It took a woman to start the America’s Cup, but 150 years later, few females are involved in this prestigious sailing competition. Three Bay Area women are breaking the glass wave, trying to make history by winning the America’s Cup in Valencia, Spain this spring.
In 1851, when Britain ruled the seas, Queen Victoria accepted a challenge from the upstart American colonies to race around the Isle of Wright. The yacht “America” famously won the bet and the America’s Cup trophy has been the coveted prize of the world’s richest men ever since.
It doesn’t get any more macho than the America’s Cup. Wealthy titans use their considerable financial resources to try and capture the world’s oldest international sporting trophy. Larry Ellison, CEO and founder of Oracle, has spent millions of his own money on the BMW ORACLE Racing team. A member of the crew, he often takes the wheel. “It’s all about egos,” says Marcus Hutchinson, America’s Cup spokesman, which arguably is one reason so few women are involved in the competition.
It’s not due to physical limitations according to Dawn Riley, the sole female general manger of an America’s Cup team, Areva, the French contender. “Sailing is a physical sport, but it’s a sport that needs different size bodies and different skills,” says Riley, who lives in San Francisco. “You have to be in the top 10 percent of women in sailing to compete with the guys on these big powerful boats, but if you’re small you can be a sail trimmer, in the afterguard, (helmsman, navigator, strategist), or in the bow position. In this America’s Cup, I am bigger than seven men on the team. It’s an assumption that women are small things and they can’t be strong--that’s crap.”
Riley, the first American, man or woman, to compete in three America's Cups and two Whitbread Round the World Races, complained that she’s no longer “one of the guys,” because she has to spend more time behind a desk than on a boat. “Last year I raced every race-this year I only raced four times. When I’m out there I realize how much I miss it. There is something about the stress relief of being out there and sweating and working through the pain…you don’t think about the fact that the budget came in a couple hundred thousand dollars under, or the human resources issues, or the sponsor problems… all you’re doing is concentrating on that single focus --it’s amazing.”
Riley says she’s not as lonely as she once felt in the sailing community. She recalled one Saturday a few years ago when all the secretaries had the day off and Riley was the only woman present on the base. “Today there are more females in professional sailing, they’re just not always on the boats. Now you have women in the sail loft, women in marketing, women on the shore team, and in the sponsorship area. They’re not always on a boat, but they’re in the America’s Cup and it’s a major sporting event. They’re doing a great job and getting paid and that’s progress.”
Melinda Erkelens is one of those critical women working onshore. A Piedmont lawyer, she’s a legal and rules advisor for the BMW ORACLE Racing Team. Although it may seem strange to need an attorney for an athletic competition, the America’s Cup transcends sports. “It’s a really odd event based on a deed of gift two pages long that was written in 1887. The winner of the Cup is the trustee for the next race,” she says.
BMW ORACLE Racing is the official challenger to Alinghi, the winner of the last America’s Cup. The Challenger of Record approaches the Defender and makes a hip-pocket pre-race agreement, called a protocol. Since it is very brief, there is still a lot of negotiating that takes place before the actual racing. Whoever holds the Cup can decide on the rules. In class rule meetings between the Defender and the Challenger of Record, (BMW ORACLE Racing), Erkelens was always the only woman in the room. “It was me and ten guys,” she says.
Teams must be sponsored by a yacht club and BMW ORACLE Racing flies the flag of the Golden Gate Yacht Club in San Francisco. Erkelens sits on the Yacht Club’s Board of Directors and serves as a liaison between the Club and the Team. The U.S. held the Cup for 132 years; the longest winning streak in sports history, and Ellison is hoping to bring the Cup back home where it would be on display in the GG Yacht Club. The winner also gets to decide the location of the next Americas Cup, so San Francisco could be hosting this prestigious event in the future.
Erkelens’ job requires the perspective of a historian, the experience of a sailor, the practicality of an accountant, a politician’s skill, and the cunning of James Bond. She helped draft provisions outlawing spying, including a clause forbidding helicopters from looking down on the yachts and taking pictures.
The best advisors for the Americas Cup are those who know what’s worked in the past, according to Erkelens. “America’s Cup has turned in to a big spendathon and there are ways to control it or ways to let it happen,” she says. “It gets too silly. In the past there were big weather teams, 15 little boats looking at weather patterns. We decided we didn’t need an armada.”
