Pete Bethune will not serve additional containment in Japan. He will shortly be deported to his homeland New Zealand after some five months in captivity. A Japanese court sentenced him to a suspended sentence, thereby getting rid of a major political embarrassment and a potential martyr.

Who is Pete Bethune? To many of us he is the guy skippering Earthrace to a World Record powerboat circumnavigation a few years ago. To us, he is an inspiration who overcame tremendous odds to not just to win a boat race but to do so serving humanitarian goals. He is a man to whom personal sacrifice means little.

To others, he is a hero standing up to illegal Japanese whale killing in the Southern Ocean. That effort almost killed him and his crew as the Japanese whalers rammed his boat which subsequently sank. Miraculously, no one was killed. Assigning blame for the sinking is a hot potato no official wants to touch. To any seaman, the evidence is clear in that the Japanese whalers took the game of chicken too far. The Japanese whalers were not the only party playing the game, but the fact is they went too far almost killing a crew of six. In truth, the so called whale war is just an immense sample of poor judgment and lousy seamanship, no matter the commercialization of Reality TV, providing junk to a junk-hungry audience.

To Admiral Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd, Pete was a massive PR scheme for a year or so, but of no actual worth as a person, activist or fellow seaman. Luckily, Pete and Watson will part ways, perhaps not in the most amiable way. After all, the sinister ways of Watson do not leave many of us with a good taste in our collective mouths. Denouncing a fellow companion in the mid of a crisis,  no matter the implausible excuses, simply is not the way to go. Yet that is what Watson did.

As you may have missed,  the International Whaling Commission recently met in Morocco. At the top on the agenda were the whaling activities of Japan, Iceland and Norway. In essence, all recognize a 1987 moratorium on killing whales is a complete failure. Thus a “compromise”  was circulated eliminating the moratorium in return for a “controlled, smaller”  commercial harvest. The talks soon broke down. Status quo prevails.  This Commission is comprised of many nations, most without any presence of whales within their borders or any obvious interest in whaling. Rumor has it that Japan buys the national votes through “foreign aid” which apparently includes luxurious travel arrangements such as the services of ladies of the night. Lucky them, those impartial delegates. Let’s do it again, next year.

Yet to others, including even some right wing US nut cases, Pete is a bona fide terrorist. Astonishingly, some of his fellow Kiwis agree, self righteous and of debatable sanity, no matter what the known facts are. To a cowering NZ Government caring more about dollars than decency and morality, Pete is simply of no consequence. God help the Kiwis if the price of Hondas go up. But then, does morality and Government ever sit on the same bench?

To yet others, Pete is a misguided fool who’s got it coming. He became the icon of many fractions of a diverse society. Most really couldn’t care less, the story never hit the headlines anywhere. The news of Pete’s verdict stayed up on Google’s top news site for less than a few hours. In a day or so, this whole affair will be gone from the World’s attention.  Even the Japanese demonstrators who loudly denounced him as a terrorist earning capital punishment or worse will head for new adventures. After all, eating whale meat is a cultural right, don’t you think?

To his two daughters Danielle, 15, and Alycia, 13, he is a devoted father. To Sharyn, his wife of many years, he is a husband and companion since high school. Perhaps as a husband and father, the last five plus years of absence have taken a toll. Few families have gone through more sacrifices than this one. Perhaps the last five months have proven too much. Let’s hope, with all our hearts, not so.

So here is the bottom line. No matter what you opinion is regarding Pete and his activities, do wish him and his family all the best in whatever is next for them. They all are the best this Earth has to offer.

Good Luck, Mates

Karl Lindgren

Advertisements

Two days ago, the Japanese whaler Shonan Maru No. 2 rammed and severely damaged Earthrace, the World Record Holder for fastest powerboat circumnavigation. Earthrace sank this morning in the Southern Ocean after salvage efforts failed. She was currently named Ady Gil after its Hollywood mogul beneficiary. She is owned by Sea Shepards and was part of the anti whaling activism.

For details about the collision event, see the blog post below “Japan Whalers Destroy Earthrace Trimaran”. The blog argues that videos show that the Japanese vessel instigated the event and failed to obey legally established maritime rules of way.

Some reports argue that Earthrace share responsibility by not maintaining proper course. Those reports fail to recognize that it is the Japanese vessel’s responsibility to avoid creating an incidence in the first place. Once they created the incidence, the Japanese did not take effective evasive action to avoid collision. They steered a course too close to Earthrace, whether or not the intention was to ram and sink Earthrace. Any last second actions by Earthrace are irrelevant. The damage and the violation was already done.

Maritime rules state that the Japanese vessel should have either stopped, slowed down or turned to pass BEHIND Earthrace in order to manage a safe passing. The Japanese violated the rules by steering a course of passing AHEAD of, and very close to Earthrace. The Japanese vessel was required to use its horn, radio or other means to communicate her intentions. Instead, the Japanese used acoustic weapons and water cannons to block communication. And, finally, the Japanese vessel should, by any moral standard in not legally, have assisted in saving the crew of Earthrace and in salvaging her. The Japanese vessels neither responded to Mayday calls, nor provided assistance of any kind.

Sea Shepard and the Japanese trade insults about who is a fault. The news media and Internet crowds voice opinions and interpretations about the incidence, the videos and statements. These rhetoric in all but a few cases ignore the fundamentals. Nautical life consists of rules, conventions, morals and responsibilities that go with the seafaring job at all times.

