Sunday, December 17, 2006

Email from Mark Hammett

A few weeks ago I discussed in Worth Doing Badly a video in which the crew of a Capri 25 got themselves in all sorts of difficulties. Among other observations I speculated on the motivations of Mark Hammett, the skipper of the Capri 25, in allowing the world to see this somewhat embarrassing video of his crew in action. I hope I wasn't too hard on him and his crew; they certainly endured a lot worse treatment from other writers on a certain sailing forum and elsewhere.

I was surprised today to receive this email from Mr. Hammett...

I want to thank you for the kind words your blog expresses on the desire to sail even if it is done badly. You must appreciate that I have had a long career sailing as the foredeck on many boats ranging from 20-70 feet in length and in several venues in the North American continent for thirty+ years. This is includes being a mast-man on the winning Tatiana crew on the 1989 J-35 National Championships in Long Beach, Ca. I love to sail every moment I can, whether racing, practicing, cruising, and always with the belief and attitude that everyday is race-day!

I purchased my Capri-25 four years ago, my first time as an owner. I have worked my boat with one mission – training the future sailors and skippers who will replace the current guard in my beloved sport. I have reached the age of 50 years now and know that my limits will only allow me the occasional long distance race and I am resigned to the fact that club racing will be center of the rest of my sailing career. So here is where I know I will do the most good for my sport. The young boy that was on my boat that day was his first real ride on a racing boat under these extreme conditions. He has since spent the summer in sailing camps and at 12 will return to my boat to race everyday he can… Goal accomplished!

Since I posted the video on YouTube in November, I have endured all the negative comments from the armchair snipers who probably lack the experience or the courage to lead a young or lesser experienced group of sailors into any event, let also a National Championship; willing to take what God and the elements hand us at any given minute. They likely would stand on shore pouting they could not find a group of rock-stars, while I go out with my journeymen crew and take on the Goliaths on the race course. Like a pilot before flying, I daily and regularly ask the crew if the conditions feel to be beyond their experience or willingness to compete. On this day, one race finished, and in the second race, the thirty minutes before the broach, we had already completed four legs in building conditions including a downwind leg in which a hand held GPS indicated a sustained boat speeds of over 10 knots for almost 3 minutes (not quite the planning speed – but very close). And the video from that leg showed everything (crew and boat) in perfect working order.

Those who rip the boat on its performance, lack the skills to really take a large-small boat that acts like a dingy but sleeps four comfortably, and yes, it is not a J-22, or J-24, or Melges, or Scow, or anything fancy, or expensive to sail out of the box, and the snooty crews and skippers that sail them. It is a family racer/cruiser, it’s cheap to race, it’s easy sail, and very forgiving, period. That is why my daughter has been its helmsmen for the last four years (who has helmed in three national championships from age 14 and this year at 16).

I would challenge all of those who bad mouth this boat, the fleet, or my sailing skills to come to Lake Minnetonka and race against me single-handing a Capri-25 with spinnakers and then brag to me and world how great they are at sailing. This year as school and other commitments took my crew from me for four different races, I sailed single-handed and never finished DFL. In fact in some of the series finishes, I did better than with my crew on board.

The edited video was shared first with my own home yacht club’s annual awards banquet in celebration of the courage (and yes sometimes a fool-heartiness) of my crew and myself as the skipper of the Capri-25 and the foibles of my competitors. But also to remind everyone there, we are always learning and experiencing the ways to handle a machine that is totally dependent on all the energies of nature and efforts of the operators and its moving parts to all work together; and that any one or the other these gets out of balance, that events will lead to the disaster that whole world has now witnessed. At this annual event we celebrate all the best that sailing is and isn’t, because we all know the difference from first to last is the number of mistakes you don’t make.

The notion that this is a self-deprecating video meant to make fun of myself or my crew is farthest from the intention. It a learning video prepared with some style. Just look at the time stamp. The only cut in the action was after we got under control and the final collection of our crewmen that went overboard.

· Is it humorous; absolutely.

· Were we lucky that no one was injured in the boom-cross; definitely.

· Was the MOB in danger of hyperthermia – No … Lake Minnetonka is a shallow lake and in June is like a lukewarm bath at 70°; you’d have to be in the water two-three hours before you start getting stiff and cold.

· Did we make mistakes – That’s the reason I video every race and practice; so that we can review everything – both the good and the bad and that means learning from bad on what not to do and model the good. I can take a raw novice crew in one to two months of practice on weekends now with the video to review and work through most of the issues of bad techniques that start and head them off early from bad habits. Show me an NFL team that doesn’t review their game play video and I’ll show you a team with a losing record.

· Is it a good example of what-not-to-do? You bet… I’ve looked for video training tapes for years on keel boats having a knock-down as bad as this one, so that I can prepare and train my crew for them. Not even the famous J-24 training videos even deal with showing how to deal with such events because the producers fear law suits, broken equipment, etc in the making of such raw events…Never have they used extreme condition to video crew work and the forces of nature. Well, now I have one. If someone wants a copy of the original unedited version for a training video I would consider selling a copy with proceeds for the crew on my boat and for our sailing program.