“It’s an amazing event that helps drive technological advances in the sailing industry. People spend a lot of money on R and D. Who can afford to do research and development? It’s trial and error, but this is a place where they are doing advances and the cost effective ones trickle down to mainstream boating, such as sail material and rig designs. That’s a really cool thing.” She benefits from those advances on her own Moore 24 foot boat.
An amateur sailor, Erkelens has competed in women’s match racing. “I’ve been sailing since I was about six and racing since my teens. I grew up in the Bay Area and raced in four Pacific Cup races (SF to Hawaii) and one Transpac (LA to Hawaii). In 2005, I raced on Transpac with an all women’s crew, and we finished 2nd in the Cal 40 fleet. Working on an America’s Cup team is a nice way for me to combine passion and profession.”
She and her husband Bill began working for Ellison 12 years ago when they took care of his 80-foot-yacht Sayonara. “In 2000 Larry said do you want to work on the America’s Cup? This is a good idea, right?” laughs Erkelens, who said the multi-year event can take over your life. “Larry loves sailing, it’s a passion, and it’s a world where everyone is passionate about it.”
“We did a lot of traveling in the first campaign and now we have two children seven and nine years old so we need to be settled,” says Erkelens, who conducts a lot of her work from home. “This time I’m not completely absorbed by the America’s Cup which can easily happen. Aimee is in a good spot with her husband right there.”
She’s referring to Aimee Daniel, the Sailing Team Coordinator for BMW ORACLE Racing, who is married to team member Rodney Daniel, a grinder. “My job is taking care of onshore logistics so the sailors can concentrate on wining races,” says Daniel. “I look after our sailing team of 36 people. We have to be ready each day to take 2 boats sailing - with a crew of 17 on each boat. And, with the crew rarely being the same from day to day, compiling the list is somewhat intricate. I am responsible for making sure this group knows where they should be, and when they should be there. If we travel for an event, I handle logistics on the ground once we arrive to these foreign places.”
“Because I have a sailing history and I know what it takes to produce results on the water, I can contribute to the onshore process and allow the sailors to focus on their jobs.” Sailing since she was a teen, Daniel’s accomplishments include winning the 2002 Women’s Match Racing Worlds, the 2003 Santa Maria Cup, and the 2004 U.S. Women’s Match Racing Championships. Daniel, who lives in Oakland, grew up around boats. Her mother and stepfather own and operate Pineapple Sails – a sail loft in Alameda. “Kame, my stepfather, started this business about 34 years ago,” she says. “They are the last Bay Area sail maker where a customer can actually see their sails made from start to finish.”
Aimee, who calls the Americas Cup ‘a sea of men,’ says it’s a good thing that more women have joined the team because “women are so much better at communication. It’s amazing how men get anything done at all, ” she laughs. Working on the same team with her husband has its advantages. “We have the same days off and I don’t have to ask ‘How was your day?’ I already know.”
Unless women find romance with another sailor, they can find it difficult to form relationships. Although Riley has a residence in San Francisco, she said she travels constantly, so her home is wherever she happens to be. Single at 42, she was engaged to a sailor who is now shore manager for the New Zealand team, a syndicate now located next door to Areva, and he isn’t speaking to her. “The sailing world is a huge extended family or soap opera depending on the moment,” says Riley. “Right now I'm dating a guy from Seattle who has nothing to do with sailing. Part of the problem with dating sailors is that I start out at the same level or below the guys in terms of skills and position and end up rising above them.”
“It’s such a coveted position to be a part of a sailing team that you need to focus your total commitment and your total life on it,” observes Riley, “and a lot of times women are less stubborn and smarter than guys. They say ‘you know what, I don’t need to bang my head against a brick wall, I can become a doctor or a lawyer.’ So you have women dropping out for very valid reasons.”
With San Francisco women leading the way, the glass wave is breaking. “I have competent, intelligent young women who are interning and believing that it is possible to be a professional sailor,” she says. “ That didn’t happen ten years ago. In 1992 there were six women out of 240 team members; we’re talking marketing, retailing, administration. Now a quarter of the team are women and this is something you are seeing across the board on all the teams, which makes it a more welcoming, less intimidating situation.”
MORGAN LARSON sails into America's Cup history aboard Victory Challenge, the Swedish entry into the 32nd America's Cup being held in Valencia, Spain in 2007.