The fundamental nautical principle is to maintain safety at all times. Whaling pros and cons are not part of those principles. Belittling maritime principles and laws by stating some other issue is more important is simply not acceptable. Nor is the insistence to maintain some obscure cultural right to kill fellow mammals a valid excuse to sink vessels. Those arguments boil down to risking lives to no end except flexing macho muscles.

The bottom line is that maritime law does not permit cat and mouse games as played by both the Japanese and Sea Shepard. Both sides violate not only laws but play games with human as well as mammal lives in extremely dangerous waters. However, the current tragedy was caused by the Japanese overplaying the cat part of the game. May international law prevail. May some sense of responsibility spread to the Southern Ocean and its two deranged opponents.

Earthrace, Pete and Sharyn together with the Earthrace “vortex” will be remembered for past glory. We cheered her during the race against the clock and enormous odds towards final success. Few or any of us identified with the Ady Gil, its Hollywood namesake or with Sea Shepard and its lunatic “Captain”. That part and those people will sink into obscurity.

A Japanese whaler caused severe damage to the NZ powerboat Earthrace in what appears to be a flagrant violation of age old nautical rules of way. The event was captured on video, showing the Japanese vessel ramming the much smaller Earthrace. The two vessels were on a collision course with Earthrace moving slowly on a steady course. The Japanese vessel accelerated, steering straight at, or even turning towards,  Earthrace and ramming her. Earthrace (currently named Ady Gil) was severely damaged and was possibly in danger of sinking. There were no severe injuries reported so far with the exception of broken rib.

Damage

The Japanese whaling vessel (Shonan Maru No. 2) hit Earthrace’s port hull and sliced several feet off Earthrace’s bow. The damage it first appeared catastrophic but may be manageable according to the latest news. At best, Earthrace may be towed to safety and major repairs. The Southern Ocean is a bad place to be injured.

The Japanese whalers used a high pressure water cannon aimed at the Earthrace crew during the whole episode. They also used ear shattering noise equipment designed to confuse anti whaling activist crews. There are two videos: the video taken from Shonan Maru No. 2 and the video taken from the Sea Shepard vessel Bob Barker. They are easily available on the net and not included here. The videos are only part of the real story. The net is crawling with opinions about what people think they see. These comments are generally totally irrelevant.

Rules of WayVideos such as these are not perfect witnesses of what actually happened. Lines of perspective, wave action, distance, water spray and much else distorts actual events. Most armchair observers overestimate their marine investigative skills.

The videos show that the Japanese vessel failed to “keep her starboard (right)side clear”. This rule is illustrated in the graph. Imagine that the Japanese vessel is the one of the bottom of the graph, Earthrace being  the one towards the top right.

This nautical rule states that a vessel must stay clear of vessels on her starboard side by, for instance, passing to the rear of such vessels. Any port side vessel (Earthrace) must maintain a steady course while the first takes the evasive action.

Rules

Sailors are acutely aware of this rule since it is crucial in avoiding accidents. Violating the rule is likely to cause immediate danger and a risk of massive destruction. The nautical rules are similar to those of traffic on land and in the sky. These rules are known by most people worldwide. A difference is that a supertanker weighs up to 650,000 tons compared to about 2 tons for your car. An Airbus 380 is designed to carry as many as 850 people. Thus, sailors and airmen may be more aware than the average motorist.

A famous event illustrating the danger occurred in 1956. The Swedish ocean liner Stockholm collided with its Italian counterpart Andrea Doria in dense fog and darkness off Nantucket. Each vessel misunderstood the intentions of the other regarding how to pass safely. They ended up running into each other while taking evasive action designed to do the opposite. Andrea Doria, the 29,083 ton pride of the Italian shipping industry, sank. 46 were left dead. Some 1,700 people were rescued. No legal blame was assigned, but law suits prevailed for years.

Another fundamental nautical rule states that in case of danger of collision, both vessels must take evasive action, with or without intention. From the video, the Japanese vessel appeared to take no evasive action, possibly doing the opposite. Earthrace may have gunned its engines in a last second evasive act, although too late.

Guilt

Some argue Earthrace may have contributed to the outcome by gunning her engines forward to hit the Japanese.  Even if true, it wouldn’t make any difference in marine practice – Shonan Maru would still be guilty of violating the rules of right ways. Moreover, the turbulence at Earthrace’s stern started only seconds before the collision. The Sea Shepard video shows Earthrace backing away from the impact after it occurred.

What is clear to anyone with seagoing experience is that both sides engage in acts of extremely poor seamanship, ignoring whatever purpose either side claims. Both sides play a game of chicken in the most dangerous seas on Earth. It’s worse than Road Rage. Whatever your views are on whale killing, or on eco-terrorism, no real sailor can endorse the events down under. Peace time sailors of different camps help each other by long tradition. Most seamen go to great effort to rescue of any sailor in trouble. They do not go about ramming each other. Nor do they throw rancid butter at each other. No real sailors use lasers to blind each other or water cannons to spool others overboard. Using acoustic toys to deafen others is a bizarre way of greeting each other on the high sea. Rarely do true sailors try to snarl each others’ propellers and rudders in the frigid waters of Antarctica.

Whales

Finally, of course, the issue of whaling is again highlighted. Killing whales is about as acceptable to the vast majority of us as is clubbing baby seals to death. Thousands of animals are killed, not to feed starving humans, but to save national face. The Japanese whale killing program is notorious and condemned by most countries.

