Schooner America Visits Astoria Yacht Club
Troy Sears says he’s living his dream by sailing his 134′ schooner yacht on a North American tour in support of the next America’s Cup races. The yacht’s design is based on the legendary America, whose name it shares, which beat a British fleet in 1851 in a 53-mile offshore race around the Isle of Wight. This contest and the trophy awarded by Queen Victoria, became the America’s Cup—claimed to be “the oldest trophy in sports.” It is also the most litigated prize in sports, and modern sailors either love it or hate it!
The 52-year-old San Diego is a lifetime fan of the cup and has been involved with since the 1980’s when Dennis Connor was the star skipper. Sears has crewed for him and sailed on the big IACC monohull class during deliveries and practice races, though never in the actual contest itself. But he is as enthusiastic a supporter as you could want to take on the challenge of owning and running the beautiful wooden schooner that he purchased about a decade ago in Key West.
He now operates whale watching and racing tours out of the Maritime Museum of San Diego and reckons he is on the water about 330 days a year. He was often seen during the 2013 cup series in San Francisco Bay, where his yacht was the star of the spectator fleet. But this spring, he felt inspired to take a sabbatical and cruise the entire west coast with a six-person crew visiting yacht clubs to publicize sailing in general and the America’s Cup in particular.
His goal was to visit about about 30 yacht clubs in roughly two months, going as far north as Victoria B.C. and to Port Townsend and Tacoma in Puget Sound. But first, while northbound from San Francisco, he came up the Columbia River at the invitation of the Astoria Yacht Club and Portland sailors missed out a unique opportunity! The America moored at the 17th St dock for just one day, and a good crowd was attracted by the sight of the varnished raked masts towering over the sleek black hull.
Many including myself made a small donation to the project and enjoyed a walk-aboard tour until 3pm. The interior is laid out like a typical charter yacht, but the saloon is distinguished by a collection of America’s cup models from all era that line the walls and make it a floating shrine to the “auld mug.” The deck was packed with paying guests for the afternoon cruise, and the big yacht was skillfully warped away from the dock in the strong current. The crew quickly hoisted sail and the schooner was a magnificent sight reaching up and down the estuary off the city waterfront in a strong breeze.
The evening presentation at the yacht club was less well attended, but we settled in to hear Sears praise Astoria as a fabulous venue for sailing, unaware of how it has been avoided by NW racers in recent years. Next he set out to convince us that the America’s Cup history was always a technical search for speed under sail that continues unbroken into the multihull era– as the dramatic comeback from 8-1 down showed during the 34th cup won by Oracle Team USA in 2013.
However, most of those present represented the small but enthusiastic Olsen 30 local racing group, and were very knowledgeable and opinionated in response to his explanation for the radical change the America’s Cup has undergone in recent years. A lively discussion followed, and Sears stuck to his belief that the America’s Cup was always about improving technology—although several in the audience pointed out it certainly looked like it was more about politics and legal wrangling!
But there’s no question that the tradition of the Cup has made it the greatest prize in yachting, and the obsession with winning it continues to attract the world’s best inshore sailors, regardless of the high cost or the ever-changing rules. The current confusion began with the giant multi hulls in 2010, followed by the decision to race in 72′ wing-masted catamarans in 2013. These were discarded for similar boats 62′ long in 2014, and reduced again to 48′ catamaran one designs in 2015 to cut costs. (Now the teams can only change the most important elements: the rear flap of the wingsail and the all-important foils.)
All of this is far removed from the traditional schooner yacht that Sears sails and the type of sailing and racing it represents, but he remains confident that the cup races will always find a place in the yachting world. He plans to continue his educational tour on the East Coast in the spring of 2016, followed by the Caribbean and eventually the island of Bermuda, where the next America’s Cup competition will be in 2017.
The reason for this location, he explained, is that the island’s government was prepared to pay handsomely for the right, had the protected water with regular wind, and waterfront land available for development. They also need to raise their reputation among the mega-yacht community and super-rich set as a desirable modern destination!
Editor’s note: Sears yacht is repeatedly described as a “replica.” This not correct usage. The dictionary states that replica means “a copy exact in all details.” In nautical terms, that means everything must be as close possible to the original in design and construction. Substituting modern materials for canvas sails and hemp rope is generally tolerated as long as all the deck gear is manual, and the hull built in a traditional manner, like the Lady Washington. The new America is a wonderful example of historic re-design, but even a quick visual survey on deck finds it has numerous modern winches and strip planked hollow masts, so it is self-evidently not a replica.