Morgan Larson got his start in the Santa Cruz Harbor
Morgan Larson Team Victory Challenge
Team Victory Challenge Swedish Entry 32nd America's Cup
Santa Cruz Sentinel Jan 04,2007
Santa Cruz Sentinel Jan 04,2007
Capitola Sailor Tapped for 32nd America’s Cup Sailboat Races
By: Ruth Carlson
“The only thing worse than being in the America’s Cup is not being in the America’s Cup.”That’s how Capitola native and resident Morgan Larsson explains his recent decision to become a tactician for Victory Challenge, the Swedish team competing for the oldest international sporting trophy, the America’s Cup. The yachting races, held this spring in Valencia, Spain, have 12 teams representing nine countries.
Many America’s Cup teams have pursued Larsson, ranked 23rd in the world, “…but all of those were longer term commitments, and I had some Olympic events on schedule,” he explained. In his spare time Larsson is practicing for the Olympic sailing trials, hoping to compete in a 49er two-person boat in Beijing, 2008. “Victory Challenge was happy to work around my schedule and they were a group of people I wanted to work with,” he said. “I was impressed with how far they had progressed considering they didn’t have anyone with past experience. They’re a nice group of people. You can get in teams with talented people, but they’re hard to work with, and on this team people pull together.”
This is Larsson’s third America’s Cup, but his first on a non-U.S. team. “My heritage is from Sweden, so I still feel I’m with a national team,” he said. Each America’s Cup team represents a country, although teams are allowed to hire the best sailors, regardless of nationality.“The Swedish team has more Americans than the American entry, “ laughed Larsson. “We have six Americans on Victory Challenge and there are three on BMW Oracle Racing.”(BMW Oracle Racing is the U.S. team led by Larry Ellison, CEO and founder of Oracle.)
Larsson describes the tactician position as “…like a coach but I’m also in play with everyone else. I make decisions on when to maneuver and the right way to go on the race course.”At 35 years of age, Larsson is about 10 years younger than his contemporaries.
He gained much of his experience in his hometown. “When I wasn’t surfing, I was sailing,” says Larrson.“I have great memories of sailing the breakwater into the Harbor with my dad.” A typical Saturday started by riding his bike to Depot Hill to check out the waves which determined whether he went sailing or surfing.
For the past four years Larsson has stuck close to his home in Capitola. “I worked a lot with Philippe Kahn and Pegasus Racing which was nice after traveling a lot,” he said. Pegasus Racing, owned by Kahn, is a sailboat team that competes in the one-design class. “Morgan is a great kid,” said Kahn. “I met him first when he was 14. He's not a kid anymore.... but we all think of him as a kid!”
The life of a professional sailor is a nomadic existence. Larsson’s recent travel schedule includes his America’s Cup job in Spain, off-season training in Dubai, and then practicing for the Olympics in Miami. In between, he managed a short visit to his home in Capitola to see his wife, Krista, whom he married in August.
“In February I go back to Spain for the America’s Cup where we’re hopeful we’ll make it to the end of June,” said Larsson. The Louis Vuitton Cup races beginning in April 2007 narrow down the field of challengers to the one who races against Alhingi, the Swiss tam that won in 2003. “It’s a tough road ahead, there are a lot of good teams competing in the America’s Cup,” he admitted.
Victory Challenge is currently ranked fifth among the 12 teams. “We’re gaining strength every day,” said Larsson. “Red Bull just signed on as major sponsor which gave us a big injection financially. In the America’s Cup, big sponsors are key to getting the budget in line. It’s an expensive operation, costing about $50, 000 a day just to operate.”
Each team is sponsored by a yacht club and Larsson said it’s possible that the Santa Cruz Yacht Club could a “yacht of record” for an America’s Cup team.“There are smaller yacht clubs than Santa Cruz involved in the America’s Cup,” said Larsson, “so you never know. If they had the backing of someone like Phillip Kahn, it might happen.”
When the America’s Cup is over, Larsson hopes to return to the Santa Cruz area full time. “I wish I was spending more time in Santa Cruz. I only spent ten days here in the last six months, but when this is over this is where I’ll be hanging out.” No doubt sailing one of the two boats he keeps in the yacht harbor, a Moore 24 and a 505.“It’s a great place to live,” he said. Apparently, it’s also a great place to learn how to sail.