The sad fact is that a great many countries and cultures carry out similar atrocities. Humans cause the extinction of thousands of living creatures through farming, pollution, greed, stupidity and cruelty. My mother enjoyed her fur coat until PC happened. Russians today ignore such PC, favoring fur coats, hats and probably underwear made from exotic, endangered furry species. Countless fishing banks are depleted, lifeless and destroyed by overfishing and pollution. Game hunters and poachers kill not just a few animals but whole species. African gorillas and other wildlife are practically gone. So are many kinds of tigers. Global warming causes not just the demise of polar bears but the accelerate the death of the globe. In some countries, people species/ethnic groups are made extinct by genocide by their fellow neighbors.

Earthrace

The Earthrace crew, including skipper Pete Bethune, was saved without major harm. Apparently, the Japanese vessel offered no assistance, nor did they suffer any obvious damage. After all, the Shonan Maru No. 2 weighs about 750+ tons compared to Earthrace’s 18 tons. Sea Shepard’s Paul Watson seemed to suggest the loss of its Ady Gil, permanent or temporary, meant little.

Those engaged in or following the three or four years of Earthrace campaigns racing around the World might differ. Earthrace meant a lot, showing many of us what a few can accomplish against great odds. At the time, Earthrace was an inspiration as she set a World Record. She was running on something called the Earthrace vortex, essentially meaning Earthrace was a people’s project. Ady Gil is not a people’s project. The campaign for ecological geofuel is no more, it seems. Ady Gil, in its absurd black stealth paint job, is just a deranged victim in a distant, deranged war. That war is fought by deranged people committing deranged acts. No whale ever engaged in acts as insane as those performed by their “researchers” and their “saviors”.

This is the battle David lost to the brute force of Goliath. Yet, it is another war the Japanese will lose, just as surely as Captain Ahab did. It’s too bad the work and idealism of Pete and Sharyn Bethune became victims in a senseless war. Earthrace is no more. Long live Earthrace. Good riddance, Pete.

Probably most of you wonder “What on Earth is Earthrace”, a more fundamental question than the “Where” question. Yet another quite relevant question is what on Earth does something like Earthrace have to do with a blog devoted to lofty stuff like art, photography, ethics and political ramblings? After all, Art has a time horizon of thousands of years. Ansel Adams will live forever. Earthrace will not. So why bother?

All of which are very good questions. Not only that but what does Earthrace have to do with the by now oh-so-boring subject of Global Warming, the total madness of the America’s Cup and, as if that isn’t enough, the farcical Earthrace thunderbattle of Oklahoma City versus Seattle in the quest for the Seattle Supersonics – currently close to the title of the Worst Team in the NBA? The team is the worst in the 40 years of its Seattle franchise.

What’s the common factor? Wait and thou shall see. First, what is the Earthrace fuss is all about? Earthrace is a New Zealand powerboat that is currently under way to set a World Record circumnavigating Earth in less than about 75 days. The boat will do this on a Zero Carbon Print using biodiesel – similar to the vegetable oil you buy in supermarkets – and purchased Carbon Credits. Thus it tied itself to Global Warming and various Environmental Issues.

Where on Earth is Earthrace?

By the time you read this, no doubt the mystery causing the question above is resolved. But as of this moment, the onboard GPS system places Earthrace at a position just north of Puerto Rice. The GPS position claims the boat went the wrong direction for the past 24 hours in open Caribbean waters at a speed of some 15 knots. Not only that, but the actual position did not changed during that time. That, of course, makes no sense.Earthrace under way at speed

Clearly, some unplanned event is underway, be it the transponder washing overboard, the boat’s infamous head blowing up, Caribbean pirates boarding the vessel or the crew agreeing to start new lives in Haiti. Perhaps the Bermuda Triangle or Roswell UFO’s are involved.

At the moment of writing these lines, there is no official or inside reaction to this mystery. Earthrace is silent, news is silent and even Clinton or Osama have nothing to say on the subject, being unduly preoccupied with “pivotal” primaries in North Carolina and Indiana.

Maybe they simply ran out of cooking oil, aka biodiesel. The regular oil price is now well over $120 per barrel, so Earthrace’s point is really important. As you see the oil price pass $150 on its way to $200 and beyond with a $10 gas price, you’ll be painfully aware why that is so.

Biodiesel – Smells Better Than Your Mercedes

Even George Bush seems to know about biodiesel. As always, his point of view differs from that of every one else. He thinks it will save us from being fried by hot air which may be slightly plausible. Then he translates that into a need to redirect precious American Greenbacks from Muslim Terrorist States such as Norway and Russia to Deserving Republican Christian Farmers in Minnesota. Lastly, he opinionates that this brave initiative absolves the US guilt as the baddest Global Warmer on earth. That’s where he really goes over the edge.

Others, such as economists, point out that biodiesel will more likely fry our wallets for no better reason than making those few (Republican) farmers stinking rich. Environmentalist claim that making a few select farmers rich is rarely good for the environment – look at the sugar industry in Florida filling the Everglades with fertilizer runoff, killing most life. Not only that, but the farmers won’t get rich from their own efforts but from public subsidies courtesy of Dubya – that is, you and me pay to get more expensive gas. Lucky us. Of course, George W. finds this all hilarious. George Bush having a good time

Lastly, agricultural gurus mention that switching food farm land to gas land might starve us (or more accurately, starve Africans, Indians and the Chinese), while others remain fried by Global Warming or choked by bad air. Simultaneously, all kinds of species go extinct due to, among other things, the runoffs of biodiesel related pollution into rain puddles, streams, lakes, your tap water and oceans. Starvation or your health won’t benefit. The nasty effects of continuing to cut down the Amazon and Indonesian forests in order to feed your Hummer and air conditioner remain.

