Kiwis win first real Cup race


Kiwis win first real America’s Cup race as Oracle adapts to rejected rule change

After a week of one-boat “races,” an argument over rules, and an angry sponsor making waves in international media, it would be easy to write off the America’s Cup as the lamest party in town (so lame, in fact, that the organizers have ceased broadcasting the one-boat shows on YouTube).

But, it was a week of wins for Emirates Team New Zealand, most obviously the solid drubbing they delivered to Luna Rossa on Saturday (7/13) during the first race at which two boats actually showed.

A smart “hook” by ETNZ blocked Luna Rossa from the start line and gave the Kiwis a five second advantage that stretched to over five minutes during the seven legs of the race. Unfortunately, that was the peak of the action as the gap between the boats grew so great and Luna Rossa officially earned a “did not finish” result for exceeding the five minutes allowed to cross the finish line after ETNZ. Overall, the match was almost as boring to watch as the single-boat snoozefests of earlier in the week, however it did show off the capabilities of the Kiwi crew, who are clearly mastering foiling while jibing, a key move for maintaining high speeds downwind.

Which brings us to the other big win for the New Zealanders this week. On Thursday, the international jury [1]ruled in favor of ETNZ and Luna Rossa, who protested a new rule requiring larger, symmetrical rudder elevators as a matter of safety. The jury decided that allowing the larger rudder elevators – which Oracle have been using on their boat since they relaunched in April after a pitch-pole in October destroyed their wing sail – would violate the AC72 Class Rule that governs the design specifications of the boats.

They said regatta director Iain Murray couldn’t change this rule without buy-in from all the competitors and that voluntary compliance of the other safety rules would appease the Coast Guard, which permitted the event based on the additional safety measures made after Andrew Simpson died.

The rudder elevators help stabilize the lightweight boats while foiling, or lifting off the surface of the water to hit speeds of over 40 knots – ETNZ saw 42.3 on the speedometer on Saturday while Luna Rossa maxed out at 39.9 knots. The crew that masters this move and can maintain it over the course of a race will likely come out ahead. ETNZ is doing it now and will likely get better and better at it over the coming weeks as they continue to race the course through the multiple round robins of the Louis Vuitton Cup.

Meanwhile, Oracle will have to return to the drawing board and Ellison’s crew will need to get out on the water and re-learn how to handle their boat with a new rudder that complies with the Class Rule.

Oracle has been tight-lipped on the subject, with just a brief statement from general manager Grant Simmer on the jury’s decision. “We continue to support the Regatta Director and we believe all teams have benefited from his review. We don’t have an issue complying with the Class Rule, and we will be ready to race under the rules affirmed by the Jury.”
However, they may have an issue playing catch-up to the Kiwis, who have a lot on the line. If they aren’t able to wrest the Auld Mug from Larry Ellison’s hands, it’s likely the New Zealand government won’t chip in for a future campaign – especially if high-tech, billion-dollar boats remain the name of the game.

The Kiwis have already chalked up four points and will need to win just one more of the next three bouts with Italy to advance to the Louis Vuitton Cup semifinals, during which the Swedish team, Artemis, should be back on the water. Spectators won’t see Oracle on the course until September 7, when the America’s Cup final matches commence, however there should be plenty of opportunities to observe their practice sessions with a newly rule-compliant boat.

To that end, it’s worth noting that situating the race close to land for the first time in the Cup’s history, and with a short course completed in multiple laps, was supposed to draw crowds to the shoreline and the television screen. Now that I’ve seen the boats live and on television, I have to admit that so far it’s still a pretty boring sport to watch. Standing near the start line at Marina Green or the finish line at Piers 27/29 may get you flashes of action and watching it on television is like watching a video game.

The best of both worlds is to park as near as possible to the water and get your hands on a portable marine VHF radio tuned to channel 20, which transmits the official America’s Cup broadcast. Then you can hear details on speed and tactics while actually seeing the most unforgettable part of this race – the boats jibing downwind, hitting freeway speeds while foiling with spray flying and crewmembers bouncing from one hull to the other.

That’s still drawing gasps and cheers from the crowd.

Originally published July 15, 2013 in the San Francisco Bay Guardian

Hi-tech in the tidal zone

On a recent Friday afternoon I donned the filthiest life jacket I’ve ever seen, stepped aboard a flat steel punt dusty with concrete, and went to a place few ever go – the cool, dark underworld beneath Queens Wharf.

Here, the water glows an eerie nuclear green and the sounds of constant foot traffic, swooping helicopters, and the Shed 5 lunch crowd seem a million miles away. It’s high tide and Derek Kleinjan and I duck our heads around ancient copper sewer pipes and enormous 100-year-old beams to see what he and his five-man crew have been up to for the past 18 months.

