“It Was Magic. I Don’t Know Why”

Night of the Imp, Cove House, The San Francisco Yacht Club

Once upon a time ocean racing was going gangbusters. Every new boat seemed important, and the new boats kept on coming. In the 1970s, the racing yacht Imp was born in a sketch on a napkin at the bar at The San Francisco Yacht Club. No one could have imagined what was coming.

Even the paint job was shocking for the day, and the crew looked more like a rock band than yachties, but hey, we’re talking San Francisco, and in their 1977 world tour they rocked that world and won most of their races. That would include SORC and then the Fastnet, as the top boat in the “world championship” of ocean racing, the Admiral’s Cup.

RIP, Admiral’s Cup.


RIP, IOR. Jimi, Janet . . .

That whole scene is gone.

Sourced from wiki

But it came back, briefly, on Wednesday evening when Storm Trysail Club Commodore John Fisher presented the Seamanship Award to the crew of Imp, and many an old tale surfaced. Some of them may even have been true. Fisher made the presentation in SFYC’s Cove House, just steps from where Imp’s napkin sketch played out in the long ago. Bill Barton read from the 1979 Fastnet storm chapter of his book, The Legend of Imp recalling dark hour after dark hour with the odometer pegged at 60 and the wind blowing the top fifteen feet off the waves and every move a struggle when “struggle” can’t really tell the story. Finally, dawn broke, and after weeks of gray skies, Skip Stevely recalled, “The sky was clear. It was the prettiest weather I’ve ever seen in England.”

Salt water mountains notwithstanding.

Storm Trysail’s Seamanship Award is unique in recognizing all of the crewmembers. It was first awarded to the crew of Tenacious, Ted Turner’s ’79 Fastnet Race winner, and then to the crew of George Coumantaros’ Boomerang, in 1996 the first boat ever to finish a Newport-Bermuda in a long weekend. Boomerang was designed and rigged to not have to reef below 40 knots true, and she found her weather.

L-R: Bill Barton, Don Jesberg, Skip Steveley, Skip Allan, Dave Allen family members Donna and Jeanie, Imp crewman and SFYC Commodore Tad Lacey, Steve Taft

I once compared Imp and crew to ensemble players who, strangely, catch fire and become more than players, their vehicle more than a play. Skip Allan gets that. “It was magic,” he said. “I don’t know why.”


They might, but to say the least, no guarantees on that. With a total of ten schools making the invitational cut for collegiate sailing’s only big-boat event on the West Coast, Cal Maritime is the inviting school and double defender, so they get respect. Returning skipper Matt Van Rensselaer has a mostly-veteran crew. But the Keelhaulers from Vallejo ran second in the last Kennedy Cup to Navy’s all-new team which has been red hot in East Coast racing.

Add USC, College of Charleston, the short list does nobody justice.

The Harbor Cup has been an instant hit, sponsored by the Port of Los Angeles and hosted by the Los Angeles Yacht Club with courses laid outside LA Harbor, just beyond the restored-and-looking-good Angel’s Gate Lighthouse.

The winning faces of 2012 . . .



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