Do you really want to pay for this biodiesel thing? Controversial, nasty, silly, even stupid? Wait a minute – before answering, before rejecting – ask yourself – Do I Have a Better Idea? Well, some of us might have better ideas but none of those are without some controversy. There are no simple Cinderella answers to the issues of Global Warming, the Environment, World Energy, World Starvation, your Hummer, your personal Airline Miles and undisputable right to a chilled environment.

The issues are not answered by the Forest Gump attitudes of George Bush, Tree Huggers, ExxonMobil, Global Warming Skeptics, World Bank Reactionaries, Whale Lovers, Florida Sugar Farmers, Stern Reports, Huge Computer Simulations, the Number of Hurricanes This Season or the Depth of Snow on My Driveway Yesterday, Democrat Senate Hearings about going-nowhere questions, Al Gore, EPA revolts against the White House, WTO Haters, the Supreme Court, Kyoto Protocols or CRT’s.

Around the Globe They Go

Consider the kerosene bluish exhaust clouding the sky when thousands of well chilled Climate Scientists fly to Important UN IPCC conferences, working groups, technical presentations, dinner tables, resorts and safaris in business oriented locations such as :

  • Nairobi, Paris, Kyoto, Bangkok, Bruxelles, Geneva, Helsinki, Lubeck, Budapest, Manila, Washington DC, La Reunion, Rio de Janeiro, Cairns, Addis Ababa, Sao Paulo, Oviedo, Lima, Beijing, Laxenburg, Buenos Aires, Moscow, Montreal, Churchchrist, Sydney, Merida, Cape Town, Port Louis, Bergen, Paris, Exeter, Saint Agustine, Doha, New Delhi, undisclosed locations in Colorado and the Netherlands, Victoria, Valencia, Amsterdam, Colombo, Maynooth, Tokyo, Tucson, Honolulu, Seville, Potsdam, Nadi (Fiji), Trieste, Boulder, Vienna, Marrakesh, Bali, New York City, Bonn, Davos, Oslo, Johannesburg, Wembley, Shanghai and Accra. Excuse me if I missed a few spots.

That’s not to imply biodiesel is the only Important Issue pondered by the Scientists and Politicians of the UN and the IPCC as they suffer from jet lag and loss of sleep in Fiji. Far from it. But the travel of these guys on their undisclosed quest costs literally billions of bucks, not to mention generates untold tons of CO2. Has it reduced Global Warming, saved the Environment or resolved Global Hunger? Did they reduce the anguish of Intuits, polar bears, Antarctic krill, Swedish lemmels or Peruvian skiers? Of course not. The Arctic heat wave, the thawing of Siberian tundra and the vanishing of Alpine glaciers is accelerating, not abiding. Bush remains stoically unengaged and sees no need for action.

here is Earthrace

Nor is biodiesel the only issue facing the Earthrace people. The Earthracers are quick to point out they do not promote biodiesel but simply aim at informing the World about alternative fuels. Fair enough but probably not quite the way their sponsors see it. All in all, it is a better idea to run this diesel guzzling race horse on biodiesel than on ordinary oil if indeed it is necessary to do so in the first place. But the circumnavigators have other crucial issues to consider.

For instance, lately they’ve had a fatal breakdown of the onboard Head (aka toilet), gushes of biodiesel Pete looking aheadshowering them and the autopilot giving out while trade winds mysteriously changed direction 180 degrees, much to the crew’s discomfort. In earlier adventures, the Head gave out (again), food went missing, the Salvadorian Navy shot at them, Guatemalan courts and navies detained them (rightfully), EC Customs and Indian Harbor Masters blackmailed them, propellers went mushy, biodiesel disappeared, shafts behaved like spaghetti, bearings burnt, parts ended up wherever Earthrace was not, 1,065 horsepower engines jumped off their foundations, the hull eventually broke up while waves continuously knocked the crew silly.

Such trials notwithstanding, the Earthracers managed to touch on quite a bit of geography in their quest. Here is a list of past and future ports of Promotion, not counting the 12 ports of refuel for the Around the Worlds Record Attempt:

  • Auckland, Tairua, Whitianga, Tauranga, Paihia, Opua, Keri Keri, Whangarei, Whangaroa, Whitianga, Whangamata, Napier, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch, Timaru, Dunedin, Half Moon Bay, Bluff and Raglan, Maui, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Morro Bay, Ventura, Santa Barbara, Newport, San Diego, Oceanside, Redondo, Long Beach, Marina Del Ray, Fort Lauderdale, Wilmington, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Indian River Marina, Baltimore, Hilton Head, Key West, Jacksonville, Savannah, Charleston, Miami Boat Show, St Petersburg, Tampa, Houston, New Orleans, Mobil, Pensicola, Destin, Cork, Halmstad, Gothenburg, Oslo, Karlskrona, Bornholm, Rostock, Copenhagen, Helsingor, Kiel, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dublin, Waterford, Cardiff, Bristol, Fowey, Jersey,Rouen, Paris, I’lle de Re, Porto, Lisbon, Vilamoura (Algarve), Benalmadena, Palma de Mallorca, Alicante, Barcelona, London, England, Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, Bundaberg, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Coffs harbour,
    Newcastle, Gosford, Sydney, Woolongong, Melbourne, Launceston, Hobart, Opua, Whangaroa, Russel, Paihia, Kerikeri, Whangarei, Gulf Harbour, Milford, Auckland, Whitianga, Tairua, Whangamata, Tauranga, Mount Maunganui, Whakatane, Opotiki, Tolaga Bay, Gisborne, Napier, Picton, Nelson, Kaikoura, Christchurch, Oamaru, Timaru, Dunedin, Bluff, Milford, Westport, Greymouth, Kapati Coast, Wanganui, Kawhia, Raglan, Huntly, Ngaruawahia, Hamilton, Cornwallis, Hokianga.