Kleinjan is foreman for GK Shaw, a Lower Hutt firm that builds marine infrastructure around the world, and they’re systematically reinforcing the rotted beams and piles of the aging wharf. About 270 new greenheart beams, each weighing half a ton, were floated one at a time and lifted overhead into place with jacks specially designed by Shaw (and hidden in storage from the eyes of competitors.)

More than 280 new concrete piles have been poured, with the assistance of two divers, and wrapped with sheets of Kevlar, which add strength and stability to the structure. They resemble the hi-tech carbon fibre sails seen on racing boats, and are a new method for this kind of large scale renovation.  Already, barnacles, muscles, and starfish are clinging to the Kevlar and the internal carbon fibres lend an ethereal light.

Kleinjan’s been down here off and on over the years – as have his two sons, who work for him occasionally. Twenty years ago he was part of the crew that replaced piles under Shed 5, which he shows me while diners stare down at us from the restaurant’s deck.

These piles are thicker and were poured around an internal metal frame, which isn’t required with the new Kevlar method.
“The trickier the better sometimes because it really makes you think,” says the foreman, who describes areas where the wooden beams, weighing half a ton apiece, had to be lifted overhead, delicately threaded between pipes and electrical cords.

Kleinjan and crew will be finished by June, when they’ll move on to repair the fendering on Taranaki Wharf. He tells me he loves the complexity and challenges of the work, even though it’s something he can’t really show off. “If you sucked all the water out of the sea nobody’d want to walk on a wharf,” he says as we glide back out into the light of day.


Originally published March 6, 2013 in Capital Times. 


A beer embrace

AT the edge of Glover Park, a sunny green just off Cuba Street, where gamblers once played the pokies in a dim, black-painted TAB, a transformation is underway. 

Soon people will be sipping ParrotDog, Garage Project, and Funk Estate brews, snacking on homemade pizza, looking at art on the walls and listening to a local band while their dogs caper at their feet. Rogue & Vagabond opens this week, but does Wellington really need another craft beer bar?

Gwilym Waldren and Becks Gray, partners in life and business, think so.

“The more craft beer bars there are the more people start drinking it,” asserts Waldren, who’s tended bars in China, Ireland, and most recently Australia, before returning to Wellington to be with Gray and open their first joint endeavour.

“Craft beer is the future for brewing. DB, Lion, the big brewers are dinosaurs.”

As for what sets them apart, it could be their focus on community, beginning with a plan to display local artists, on a monthly rotation, without taking a commission from any sales.

“This is about things we like,” says Waldren, and lists: live music, local art, craft beer, pizza, dogs – their bulldog Bruce inspired the logo and networks with the regular pups that get walked in the park that fronts the bar.

“It’s Cuba Street, so we want to make it a Cuba Street kind of place,” says Gray.

So far, they’ve been embraced – literally – by the neighbourhood. “When we took out the pokies I was hugged by one of the RadioActive DJs next door,” says Waldren. “The support has been unbelievable. People are looking in the door, checking out what we’re doing every day.”

Neighbouring café August 13 will brew their coffee, the lawyer around the corner does their paperwork and the signwriter across the street is handling the visuals. Gray’s parents own the hotel behind them and the French Art Shop will be a great place to scout for artists.

The decision to serve only craft beer comes with financial challenges – for the owners and the customers.

“We have no contracts with any breweries. We’re doing it all ourselves. So we didn’t get that massive cash injection that bars get when they sign with a big brewery,” says Waldren. “The whole point is that pubs can do it on their own.”

They’re well aware that means lower prices for customers. “Price is always going to be a factor. We’ll have a range of prices and a few cheaper beers,” says Waldren. “We’re taxed by the percentage of alcohol, so higher alcohol content beers will always cost more. I prefer to have one less beer and have a good beer.”

As for the name of the bar, that’s another story. “It’s what the judge called my great-grandmother when he sentenced her to 12 months in a Dunedin prison,” says Waldren. To hear the rest of the story, swing by for a pint.


Originally published February 27, 2013 in Capital Times. 

Dig this summit

Mat Wright, owner of Floyd’s Café and sponsor of the Digger’s Summit, banks a curve while digger Russel Garlick looks on with pride. 


The physical act of sculpting a mountain bike trail out of a Wellington hillside gives Russel Garlick a sense of gratification he doesn’t always get at his day job.

“When you work in I.T. you can change things really quick on the web. On a trail it takes a lot of effort and when you’re finished you can step back and see how it’s done. I think some of the trails we build are really beautiful,” says Garlick, who’s also secretary of the Wellington Mountain Bike club and co-organiser of the first ever Digger’s Summit.

Most walkers, runners, and bikers of Wellington probably don’t realise that the bulk of the paths, trails, and tracks are created and kept in good condition by volunteers, loosely formed into 12 groups around the region, but coming together for the first time at the summit.

