Not Forgotten

I know where I was. I suspect you know where you were too. Watching the attacks and the resultant devastation of the downtown financial district of Manhattan where I spent very happy times in my twenties was hard. And then came the terrifying news that an old colleague, friend, a trainee FX broker that I had coached and mentored both at work and outside – a great bon vivant – was trapped on the 103rd floor in the Cantor Fitzgerald office.

He was never seen again. Nothing was ever found of Christopher J Gray, a college football star who forged a new career after sporting excellence on Wall Street and who was literally larger than life. I often think about him and every year I remember him on social media, posting a photo I took when I visited the memorial in the footprint of the Twin Towers. Too young. It wasn’t right and I miss him. Twenty years on, it still feels like yesterday.

However, the world relentlessly moves on. Life goes on. And thank you for allowing me to just post those words. But rather than dwelling on this most poignant of days, I did what a sailor does, and I know Chris would have approved…I went sailing, racing in fact.

It was the annual Royal Southampton Yacht Club double-handed race from Hillhead, just off Cowes, to the Nab Tower – a formerly ugly lump of concrete that is the guide for commercial shipping at the Eastern entrance to the Solent. The tower (for that is what it is) used to be clad in rickety, rusting metal that was foreboding to approach and downright terrifying up close but the Admiralty saw sense a couple of years ago and did it up a bit. Now it’s a stump of a tower, smooth on the outside, jet black, still as ugly and replete with a beam that Luke Skywalker would be proud of on its bonce. It’s still a bit wonky after a cargo ship called the ‘Dole America’ carrying bananas and pineapples ploughed into it in 1999 but it does the job.

So with a beautiful day set, it was a shy kite leg down and a straight fetch home with a great sailing buddy and friend from aeons ago, Olly. I sail better with Olly. But this was the ultimate drag race finishing in the standing waves of the Hillhead plateau with wind against tide. We came second. Hurrah. A pure rating game that depressingly shows me just how much cash I have to expend this winter to get the boat firing on all cylinders. New rig is number one on the menu and the small matter of stripping the bottom back down and getting a pristine gelcoat finish – and obviously dry-sailing from now on. Ho Hum…I’ll have to be nice to the Chief Financial Officer in this household over the coming months.

So, take a day to yourself and turn the mobile off for eight hours and blimey, all hell breaks loose in the wondrous world of sailing. The still-born Valencia pitch for the Cup called it quits (no surprise) and up pops an ‘All Spain’ bid backed by the Spanish government with real teeth. Game changer. Almost too good to be true for Grant Dalton and looking like stealing the show in the final moments.

©Carlo Borlenghi

The Jeddahrati have gone quiet. Stone dead but then again, Arabian negotiation is a fine art fraught with innuendo and more twists and turns than a sidewinder skitting across hot desert sand – if money is an issue, expect an eye watering final bid. Remember Saudia Arabia pumps 12.4 million barrels a day of oil. And at $65 a barrel, that’s $806 million a day. A day. Yes you read that right. So the trifling matter of a few hundred yards of dollars to fund a Blue Riband sports event is…well, trifling. Follow the money.

But one thing that is becoming pretty clear is that Jim Ratcliffe is set on doing the right things and the word is Auckland. It keeps coming back to there. I can see it happening right at the death. Jeddah is controversial for any number of reasons and Ratcliffe’s brigade are saying as much but maybe not in so many words – hints at every juncture. Valencia is the sailors’ choice. Cork looks lovely and the politicians have come at this with an air of unity right up until the point that public money has to be spent. As a trump card, out comes the ‘independent survey’ giving some cobblers about cost benefit analysis and how the Cup is dynamite profitable and a no-brainer. But Irish politicians are no mugs. The temperature is rising there and I can only imagine what it looks like in two years’ time.

©ACE/ Studio Borlenghi

Opinion in New Zealand is binary. The media are doing their best to say “there, there, going abroad is okay” but every Kiwi with even an ounce of patriotism and a flag knows that’s bunkum. The man on the street wants the Cup in his backyard – they won it, they supported it, they put on the best show on earth and their sailing team are better than the All Blacks, Black Caps, Tall Blacks, the Badminton Team (I’ll let you guess what they’re called) and the Wheel Blacks all rolled into one. If Jim Ratcliffe pulls off a masterstroke and puts the Cup in Auckland, he’ll be a hero in a country he truly loves. I can see it happening, I’d love it to be so and what a story that would be.

Meanwhile it’s all on at SailGP – fabulous social media posts by their comms teams once again full of life, vigour, excitement and humour. It really is something else and they should be roundly applauded for a monster job bringing the series to life. Whoever they are, they are the ones that the America’s Cup should be poaching – and on the water, the Pitbull Jimmy Spithill, is having a regatta at last. Top of the table overnight with all to play for. Great to see – I bet all the good lines are coming out in the press conference that I will have to watch on repeat later…

©Bob Martin for SailGP.

And we have a new Star World Champion in Diego Negri from Italy and his crew Fithjof Kleen from Germany. Great story that Diego has been runner up three times so a real dream come true for him and forevermore he can proudly display that Gold Star on his sail – what an achievement.

©Christian Beek – Star World Championship

As the dying embers of summer in the northern hemisphere flicker, sailors are taking every ounce of opportunity to squeeze out the last drops of sunlight, fair winds and blue skies. Everywhere you look it’s all going on and as a final note, I was delighted to see last night that young Kate McCabe not only won the Yachting Journalist Association’s Young Journalist of the Year Award but also the coveted Young Sailor of the Year Award too for her epic trip circumnavigating Great Britain at the tender age of 14. Personally I’m delighted to have nominated her for both awards and equally a huge thank you to readers of the blog that clicked the link and voted. Brilliant.

And it doesn’t stop. It’s Bart’s Bash tomorrow, in memory of Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson – another who was taken tragically too soon and we’ll be doing our best at Gurnard Sailing Club to raise funds and remember the big man. The sailing world is at a pace now and cantering to the final finishing lines.

Enjoy it whilst we can. Winter is coming.

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