Oh, That Earthrace Vortex

Here is the clincher. The IPCC people spend billions of your and my money to pursue an unattainable goal of curing the ills of the World. The Earthrace people spend practically nothing – or, correctly, they Earthrace Bridgedo not spend your dollars, crowns, pesetas, yen or even Euros. There are some sponsors but that does not include George Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Gates or Bono. More likely the sponsors include small manufacturers of bio friendly, slippery boat bottom paint or mysterious equipment such as carbon fiber steering wheels.

The big spender is the soul behind Earthrace – a New Zealander named Pete Bethune. He mortgaged his home, friends, relatives and no doubt every cat, cow and banker in New Zealand to build a 78 foot power boat with which he intends to set a record almost no one has ever heard about. While supported by a tiny but enthusiastic army of unpaid volunteers, Pete IS Earthrace. Not only that, he is still married to the same wife he was when this all started. My own exes took off on far smaller issues.

The tiny armies of supporters include the Boat Crew to drive the boat around the Globe in less than 75 days, a Ground Crew to stay a bit ahead of the boat to ensure the Head will work, biodiesel gets loaded, harbor masters bribed and food is both purchased and actually loaded on the boat. They will straighten bent shafts, replace bearings, patch holes in the hulls and perhaps arrange for showers for a rather smelly boat crew.

All the Comforts of Home, They Said

Earthrace does not have a shower. Nor is there air conditioning or even normal ventilation due to weight restrictions. The rebellious ($10,000) head is a somewhat controversial afterthought only recently equipped with a door. There is no kitchen (known as galley) or gourmet cooking. The venture’s operating standard says that one pound of soap, Foie gras or spare socks means one less pound of biodiesel which does not compute in the minds of record setters.

Broken ribs, bruises and other injuries are not uncommon. Sleep time consists of being tossed around on and sometimes off a tiny berth. The panorama windows are all of a few inches high, perhaps reminding you of the Maginot Line Bunkers of the 1930s. The Promenade Deck is several feet long but usually indoors as the boat actually travels underwater part of the time. Wearing hearing protection is highly recommended during passage as the noise level is a steady 85 dB, which is loud indeed – similar to a lawnmower or heavy truck next to your pillow. The Doctor is not in, nor is the cruise director, cabin steward, bingo caller or chef.Earthrace Luxurious Quarters

Incidentally, you can enjoy this luxury by purchasing a berth as a guest of the crew. You’ll dine with the Captain, do the dishes and pay around ten times the price of that boring cruise on Queen Elizabeth II. You will get a copy of Pete’s book to make you remember this splendid occasion and the bragging rights of a life time. Perhaps they’ll throw in a t-shirt as well.

There are 12 refuel/repair stops as the team roars around the world. The goal is to get the boat underway in less than 4 hours at each stop. That means the Earthrace Boat Crew will have a total port time of 48 hours during their 70-75 day trip. Not even WWII uboaters or Vikings had to put up with such nonsense.

The Ground Crew relies on miracles rather than ordinary money to fly or swim themselves and a few tons of spares to the next port of refueling and repairs. When they by chance get to that port of call, they rarely have food and beds waiting for them or paid for. They rely on a secondary army of local volunteers and school kids to make just about everything work. There is a small London based crew to handle the big task of contributions and public relations on, perhaps, the standard Earthrace employment contract of eternal glory but no pay, aka known as the Earthrace VORTEX.

The Low Point

The number of times these guys have been out of money would boggle the mind of even my banker. Somehow they manage and the saga goes on. You see, this is the second attempt to win that record. The first one ended in June of last year after “almost” getting there bar a suicidal gash in the hull and a Earthrace - The Low Pointgreat many other misfortunes. Perhaps they suffered a bit from mismanagement, inexperience and plain bad luck. Either way, the boat ended up in Valencia, Spain which is far away from New Zealand indeed.

They did, however, bag the speed record passing through the Suez Canal to the joy of both the Suez people and the crew.

By coincident, Valencia hosted the America’s Cup at the time, a subject we’ll spend some upcoming time on. Earthrace tried to vitalize their dwindling fortunes by hiring out as a spectator boat for the races; quite a change from their own World Record Race pursuits. Seemingly, that venture did not add much to the coffers and largely the World gave them up for dead. Pete Bethune headed for the airport and was unheard of for the next six months. As it turned out he wrote a book about the misfortunes which is selling quite well in New Zealand. It is not currently available on Amazon but I hope it will be.

Somehow the venture revitalized itself. Early this year, Pete was back in full racing gear with an almost completely new cast of characters around him. On April 27, Earthrace crossed the Spanish starting line for its second record attempt.