Earlier gatherings have usually been at a pub over a couple of pints, so the summit is bringing in speakers from other areas to discuss techniques and issues, from how to mitigate mud to interfacing with territorial authorities and making friends with the neighbours. Those neighbours are also invited, as are representatives from Wellington City Council, which often provides materials for the maintenance and construction of trails.

Ben Wilde, another summit organiser and member of the Wellington Trails Alliance, runs the Miramar Track Project and says when Councils partner with volunteers it saves money and gets more trails built. “In Miramar, we looked at doing some gravelling, getting it, putting it in place. With commercial rates it would cost $10,000. We did most of the job in most of a day for $2,000,” he says, with a handful of volunteers and a couple of Council employees.

“There’s an assumption in some quarters that I pay my rates therefore I should get all this stuff,” he adds. “It happens with rugby clubs and soccer clubs, but with mountain biking we’re a younger sport and we have to build our own facilities. You don’t see rugby teams out there mowing the fields.”

It also gives people that sense of pride Garlick mentioned, as well as stewardship for the land.

“For every metre of trail we build we put in a native plant,” says Wilde. “We’ve planted about 2,500 plants in Miramar over the last four years.”

Summit speakers include international trail builder Jeff Carter, Council’s Parks and Gardens projects manager David Halliday, avid cyclist and author Simon Kennett, sustainable trail building advocate Ric Balfour, and Laurence Mote, who played a key role in securing mountain bike access on the Heaphy Track. The gab will be balanced with a hands-on look at one local project, a group ride, and a “Ball” at Southern Cross.

Garlick says he’s relatively new to trail building and that was a driving inspiration for the summit. “There’s much to be learned from sharing knowledge. I know there are a lot of guys who have been doing it for years. I wanted to meet them and have a chance to chat and go over different styles of building. I’m hoping we can help each other.”

Originally published November 21, 2012 in Capital Times. 

Tending tide pools

Steve Journee is all smiles in front of the tidepools he’s ‘gardening’ back to life.

A rainy, grey Monday morning with a sharp southerly sweeping the shoreline by Frank Kitts Park should have anyone out in the elements frowning, but Steve Journee has a big grin on his face: the nudibranchs are laying eggs.

“It means it’s working. This is a good environment for them to reproduce,” says the PADI Master scuba diver, owner of The Dive Guys, and organiser of the upcoming Educate to Eliminate, an annual underwater cleanup of the Taranaki wharf area – a place Journee’s taken under his wing with a special sort of stewardship.

We’re leaning over the wharf’s edge, examining the man-made tidepools constructed outside The Boat Shed when the area was redeveloped about 20 years ago. Here, Journee plays a sort of god, planting certain seaweeds and relocating their greatest predator, kina, in order to encourage more marine diversity – like fish, rays, sponges, limpets, snails, and the small, shell-less mollusks called nudibranchs. Ultimately, he’s hoping to create a flourishing marine ecosystem in a place where hundreds of people walk by every day.

“I’ve been actively ‘gardening’ here for 18 months,” says Journee, pointing to the tide pools and an area beneath them where red seaweed, strap weed, red algae, and sea lettuce shimmer in the low tide. Next to it the rocks grey and lifeless – a clear line in the tidepool where Journee’s influence ends and a harsh display of the difference between a healthy and unhealthy coastline.

When he comes across an 11-armed kina-eating starfish, he adds it to the ‘defensive ring’ around the garden. Underneath the wharf, he says several fish species lurk and when the seaweed thickens, they’ll start coming out where people will be able to catch glimpses of them.

“It’s showing people there is a lot of life in the harbour, so don’t pollute it,” says Journee.

The same principle applies to Educate to Eliminate, which he started four years ago, with the idea to invite the public – divers, non divers, and some high-profile Greens like Mayor Celia Wade-Brown and MP Gareth Hughes – to assist in dredging up rubbish from the marine floor. Cans, bottles, traffic cones, trolleys, bicycles, you name it, are carefully picked over by the non divers to remove living critters, like starfish and octopus, which are put in a tank provided by Island Bay Marine Education Centre, where people can observe them before they’re returned to the ocean.

“We’re encouraging people to look and say there’s rubbish in the water, but also life in the water. Which would you rather have?” asks Journee.

He’s hoping people will notice the tidepools, too, which should experience an infusion of life over the next few months. Ultimately, he wants to develop three different areas rich with critters, like living museums with a “blue belt” connecting them to Taputeranga Marine Reserve and turning Wellington into a destination to observe marine life.

“Zealandia is great, but we’re an island. We’ve got to enhance the water, too,” he says.

It’s already working. Two boys running by skid to a stop and one points to the tide pools. “Whoa, there’s mussels,” he shouts to his friend.

“Yes, there are,” says Journee, with a big smile.

Originally published November 14, 2012 in Capital Times. 

