It’s Not Data, It’s Life

Photo by Rich Roberts

Photo by Rich Roberts

I know why Mike Holt and Carl Smit lost 30 seconds on the final beat of the second race of the 505 Worlds. They sailed into gas. The gas at the back of the fleet. They lapped the tailenders.  Hoo, boy.

For all those who spent a big portion of their day capsized in the middle of the course, or two-sailing the reaches, I can only say, Welcome to San Francisco Bay.

Whitecaps. Wind in the thirties and at least one gust to 39. A littered racecourse. Only 45 of 88 boats even started the second race. And the two fast boats proved out. That would be Holt/Smit plus Mike Martin/Jeff Nelson.

Martin won the first race solid. In the second race he was together with Holt, way out front, when a breaker wave took out Nelson, who took out Martin, who went off the back of the boat. Went down hard at that point, they did, he and Mr. Nelson. And re-righted the boat pronto, they did. Then – went down again and turtled the boat and stuck the mast in the mud, they did. And that was the end of the day for USA 8714.

Holt/Smit in 9002 blast away as  . . .       (Photo by Rich Roberts)

Holt/Smit in 9002 blast away as . . . (Photo by Rich Roberts)

The replacement mast was installed before the sun went down.

Holt went on to round the final gate of race two with 3 minutes 36 seconds in the bank, and yes, you read that right. He could afford to lose 30 seconds. And is that scary fast, or what? Meanwhile, Mike Martin – some MM thoughts below, he wants to be the first person ever to win the worlds as a crew and also as a driver – has used his first throwout on Day One.

Almost using the first throwout would be Holt. His mast crimped about halfway through the race, and there was no guarantee it was going to go the distance. Holt and Smit had their own boatwork waiting on Crissy Field Beach.

When the SAP cavalry arrived on-site ahead of the SAP 505 Worlds – looking for data to crunch, to show what business intelligence software can do off the freeway and out in the bush – it wasn’t clear to me what we’d find. Then once the techies got to slicing and dicing, data started telling a story in a way that I’d never seen happen in a dinghy fleet.

On the racecourse, eyeballs will tell you that Mike Martin likes to sail wide and foot for speed. The defending 505 world champion, Britain’s Ian Pinnell, sails a bit tighter. Then came the data confirming our eyeball calls. In the fifth race of last week’s North American championship – out of St. Francis Yacht Club, on San Francisco Bay – we saw Pinnell averaging tacking angles of 85 degrees upwind, tack to tack, compared to 90 degrees for Mike Martin. Pinnell’s average speed upwind and down was 7.84 knots (over the ground) compared to 8.4 knots for Martin. All of this comes from gps tracking ( with 200,000 data points collected every four seconds.

Not quite America’s cup stuff, but pretty uptown for a dinghy fleet. And not new news, but interesting enough. We’ll have more—I’ve been hanging with the techies as a sailing consultant or some such thing—as we learn more about how to use the tools. I was also taken with the data from a different race showing Pinnell adjusting his tacking angles on each succeeding weather leg, as the breeze increased and sea state changed, while a certain nameless midfleet driver never adjusted at all.

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A random but not unique turtle event: Photo by Rich Roberts

A random but not unique turtle event: Photo by Rich Roberts

Double Ambition: 1999 Plus Ten

Mike Martin is perfectly clear. He wants to win the 505 Worlds as a driver because he’s already won as crew, “and nobody has ever done both.”

In 1999, Martin rode the wire with Howie Hamlin driving. In the years since, tiller in hand, Martin’s been driving 505s himself, and he’s come close to the magic double. But the cigar is still out there, somewhere. His winning performance in last week’s North American championship showed that he has a good crack at striking fire this time around.

Mike Martin on the beach:  Photo  by KL

Mike Martin on the beach: Photo by KL

Hamlin is meanwhile teamed with Paul Cayard, who is flying in from the Med, where his work as tactician helped put Artemis in the lead at the MedCup races at Portimao. He’s skipping the final MedCup race and the first 505 race and going almost straight to the racecourse. In 1999, while Hamlin and Martin were winning their world championship, Cayard was on the ocean, winning the Volvo race around the world with EF Language.

There’s a wow in there somewhere.

With the 2009 Worlds just half of the state removed from his Southern California home, Martin “took a year off” from sailing in other classes to focus on the 505 along with his man on the wire, Jeff Nelson. The two have been together, by degrees, since soon after the 1999 Hamlin/Martin win. That was the same year that Nelson graduated from the University of Hawaii (far, far from his Maine roots) and moved to Southern California to work for Ullman Sails. Nelson says he came onto the scene as “an understudy” for Martin’s then-crew, Steve Bourdow. Nelson’s into the 505 because, “at six-feet-four and 215 pounds, there aren’t that many dinghies I can sail—dinghies that are fun, that plane upwind—and 505s demand a level of expertise in technicalities and technique. You don’t see people jumping in and winning straight off.”

No, and not everybody is comfy on this patch of water.

San Francisco Bay in the summer averages windy and cold. These guys are used to it. A few of their competitors are in shock. Here’s Mike Martin: “When we start a race in medium breeze, a lot of people are quick. As it gets windier [the local seabreeze tends to build and clock in the afternoon] certain boats have a speed edge.”

More than two, but the certainly-conspicuous two so far would be Martin/Nelson plus the Mike Holt/Carl Smit combo from Santa Cruz. But being fast in heavy air is not enough, he says: “We’ll have some two-race days that start early in the seabreeze cycle. We could see first weather legs in 10-12 knots. To win, you have to be good all-around.”

And not break your mast (again).

Now, about Mike Martin. This guy trains hard. What is the secret to how Mike Martin finds so much time for sailing? After all, he went responsibly into the work force after becoming Old Dominion’s first national collegiate champion and a two-time All American. Today, as an engineer, he designs equipment for retinal eye surgery and, “I probably take eight weeks a year off. What I don’t get as vacation, I take unpaid. My theory is that you gotta do what you gotta do. When I interview for a job, I tell them up front that I sail a lot. If that’s not OK,I’m not the guy they’re looking for.”

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