Is there a point?

When it is all over and finished with, pivotal people get associated with specifics. Ralph Nader is the miser complaining about just about everything. Michael Jackson is the front guy for plastic nose jobs. Britney Spears is the juxtaposition of parenthood (shared with the good Michael). Sylvester Stallone is Rambo.Pete worries

Dick Cheney will be remembered for undisclosed locations and loyalties to strange and mysterious friends and pals. James Bond is forever married to shaken, not stirred martinis. Hugh Hefner cornered the market for circular beds. Martha Steward is the Queen of Who-Knows-What. Bill Clinton is the Monica Guy, Hillary, as we are all aware, is not some little woman, standing by her man, like Tammy Wynette.

On the balance, George Bush will be the Top Gun on the issues of Global Warming, Energy and the Environment. The judgment will be a harsh one unless somehow the twisted, ignorant, uninformed, naive, plain wrong, lethargic, uninterested views of this midget turns out to be true, chance of which is similar to hell freezing over.

Of course, Georgie will be remembered for other items too. He blew a couple of Wars, committed all kinds of War Crimes. Violated Civil Rights, ignored the Supreme Court, did a heck of a job with Katrina, while missing out on Fairness, Compassion, Decency, 9/11, Osama bin Laden, Israel-Palestine, Budget Deficits and English Grammar. He even miraculous missed out personally on the Vietnam War. George Bush Grinning

On the other hand we have Pete Bethune, the guy that put just about everything he owned or could lay his hands on for a personal dream and then pursued it to the very limits of what he calls Kiwi grit. He has spent some four years (or more) with little reward from the rest of the World except for a handful of dreamers drawn into the Earthrace “Vortex”. Or perhaps it is simply the adventure of circling this globe doing cool stuff.

It is of course folly to compare George Bush and Pete Bethune. They have nothing in common except occasional strange grammar. But let’s go on to some other interesting people. Let’s tackle the America’s Cup in all its not so spotless fortunes by all its not so snow white contending millionaires and – these days – billionaires. Ladies and gentlemen – scandals, backstabbing and intrigues galore to make a mark on the ugliest trophy in history using multi million dollar boats with a zero lasting value.

The Most Expensive Demolition Derby in History

Don’t get me wrong. I love the America’s Cup. I think the races are truly thrilling. I gloat over the ruthlessness of the “competition”. The personalities often are as absurdly self centered eccentrics as any James Bond villain. Remember Goldfinger going after Fort Knox? Or the treacherous Dr No? How about Blofield or the evil SMERSH or SPECTRE?

In America’s Cup we have a bunch of people whomay not quite be out to destroy the World but rather to demolish whatever competition there is. Nathanael Herreshoff (Naval Architect of the Fabulous Herreshoff Period 1893-1920), Harold Vanderbilt (Railroad fortunes, a viscous bridge player), Ted Turner (Ex of Jane Fonda and CNN), Sir Thomas Lipton (Yep, the Tea Guy), Charles E. Nicholson (Secretary of The Navy and the Dean of American Helmsmen), Sir Peter Blake (Creating the Golden Era of the New Zealand Cup Races), Baron Marcel Bich (The Pen Guy from France), T.O.M Sopwith (Father of WWI Sopwith Camel Fighter), Bill Koch (Koch Industries), Thomas Egerton (2nd Earl of Wilton, who effectively created the Cup in 1851 and immediately lost it to America and various courts in New York), Alan Bond (Australian Riches to Rags Business man winning the Cup but ending up in jail) and finally Ernie the WinnerDennis,
Conner, a San Diego occasional business man, sailor and the man losing the Cup not only once but twice.

Here is the common factor of almost all of these Cup hopefuls. They are self made rags to riches industrialists with far too much money matched only by huge insecurities. The true blue bloods – the Kennedys, Rockefellers, Queens and Princes, Wallenbergs, Carnegies, Vanderbilts (with an exception) or Bernadottes wouldn’t be caught dead in the same room as the vulgar upstart sharks.

More recently, the Main Honchos include Louis Vuttion of handbag fortunes with his own little Cup. Other fanatically rich competitors include Patrizio Bertelli of Prada fashion riches, John McCaw of Telecommunication billions and now two of the biggest, baddest egos of them all: Larry Ellison of Oracle and Ernesto Bertarelli of Swiss biotech money.

Apart from having billions of US dollars and Swiss francs, what about these guys? Both spent mega money to win a silver cup of questionable value. A main difference is that Larry won nothing in two challenges over close to 10 years of efforts while Ernie took the cup twice. Having won nothing on the water, Larry recently turned to the proven basic business tactic of suing Ernie. Larry’s fortunes soared – he won his cases in court and can now race the nasty Swiss in a private Cup event without having to lose to other challengers as has been his history so far. Larry’s most recent record is a 1-5 loss to the Italian Prada billionaire. The Italians then went on to a 0-5 record to the New Zealanders who, in turn lost 2-5 to the Swiss. In other words, the score is Larry 3, the Swiss 15.

Such a score did not sit too well with Larry who went on to shrewdly steal Ernie’s best sailors. In fact, Ernie himself had previously stolen the same guys away from the then winniest teams – New Zealand. By stealing the sailors, Ernie won the Cup but egos flared, the biggest New Zealander brain left Ernie and immediately joined Larry’s team. Things looked up for Larry. Not to be beaten that easily, Swiss Ernie forgot that he himself won the Cup by the same people stealing tactics. Using shady rules and a court of his own, Ernie introduced his own rule prohibiting Larry from actually use his expensive New Zealanders. Larry lost again and Ernie kept the Cup, which to this day remains in a Geneva vault.

