wrist; however, we were close enough to a chase boat who were assisting with an audible count downs at 35 seconds, as we gained speed for the start we counted one thousand one, two, etc. We had a fabulous start.
We were ahead of our fleet of four, rounded the windward mark and headed downwind. As we rounded the mark, we immediately noticed that the fleet of 8 Liberty's started their race and we did not want to get caught in their course, and be in the middle of traffic, so we tactically sailed between the port side of Race committee boat and Pier 32 building. The rest of the 303s sailed between Race committee boat and start pin.
As we passed the Race committee boat Kathy reminded me that we'll catch a strong gust of wind right at end of the building, so we had to brace ourselves because as the dead down wind shifts the boom will fly across causing an uncontrolled jibe. We decided a port tack way above the mark, and take advantage of the strong gust that will soon take us off, and by golly it worked! Made sense to sail wide above the mark to avoid a flying jibe, rounded the leeward mark to port by barring off and to avoid fleet traffic again. Worked well in the first race.
Now our stretch is the finish line headed upwind, and time it well so as not get caught into downwind racer's traffic. As we started, we used the same layline angle for our finish.
Second start our timing was not good. We were behind two boats, first out was Nettie Wijsman and Kimball Livingston. Trailing, we tacked behind them and made up a ton of ground. We were smooth tacking on the layline without overstanding the windward mark. We replicated our course downwind, we were lucky because our contenders messed up right up to the leeward mark, their sails spun quickly on their jibe. We rounded the mark and the finish was on sight. It was fun, it was windy and we won both races. Races 3- 5 were called off due to wind conditions at 20+/- knots."

The fleet headed into the harbor and back to the South Beach Yacht Club where the atmosphere was fizzing to life earlier than scheduled. We settled in for drinks while Loick had a quick power nap in his truck, emerging just as the chicken and ribs were being shoveled from the barbeque as if timed like a clever alley cat. The casual environment of SBYC is always perfect, something unique and it's the main reason it is my preferred yacht club in SF. This afternoon was no exception, the sunlit deck and warm hospitality from the staff complemented the informal meal perfectly. Loick sat with Kimball ('dude keep an eye on my bag') Livingston, BAADS sailors Brian Pease & Kevin Seimens, and we witnessed a very memorable experience from that table that lit the club on fire. Ask Kimball.

Dinner was winding down, and Loick sat for a little Sharpie signing session with BAADS sailor Carwile LeRoy and SBYC members before hopping up to the front of the club to field questions from the room. Loick discussed everything from his early days in the Mini-Transat to the Trophee Jules Verne to the AC, and all stops inbetween. Topics like family, perseverence, fatigue, 'the french way', and even the current climate of sailing in Asia were all adressed with an insuciance and wit exclusive to Mr. Peyron. Throughout the chat, Loick emphasized safety at sea and the importance of preparation and proper training, a hot-button topic for our local sailing community. Hearing the wisdom and insight from his lifetime of sailing experience was an invaluable gift to everyone there.

Loick was then presented with his broken dinghy rudder he had snapped in the racing a couple of hours earlier which was signed by all the BAADS and accompanied with a nice bottle of Pinot Meunier. Fernanda led us into an enthusiastic round of  'For He's A Jolly Good Fellow' with Loick beaming and the whole place radiating along with him. Riding that high, it was time to give our final departing hugs, exchange our last bits of information and say goodnight. All of us, including Loick, have cryogenically frozen that experience in our minds so that we're able to access such an unmeasurable level of positivity whenever we need it. This is what the Awareness Regatta program is all about. Hope to see you in the near future for the third chapter in the series, Cheers.

( fade out to scene of '65 Ford truck slowly chugging away from the yacht club and down the Embarcadero, trails of Marlboro smoke wisping out of the windows ...  )

Jen Edney
Chris Barrineau
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website : baads.org

The Bay Area Association of Disabled Sailors with Loick Peyron    South Beach Yacht Club    May 25, 20013

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