Troubled ferry

Troubled ferry

Ferry changeover still causing labor pains

By Amanda Witherell

For more than three months, captains, deckhands, and union sympathizers have been protesting on the Embarcadero in front of Alcatraz Cruises’ new operations at Pier 33.

But a few blocks away on Market Street, the battling companies have been wrangling inside the offices of the National Labor Relations Board. In early October, Alcatraz Cruises filed a complaint against the protesters for “visitor harassment.”

“Nobody was getting hurt, but there was behavior that wasn’t necessarily appropriate,” Alcatraz Cruises spokesperson Tegan Firth told the Guardian. She said protesters have used foul language around the tourists and the complaint included a compilation of video footage gathered over several weeks as evidence.

In response, Masters, Mates, and Pilots and the Inland Boatmen’s Union filed their own complaint with the board based on hiring discrimination. “We countered their charges with our own charges of discrimination,” captain Ray Shipway told us. “They interviewed a lot of people, but they didn’t hire them. They hired junior crewmembers over the experienced ones.”

The unions also filed suit earlier in the year and won an injunction from the Department of Labor, forcing Alcatraz Cruises to pay prevailing wages to their crews. The company has appealed that decision.

“It wasn’t clear in the original decision if it applied to this concession contract or all future contracts with the National Park Service,” Firth explained.

She said the other reason was the company would like more flexibility. “The Department of Labor set down the wages and benefits, but we want to explore a wide variety of benefits and offer employee incentives.”

She said some of that might include a cafeteria plan for health care, but as far as incentives were concerned, “I don’t think we have anything specific in mind, but we want to be able to be flexible.”

When asked if part of that flexibility was an opportunity to offer lower wages to employees, she said, “No, it is not. It is partially clarification and partially so all our employees have the best options for total compensation.”

“Terry MacRae, like the owners of Whole Foods and Wal-Mart, is virulently antiunion,” said deckhand Steve Ongerth, criticizing the owner of Alcatraz Cruises. “He made sure he hired only enough crew to train their replacements. He knows what he’s doing. He hired people who weren’t in the union so there wouldn’t have to be a union.”

Union members are concerned this could be the start of an unwelcome trend on San Francisco’s waterfront, which has traditionally been powered by strong unions.

Firth said the company wasn’t ruling out the possibility of seeking future service contracts with the National Park Service or taking ferries to other ports in the bay. “We’re not exploring any actively, but I wouldn’t rule it out in the future,” she said.

“Hornblower [Alcatraz Cruises’ parent company] is one of the fastest-growing businesses on the bay,” she said, “and it obviously didn’t get that way waiting for business to come to it.”

Originally published December 26, 2006 in the San Francisco Bay Guardian

Fast Food Nation

Fast Food Nation

Spit on your burger’s the least of your worries

By Amanda Witherell

Book lovers always lament movie adaptations: they rarely deliver. But Fast Food Nation, like a swift injection of growth hormone, adds flesh and character to the very real problems of where America’s food comes from and the different ways it’s absolutely mishandled. The feature film is based on the 2001 nonfiction book by journalist Eric Schlosser, who helped director Richard Linklater finesse the screenplay into something of a morality tale tracing the true origins of a Mickey’s hamburger.

Following the tangled strands of food production and consumption, the film jumps between the perspectives of exploited immigrant workers clad in Hazmat suits in a meat processing plant and Greg Kinnear playing the hapless corporate hack trying to figure out just how in the heck his company’s Big Ones are coming up contaminated on the buns. There’s a predictable arc to the narrative, most noticeable in teenage character Amber (Ashley Johnson), a bright-eyed Mickey’s employee who gets a see-the-light lesson from her ex-activist uncle (Linklater favorite Ethan Hawke). Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine) as the apathetic burger flipper is the perfect antidote to Amber’s painful optimism, serving up some old food service clichés. But his spit in the burger isn’t the biggest “eww-gross” moment.

Linklater, a vegetarian, wasn’t able to get permission to shoot in an American meat processing plant, so the movie uses real footage from a Mexican one that agreed to be filmed because Schlosser’s tale casts a true light on America’s despotic immigration policies. The scenes of women trading sex for jobs at the border-town plant become very believable when juxtaposed with images of real-time slaughter. Schlosser said workers at a Greeley, Colo., plant whom he interviewed for the book criticized the movie after a screening in Denver — the Mexican plant looked too sterile and unrealistic compared to where they work.

It’s been 100 years since Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle inspired laws to reform meat packing plants. By turning journalism into fiction and translating that from print to real, stomach-turning imagery, Fast Food Nation once again questions America’s massive appetite. I still haven’t eaten meat since I saw the scene in which a cow’s skin is stripped off its body with a chain and a winch, a process more befitting an offshore oil rig than a slaughterhouse.

Originally published November 14, 2006 in the San Francisco Bay Guardian