Larry telling his storyAs you might gather, there is little love between the New Zealanders and their former Swiss employer. Larry and Ernie complete the picture by mutually hating the other’s guts and acting accordingly. Meanwhile, lawyers congratulate themselves on new fortunes as do the New Zealanders. It’s nice to own something billionaires fight over.

Of course the all out war continues. Did any of you see the movie “The War of The Roses”. Danny deVito, Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner stars in a perfect introduction to the spirit and tactics used in America’s Cup racing. Meanwhile, normal people looking at this mess see only two fools doing nothing but whining and wasting money that would keep an average town in food and shelter for scores of years.

You see, it takes around $100 million to raise a credible America’s Cup challenge and about the same to defend it. Apart from the costly people stealing and court battles, the money is spent on building racing machines of zero value outside the America’s Cup race courses. The total budget for a typical America’s Cup series easily runs into billions.

These overpriced, over designed and overfeed vessels are hardly able to get around a few miles of racing in one piece. The last New Zealander defense sailed the finals in a multi million dollar boat that continuously filled up with water due to a rather basic design problem (“keep the sides of the boat above water”). The crew bailed rather than raced around the course. After all, you have to stay afloat to win a race. Earlier, an Australian boat broke in two and sank in minutes. An unlucky crew member pumped the mast hydraulics a tad too much, folding the boat in half. No one was hurt; the Aussies coolly called for a second boat and went on from there. Grit in the face of foolishness.

They can sail in neither light air, nor in anything beyond moderate weather without sinking, losing masts, keels or $100,000 spinnakers. The sails are made from exotic stuff that tends to Larry's Rising Sunliterally explode. The hulls have odd bulbs and hollows designed to fool the system and the competition. The keels are made of spent uranium but occasionally break off or down. The boat crews, wearing layers of white gooey to save themselves from skin cancer, have private chefs, personal trainers and munch potent energy bars.

The hosting cities spend billions on new marinas to accommodate Larry Ellison’s modest 452 foot “Rising Sun” yacht (82 cabins on 5 decks). The cities arrange opening galas, closing galas and intermediate galas. New, dedicated “America’s Cup villages” are subject to security worthy of JFK on a good day to protect against the Muslim suspects of Bush’s War on Terror, sometimes confused with the Italian team. Shoes are examined for explosives and care is taken to ensure the possibly radioactive keels do not fall in Iraqi or Iranian hands. Or the hands of Larry Ellison as it may be.

Some people claim America’s Cup is not only Big Business but Good Business. Who on Earth do they kid?

The Fundamental Rule of sports

Any sport is a curious mix of fan devotion, money, politics and immensely talented players and competitors. The players provide entertainment to a devoted and loyal audience, capitalizing on local and or national pride. Some are compensated for their efforts at a mind boggling rate. Still, Seattle people take immense pride in their Sonics, Storm, Sounders, Mariners, Seahawks and UW teams. So do the people of New Orleans, Los Angeles, Manchester, Turin, Barcelona and Nome, Alaska (“The Nome Nanook Basketball team”). In Europe and Latin America, pride may extend into violence, riots, hooliganism. In the US, the beer and hot dog industry as well as broadcasters, commentators and bookies benefit greatly.

Pre race maneuversBut sports would not exist without the fans. Here is the curious thing. While Seattle, say, loves their Sonics, with few exceptions the Sonics organization has only a superficial connection with Seattle. Seattle is a place for the team to play “home” games, cultivate their fan base and show off a dance team while doing some of the practicing in a home facility. Sonics owners, players, coaches and other dignitaries have no links with Seattle. They may be from France, Croatia, Idaho, China, Nome, Alaska or Oklahoma City. Yet, somehow, they represent “Seattle”. Really?

As a matter of fact, it only takes only some hours to load up a few buses and hightail out of town as some Seattle fans will recall actually happened a few years ago. Links to the community? Loyalty? Nah.

Most professional sports work the same way. Canadian hockey clubs are made up by Swedes, Russians, Czechs and the occasional Finn. The picture is similar in European soccer or American baseball. The players are a worldwide commodity traded back and forth on the whims of rich owners. The fans that actually pay for the whole thing have no say whatsoever.

The picture is a bit different in major international sports, say the Olympics. Suddenly, nationalism becomes important. The international player commodities head home to compete for the national teams. English soccer stars return from Italy or Los Angeles to play for England, the Queen and Bangers. The American basketball team might include Shaquille O’Neal or Allen Iverson, but not Yao Ming, Vladimir Radmanovic, Steve Nash or Dikembe Mutombo.

America’s Cup is certainly an international event but does not build on the nationalism of the Olympics or World Cup soccer. Instead, there are some arcane and somewhat hilarious rules that the boat is built ground up nationally in all its exotic materials. Those materials, of course, are not national at all but worldwide commodities. High end sailing technology is not a national industry although America’s Cup Alinghi A Born Winnerclaims it is. Yet the idea is that the boat is what counts, not the people sailing her.