On training days, you can’t manufacture winds or conditions like this to practice these high risk maneuvers. Many owners resist putting their equipment in peril just to practice a round-down or extreme-round-up. Too many things can break. I do take my team out to practice the round-ups and they handle them very well. Round-downs are rare. But in this incident you have to look at the start of the event being the halyard not being topped causing the masthead to gyrate back and forth. The mistake that led to the round-down was not using a winch to top it out and as the halyard eased out, the more out of balance the boat became making it difficult for Corry to predict the stall of the rudder which occurred moments later.

· Do have pride in my crew – Beyond all; it’s more than pride, its respect! Through the whole event not a single word of abuse or foul language was uttered or spoken aloud by anyone at anyone else on board. And there was no panic. Instead, following directions and communicating, the recovery began and finished without breakage, serious injury, and only wet clothes and an experience the crew will always remember.

When training my crew, that’s the first rule; watch thy tongue. In an emergency the messages do not translate when mixed in foul language. The blame is never leveled at the crew, the equipment, or another boat or competitor, it is the skipper who takes all responsibility for the actions of the boat. I remove those from my midst that abuse others though thoughtless words and uncontrolled emotions. In that my crew has my respect and I know they respect me and all of them will sail with me anywhere at anytime.

Now I have shared some of my thoughts with you on the why and how what happened and what lead me to share this humbling experience with the world. It was never vanity or fame I sought in sharing, just the love of the sport I live everyday and strive to do better in every practice, cruise, or race. And to help improve those I don’t come in contact with. I’ve already heard from friends on both coasts, that they are using this video as a training aid, and it has only been out for a month. What will happen in a year… who knows… I just hope and pray it will save lives and boats in the future.

Add this to your blog if you wish – I’ll act as Shakespeare’s Shylock, and wither the slings and arrows of the armchair skippers out there.


Mark Hammett

Owner – Capri 25 #370


Pat said...

Fascinating how many folks have probably made all sorts of comment swithout knowing the background of the incident.

What I'd like to know is how and who Mark Hammett gets to film his crew and boat in action. Is there a buddy or spouse who bravely sets out in a small powerboat or what? And, I've found it takes experience and luck to get decent still pictures of boats even in medium conditions, so how does someone, without professional film equipment and videographers (presumably), get good footage of the races on a windy day? Or did he get really lucky and get a really ace videographer to do the video?

Tillerman said...

According to the brief note posted on YouTube with the video, "The video is recorded unattended using the Horizon-True mount on the stern pulpit".

Hmmm - wonder if I could mount one of those on a Laser?

Anonymous said...

They have a mast mount model... however, you'd need to get a waterproof housing for your camera, just in case you capsize. :D Not that you'd ever capsize..

Tillerman said...

Hey - I need to have a camera that works underwater so it can get a shot of me doing the famous California Roll.

Carol Anne said...

There is a saying, "Only some of us are fortunate enough to learn from the mistakes of other people. The rest of us have to BE the other people."

As for the idea of sailing only when conditions are perfect -- that's going to mean hardly sailing at all. I will choose not to sail if I believe that my and my crew's experience level isn't up to coping with the conditions. I will choose not to sail if there is so close to no wind that there's no point to attempting to sail.

But waiting for "perfect" conditions? You gotta be kidding.

Fred said...

Thanks to Mark Hammett for all he does and he did for the sport of sailing through the video and his words. Some of his words have inspired me to follow his route and to try to do better with my crew.

And for Tillerman, I wish that he does film the California or San Francisco roll (as known to me) one day. I am scared of doing so, but maybe my home water is too shallow to do the full round. Can you imagine the mast sticking in the mud and you hang on the centreboard and wait to get aired?

Anonymous said...

hey you mark hammett...lake minnetonka, i sailed up there once, visiting my buddy mark olsen 'zippy' to sail around your island there..good fresh breeze that race

....managed to rip one of igors spinakers in the process....he is on another capri 25 there...they put my wife on another capri 25 with some oympic sailor team, i mean they were serious, i raced in a beneteau 42 fleet here in chicago and never seen such serious racers...anyhow my wife crewed for them and had a blast...

sail with you anyday anytime man....alexander in chicago - beneteau first 24.5 'liberty' burnham harbor/lake geneva

Pat said...

Hmmm, we've never been to the windy city, but the Etchells Worlds are in Chicago in a couple of years and even if we don't race there we'd like to at least spectate. And, Carol Anne has had a dream since childhood about driving to Wisconsin. So, one of these days we'll have to get to Neal Alexander's part of the country.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting Mark's e-mail.

His video is priceless, both from a humor perspective, and as a good video for people who don't understand what some of the dangers of a knockdown are.

It takes integrity and courage to post such a video. It is far too easy to comment about the video, without realizing the reasoning behind releasing it.

Captain John said...

Out here, we call them 'death rolls', and there is always one out there with your name on it.

It is VERY instructive to have a video that shows exactly what happens when your name come up.

A tip of the hat to Mark.

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