For more information on the 32nd America's Cup being held in Valencia, Spain in 2007, go to these links:
Victory Challenge Swedish Entry 32nd America's Cup
Victroy Challenge Swedish entry 32nd America's Cup Valencia, Spain
Victory Challenge racing in Valencia, Spain, site of the 32nd America's Cup
Santa Cruz Sentinel February 04, 2007 DEE SMITH CHARTS HIS COURSE INTO THE CUP with TEAM SHOSHOLOZA OF SOUTH AFRICA AND VISITING VALENCIA
Santa Cruz Sentinel 02/04/07 Dee Smith & the America's Cup
Valencia, Spain The fastest growing city in Europe and the site of the upcoming 32nd America's Cup Sailboat Races
Dee Smith Charts His Own Course with Boats and Life
By: Ruth Carlson
It was 41 years ago, but Dee Smith remembers it like it was yesterday. It was his first race and he was 13, sailing off the Santa Cruz harbor with his dad. “I saw all the boats following a skipper who usually won the Wednesday night ‘beer-can’ races but something told me they were going in the wrong direction,” he said. “ I had forgotten my binoculars but my eyes were good, and I thought I saw the mark.I went with my gut and my dad listened to me.We wound up winning the race.”
“That day I learned that you should create your own path and not just follow the crowd,” Smith observed.So it’s not surprising that he’s currently working for Team Shosholoza, the underdog in the prestigious sailing competition for the America’s Cup, the oldest international sporting trophy. One of the world’s top ranked grand prix skipper/tacticians,
two years ago Smith sailed with the South African team, last year he was the General Manager and Tactician and in 2007 he’ll serve as a consultant. “I did my best to point them in the right direction and now they are on their own,” said Smith. “I am very proud to be part of their success story."
It’s South Africa’s first challenge for the America’s Cup and they are shaking up tradition. The only non-profit foundation in the race, they are also the only entry with a Nobel Peace Prize laureate as a patron, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This gregarious holy man said “Yippee and Yippee again,” when Team Shosholoza won their second regatta in the America’s Cup, a three year series of races leading up to the final competition in Valencia, Spain this spring.
Instead of publicizing a company, Team Shosholoza’s vast 350 square meter spinnaker sails have a huge red ribbon raising AIDS awareness. “We see people dying every week from HIV/AIDS related diseases, said Captain Salvatore Sarno, chairman of Mediterranean Shipping Company, South Africa and the financial backer of the team. “The America’s Cup is an ideal platform to raise awareness about something that is critical for all of Africa,” he said.
Members of the crew include Zulu tribesmen who have never seen the sea before and are learning how to sail in the Super Bowl of yachting. The young men were recruited from Izivunguvungu MSC Foundation for Youth, a full time youth academy Sarno formed to teach children from poorer communities life skills through sailing and boat building.
“I call my team Sponge Bob, “ said Smith. “They don’t know a lot, but they soak up new information every day.” “Our budget is less than a tenth of the budget of the BMW Oracle Racing Team,” (the United State’s contender), says Smith. “We’re trying to spend our limited money wisely. We’re taking baby steps to make sure we don’t take go backwards. The history of the Americas Cup shows that those who lose do not learn from their mistakes.” Smith wishes Americans would become more interested in sailing.“It takes education to be a fan. Golf is easy; you put the balls in a hole. About 90% of my business is in Europe. That’s why it’s a good thing the sport finally got here.” (The America’s Cup is being held in Valencia, Spain, the first time the race has been in Europe since the first race in England 150 years ago).
At 54, Smith is old for a professional athlete but he says his career is timeless because he uses his brain more than this his brawn. “I do my job using gray matter. I can keep working as long as I keep my brains.” He also has the experience teams value.
“I designed sails in a past life where you learn to tweak everything every day. The sport has gotten specialized and I am one of the few guys who knows how to do it all. A guy with an overall base of knowledge is rare.”
“Dee is an exceptional sailor,” said Philippe Kahn, owner of Pegasus Racing in Santa Cruz. “He is truly one of the best tacticians in the world. Really second to none. What is impressive with Dee is that he is also an excellent manager. The South African team is very fortunate to have found a person like Dee to lead them. It is a great opportunity for both of them.” Smith grew up in San Jose and currently lives in Marin. While he calls Santa Cruz a beautiful place to live and work, he said he lives inland because,“when the water is your job, you need change.”
The final elimination races, the Louis Vuitton Cup, begin this spring but Smith is not worried.“I’ve been doing this job too long to be stressed,” he said.The winner of the America’s Cup has the right to hold the next competition in their country but South Africa’s chances of beating the competition is a longshot.Smith said winning isn’t the goal. “We’re not trying to bring the cup to South Africa, we’re trying to bring South Africa to the world.”
By: Ruth Carlson
When Dee Smith first arrived in Valencia Spain, a few years ago as a sailor on the South African team competing for the America’s Cup, he couldn’t wait to leave. A lot has happened since then.“The city has changed enormously--I hardly recognize the place now,” he said.
Valencia has been transformed from an industrial town to the jet set destination.The rush to Valencia (pronounced Vah-len-thee-ah) is understandable. How often do you have the Holy Grail in the same city as the Auld Mug, the America’s Cup?
The Cathedral of Valencia, located in the city’s historical section, claims to house the Holy Grail. Here in a tiny chapel, visitors can reportedly see the chalice Jesus used in the last supper according to the church. At the other end of town, tourists line up to see another cup, the oldest trophy in international sport. For the first time, the huge silver America’s Cup is on display to the public in the America’s Cup Village. Constructed for the sailing races, the Village is truly a city of it’s own with outposts of popular Valencia restaurants and activities for all budgets.
1-Skippering an America’s Cup yacht--on a radio remote controlled boat, that is. Kids of all ages will enjoy racing the boats representing the 12 contenders for the ultimate sailing prize.
2-Sending an electronic postcard of yourself superimposed in front of one of Valencia’s famous tourist spots. The photo is also projected onto a huge screen in the America’s Cup Village.
3-Touring the America’s Cup 3D museum. Put on headphones and walk around the museum to learn the history of the Cup.
4. Watching the sailing races from shore along the new canal, lined with bars and restaurants. Grab a chair at one of the sidewalk tables and watch the beautiful people of Spain parade by in all their finery in front of the America’s Cup yachts. If you’re lucky you’ll hear the South African team drumming and singing.
Each of the sailing syndicates offers hats, shirts and other memorabilia emblazoned with their logo for sale that are great for bragging rights when you get back home.
A visit to Valencia is not complete without a stop at the City of Arts and Sciences or Ciudad De Las Artes Y Las Ciencias.The City is a futuristic architectural marvel that's fun for the whole family. Inspired by the bright Mediterranean light, famed architect Santiago Calatrava, who is from Valencia, worked with only concrete, steel, glass, ceramics and the colors white and blue to create this complex. Huge reflecting pools mirror the white buildings whose design reflects their purpose; the science museum looks like a dinosaur, the opera house resembles a warrior helmet, the planetarium is an eye that opens and closes and the aquarium is shaped like a whale. After touring the aquarium, the largest in Europe, dine at the circular underground submarine restaurant, Restaurante Submarino, where shoals of silver fish swim past diners, comfortable knowing they’re not on the menu.
You’ll have to adjust your eating times in Spain. Lunch starts around 2 pm and no self-respecting Spaniard would be seen eating dinner earlier than 10 p.m.It’s worth staying up late for dinner because Valencia is on the foodie fast track. Chefs are having fun creating Mediterranean dishes with a twist, such as cherry gazpacho with prosciutto on top and foie gras with banana and everyone is serving small portions. Tapas, small plates of food invented to stave off hunger between lunch and dinner, are now popular all day.
Bamboo is worth a visit for the location alone: the Mercado Colon, an old farmers market that has been restored. Don’t miss seeing the huge murals of workers next to gargoyles reportedly used as the model for the “Batman” movie set. The restaurant has an outpost in the America’s Cup Village. It’s the same great food and casual sophisticated atmosphere with an up close view of the 75-foot America’s Cup yachts and those gorgeous sailors.
Valencia is the birthplace of Paella, but you must order this saffron rice dish for lunch. Only tourists have paella for dinner. For a traditional experience, visit Port Albufhera where a chef in a traditional costume prepares paella on an outdoor fire while you drink Sangria on the river bank and watch old fashioned wooden boats glide past.
If you have time, catch a tour bus or rent a car to visit Gandia or Denia, two beach towns about 45 minutes from Valencia. In Gandia you can tour the Duke of Borgia’s castle you may have read about in several recently published books about the family; the only dynasty to produce two popes.
Cabs are inexpensive and drivers all have gps.
Phone numbers are listed on plaques in front of most historic sites. Call this number with your cell phone for a self-guided tour in English.
Most shops are closed Sundays and sales, (rebajas), happen twice a year, in January and August.