The crew of an America’s Cup boat is a revolving door variation of the mix, buy and trade of Italian soccer clubs or the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Swiss team is headed by an Italian billionaire living in the French part of Switzerland. The “Swiss” sailing team of 2007 included New Zealander Brad Butterworth, German Jochen Shuemann and Peter Holmberg of the US Virgin Islands. Paul Cayard, another key Cup personality, skipper and helmsman competed for the United States, Italy, Spain, Sweden and no doubt others. Son, go where the money is.

Larry Ellison’s Oracle Team was headed by Chris Dickson who competed for New Zealand, Japan and Germany in previous events. The Oracle Team also included Bertrand Pace of France. Russel Coutts is the controversial and notorious America’s Cup Winning Machine from New Zealand. He logged Cup victories for the Kiwis, then gave the Cup to the Swiss and now is set to do the honors for Larry.

The short of it is that America’s Cup has little or no connection to the concept of fans or national pride. The Cup exists to satisfy Nouveau Riche owners using the ordinary production factors of money, sailors, designers and secrets traded back and forth. Much more fun than curing cancer. No means of possible success are ignored. Midnight dives to pry loose competitor’s hull and keel secrets, bribes, courtroom tactics… the list is long. Sportsmanship is not in fashion. Winning in money spent, the court room or on the water is all the same.

Imagine extending some of the America’s Cup ideas of sportsmanship, such as the Lakers suing because the Maverick’s scalp wax is clearly more slippery than rules allow or the Trailblazers hitting the Sun as O’Neal’s girth now seems clearly above 59 1/2 inches without O’Neal compensating by removing 2 1/4 inches from his height. Daily protest meeting would be needed to resolve issues such as whether or not Steve Nash illegally overtook Kobe Bryant on a starboard tack without securing a proper overlap while Bryant was steering a proper course. Or perhaps Kevin Garnett would show up in a skirt to hide from the opposing team his revolutionary new legs made from kevlar and plutonium? Fans would be thrilled.

A look at Earthrace reveals a parallel pattern. That effort is based out of New Zealand on mostly Kiwi money, as far as can be deducted. Yet the current crew includes only one person – Pete Bethune – of that country. The PR team is British. The Boat Crew is made up by Pete, a Swedish navigator and two Brits. The Ground Crew consists of an Irishman, a Hungarian and a Portuguese.

What is the Common Ground?

Biodiesel, whaling, ExxonMobil, Global Warming, Money, Intrigue, Egos, National Pride, Fans, Mix and Trade, Boating, Records…. Larry Ellison, Russel Coutts, Ernesto Bertarelli. George Bush and Al Gore. Shaquille O’Neal, David Beckham and Yao Ming. Various supporting casts; A few hundred major league sailors, maybe a thousand supreme basketball and soccer players. In the case of the politics of Global Warming and the Environment – again, perhaps a few thousand key politicians and scientists.

Cutting it even closer, big time politics such as war and peace, global warming and mankind survival is, will be and always was decided by just a few people, most with no qualifications to decide such matters. Hate it or not, George Bush’s absurd ideas may well determine life for generations to come. Out of the past, Adolf Hitler’s influence is still in plain view. So is that of Joseph Stalin. Harry Truman started the Cold War when he wiped out two Japanese cities. Mankind will forever suffer the consequences. Yalta Conference Roosevelt, Stalin, Churchill

America’s Cup directly involves thousands of participants and, they claim, billions of spectators. Yet only two people actually count. Larry Ellison and Ernesto Bertarelli call the shots to their mutual and exclusive joy, mistrust, hate and anguish, if any. On a more local level, the fate of the Seattle Supersonics rests with an Oklahoma guy named Clay Bennett who is no stranger to backdoor politics. He alone is likely to end the longest lasting local professional sports franchise in America. Millions of Washington fans – stand back. All three Oklahoma fans will be thrilled.

Earthrace is not quite as sinister a case as is politics and professional sports. But the venture does borrow many features from those other cases. It has few roots on a local or national level – certainly not in its native New Zealand – the crews are dominantly European. Sponsors are from all over. It is the brain child of one and only one person – Pete Bethune, filled with Kiwi determination and grit. What Pete says goes.

So you take a look around and you will perhaps realize that this world is run by a very small number of people. Most of those are in place not because “the people” approved them or their aims but because of ego driven, personal power trips. Many if not most of these cats are not very nice. They certainly do not have your best in mind. I’d hate to walk into Larry Ellison’s office and ask for my disability payment or food for my kids. Or to awaken Harry Truman to find out why we needed to spend trillions on the ability to wipe ourselves off the face of Earth a thousand times over. Some have asked George Bush why hundreds of thousands have to die in Iraq. Few get the chance to ask such questions twice.

And this we call, with pride, a compassionate, democratic world? Hah.

Where is Earthrace?

Well, that mystery is cleared up. No controversy, no UFO’s or Bermuda Triangle at this time. The Earthrace GPS system now says the boat is back on a reasonable course doing good speed towards the Panama Canal and the Pacific Ocean legs. Still, there is little explanation for over 24 hours worth of disappearing act. The word is there was a delay in biodiesel delivery but that does not tally with the GPS track. So be it. I’m pretty sure, that no billionaires are tampering, spying, trading secrets or generally stabbing each other in the back in this case. Not even does it seem likely it’s Bush’s fault. Earthrace is back on track and that is a good thing.

Go Earthrace.

Pay them (literally) a visit at >> their site <<, filled with all kinds of videos, blogs, GPS stuff and info. But do take care – you may end up with the Earthrace Vortex!

Thanks to all of you! Karl

%d bloggers like this: