January 5, 2009

Nick Scandone, Winner of Paralympics Sailing Gold, Is Dead at 42

Nick Scandone, Newport Harbor 2008. Photo by Mark Avery

By CHRIS MUSELER

Nick Scandone, a sailing gold medalist at the Beijing Paralympics and a former United States Yachtsman of the Year, died early Friday morning at his home in Fountain Valley, Calif., after a six-year battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was 42.

The cause was respiratory failure, a complication of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neurodegenerative disease, his wife, Mary Kate Scandone, said Sunday.

Scandone was a rising star in the sailing world in the 1980s and ’90s. Born on March 4, 1966, in Santa Ana, Calif., Nicholas Salvatore Scandone learned to sail in an eight-foot Sabot dinghy at California’s Balboa Yacht Club.

Scandone’s place as a top American sailor was solidified when he won a national championship at California-Irvine, where he was an all-American. A favorite to win the 1992 Olympic trials in the double-handed 470 class, he narrowly missed earning a spot on the United States team.

After that loss, Scandone started a career in advertising, then became a restaurant equipment salesman. He only began to realize his lifelong dream of winning an Olympic medal after learning he had A.L.S. in July 2002.

Scandone quit his job and started to train for the Paralympics in the single-handed 2.4-meter class. He won the 2005 Open World Championships and was named the United States Yachtsman of the Year as a Classification 7. (A Paralympic sailor’s mobility is rated on a scale of 1 to 7. The more severe the disability — full paralysis for example — the lower the rating.)

By the end of 2006, he was physically unable to sail in the single-handed 2.4-meter class and he was near Classification 1 status.

He promptly began sailing the Skud-18 class, a newly added Paralympic event designed for Classification 1 sailors. With his crewmate, Maureen McKinnon-Tucker, he won the Paralympic trials in late 2007.

Scandone’s condition worsened even as he and McKinnon-Tucker were competing at the Paralympics in September in China.

“We were constantly changing his steering and seat systems,” Mike Pinckney, Scandone’s coach, said Sunday.

“His fingers were weakening, so we had to change the electric seat controls from toggles to buttons and make the right-hand one a hair trigger.”

Pinckney also said he needed to feed and hydrate Scandone between races, sometimes intravenously.

Despite these conditions, Scandone and his crew captured the gold in dominating fashion. Having won most of the races, Scandone and McKinnon-Tucker did not have to compete on the last day.

Scandone has been nominated for the 2008 Yachtsman of the Year award for his gold-medal performance last fall.

“It was very serendipitous,” Mary Kate Scandone said of her husband’s Paralympic path. “This goal of winning a gold medal gave my husband two more years of life. When we knew he won, we looked at each other and were really happy, but it was bittersweet.”

In his final months, Scandone promoted the Maritime Sciences and Seamanship Foundation at Balboa Yacht Club, which he started to introduce disabled sailors to the sport.

Scandone is also survived by his father, Vincent Scandone Sr.; and brother, Vincent Scandone.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

February 9, 2008

Unforeseen Change of Course for

Ailing Sailor

Nick Scandone and Maureen McKinnon Tucker in 2008.

By CHRIS MUSELER

Last week, a drained Nick Scandone sat at the Coral Reef Yacht Club bar in Miami after dominating an international sailing fleet and winning the Rolex Miami Olympic Classes Regatta with seven firsts out of 11 races. For Scandone, a member of the United States sailing team, this was one of many training regattas on his schedule leading up to the race of a lifetime in China at the end of the summer.

Scandone had hoped to be in this position 16 years ago when he was competing for a spot at the Barcelona Games in 1992. He failed to qualify for that team, and four years ago was thrown a curve that has ultimately allowed him to make it to Beijing. He learned that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.

Despite the uncomfortable reality that Scandone’s body will continue to deteriorate, he remains a favorite at the Paralympic Games in September in Beijing.

“It’s not exactly as I had envisioned it,” said Scandone, 43, of Fountain Valley, Calif., who stopped racing competitively after failing to make the Barcelona Games. “But I’m still living the dream. I’m exhausted but I’ll be right back at it and energized when I get home.”

After learning of his diagnosis, Scandone quit his job and returned to racing, competing in the single-handed 2.4-meter class. He won the 2005 Open World Championships in that class and was named the Rolex Yachtsman of the Year. He planned to compete for spot in the single-handed 2.4 for this year’s Paralympics until he became physically unable to sail. But the newly added Skud 18 class has given Scandone another chance at his Olympic dream. He started sailing in that class a year ago, quickly picking up victories. This week he started training in Southern California again with his crew, Maureen McKinnon-Tucker. He spends four hours a day on the water.

The next event for Scandone is in March. After that, the goal is a test event in China in May. Scandone will move to China this summer to prepare for the Paralympics.

The high-speed Skud 18, a two-person sailboat, is one of three sailing classes in the Paralympics.

A sailor’s mobility is rated on a scale of one to seven. The more severe the disability — full paralysis for example — the lower the rating.

Scandone, whose mobility was rated as a seven when he began competing in the single-handed 2.4 in 2005, is now nearing a No. 1 rating. Competitors in the Skud 18 must have a rating near the lower end of the scale. The sailors are strapped into go-kart-style seats one in front of the other. The seats tilt from side to side with electric motors to keep them upright as the boat heels. The sailors rest their hands on push and pull levers to steer.

“What amazes me about Nick is that he’s still striving to get better at the game,” Betsy Allison, Scandone’s coach, said in a telephone interview last Saturday. “He wants to be at the top of the podium and his mental capacity is still so acute.”

Allison said she encouraged most disabled sailors to do much of the sail and boat preparation.

Scandone’s situation is special, however, because he gets weaker each month.

“We are now managing within the changing parameters of the disease,” she said, adding that she and her assistants rig and de-rig the boat for Scandone. “It’s less coaching and more making sure he doesn’t overtax himself.”

Doctors who work with terminally ill patients have used examples like Scandone to help their patients gain control over an otherwise uncontrollable disease.

“A.L.S. is fatal and the outcome is certain,” said Dr. Judith Rabkin, a professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University. “But today, doctors, nurses and physical therapists are trying harder to encourage their patients to actively cope. It could affect their survival.”

Rabkin, who said the median life expectancy of A.L.S. patients after diagnosis was three years, added: “Nick is unusual. He’s quite lucky if he’s still able to sail. His disease is progressing but he’s enjoying life and thriving on the success of his passion. That’s exceptional. He’s a wonderful model of how to live life gracefully.”

But the reality is that by September, Scandone may not be physically able to compete for the United States. “The question came up at a meeting,” Gary Jobson, a member of the Olympic Sailing Committee, said Wednesday, “and I stood up and said, ‘Nick Scandone will tell us if he can’t do it. Until he does, he’s our guy.’ ”

Scandone said sailing had “given me a reason to get up in the morning.”

He added: “I slowly become more paralyzed. I can sit back and watch it happen, but that’s going to happen anyway so I might as well do what I love.”

Scandone, who has beaten many of the sailors he will face at the Paralympics, is not taking anything for granted.

“I’m taking this one event at a time,” he said. “At the Olympics you’re representing more than yourself. You feel that you have a lot more weight on your shoulders. I’ll enjoy that weight while I have it. What’s next after that, I don’t know.”

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

April 25, 2009

Ocean Race to Detour for Whales Near Boston

2009 Volvo Ocean Race Whale Exclusion Zone, Boston.

By CHRIS MUSELER

The Volvo Ocean Race fleet has raced for nearly 30,000 nautical miles, through garbage-strewn waters in the China Sea, around a pirate zone on the way to India and over 20-foot waves in the Southern Ocean. As the seven sleek yachts that remain in the race ride warm southerly winds past Cape Cod this weekend, they will have to make their way around yet another obstacle, a whale sanctuary, before gliding into Boston Harbor.

In a first for such an event, organizers of the Volvo Ocean Race, a 37,000-nautical-mile race around the world, have worked with the federal government to route the fleet around the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the group of North Atlantic right whales that began feeding there this month. Ecologists and race organizers said new rules restricting access to the sanctuary would better protect the whales and the sailors. The rules were enacted in January.

A collision with a marine mammal at the speeds of 30 miles an hour that these sailboats reach can be devastating, race officials said. The animal could be killed and crew members could be thrown into rigging.

“It’s happening more and more,” the race’s communications director, Marcus Hutchinson, said of the incidence of racing boats hitting marine life. “There are more of these boats out there, but more importantly, they are going radically faster.”

In a phone interview Thursday from Boston, he likened a boat’s steel keel hitting a whale to a knife going through butter.

“It’s definitely a concern,” said Kristen Koyama, the ship strike coordinator for the Northeast region of the National Marine Fisheries Service. “The organizers have been great accommodating us. They had a choice of going slowly through the sanctuary but chose to go around.”

Seven of the eight Volvo 70s that started the race in October in Alicante, Spain, have hit something. Puma Ocean Racing, the lone American entry, has not. Hutchinson said it was not confirmed if any of the boats had hit whales, but reports from the teams indicate that some believe they hit marine mammals.

The rules, under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, restrict ship traffic in the 842-square-mile parcel of Massachusetts Bay and the North Atlantic. The Volvo race fleet fell under the requirements that require all vessels 65 feet or longer to reduce their speed to 10 knots in the sanctuary during seasonal management, which opens when right, humpback and fin whales begin their migrations.

Race organizers added a five-mile buffer around the existing sanctuary as a safety factor for the fleet, pushing the racers farther out to sea. The exclusion accounts for more than 400 extra miles of sailing on the 4,500-mile leg, and forces the boats through a five-mile strip between Cape Ann and the sanctuary.

“Once you get to the northern limit of the sanctuary, there are few tactical options,” Andrew Cape, the navigator for Puma, said in a satellite phone interview Thursday. “The leader there will probably be able to easily win.”

He added, “We have to live with the restrictions.”

Racing sailboats, including those in the Volvo 70 and the Open 60 class that are used in the growing single- and double-handed races, have only recently had problems with hitting marine life.

Several sailors in the Vendée Globe, the solo around-the-world race that finished last month in France, reported severe damage to their boats after hitting what they believed were marine mammals. One sailor in the Artemis trans-Atlantic race last May had to abandon his Open 60 after he reported striking a large sea mammal.

Solo racers have researched using “whale mitigation” devices like electronic pinging machines, which work on the same principle as deer whistles on cars. The technology, although used commercially, is yet unproven. “Studies have shown that devices making noises on bows of boats can actually bring animals to the surface, right into the strike zone,” said Leila Hatch, a marine ecologist for the sanctuary.

Hatch said that the sound of water resonating off the carbon hull of a Volvo 70 could also attract an animal, but that right whales were difficult to protect no matter what type of ship was around them. “They feed on the surface this time of year, on the first blooms of algae, on zooplankton and copepods,” she said. “Here, they are in a heavily traveled area. There are only around 350 to 400 left.”

In 2006, Koyama said, she handed out information about locations of marine life when the boats sailed into Baltimore and New York. This time, federal law requires the organizers to have consultations with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Coast Guard.

“This is a unique situation,” Hutchinson, the communications director, said. “These boats can cover 600 miles in 24 hours. Only nuclear submarines can consistently travel that fast in open ocean. They sneak up on things.”

The fleet will sail day races May 9 and 10 from Fan Pier in Boston Harbor to where the U.S.S. Constitution is docked in Charlestown. They start Leg 7 on May 16 and head for Galway, Ireland. The race is to finish in late June in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

January 19, 2009

Cold Case: The Sound of Carbon for Yo-Yo Ma?

Susana Raab for The New York Times

By CHRIS MUSELER

When the cellist Yo-Yo Ma takes to the inaugural stage on Tuesday, the instrument he will have may take music enthusiasts by surprise. Black, with a single-piece body, neck and peg box, and with no scroll at the top, the cello is a high-tech carbon-fiber instrument designed to withstand the cold.

Created by Luis Leguia and his Massachusetts-based company, Luis and Clark, the cello is unaffected by temperature and humidity, which can crack or split the delicate antique instruments that professionals usually use. Mr. Ma plans to play his Luis and Clark cello if the weather warrants, said his manager, Mary Pat Buerkle. His other cello, a 1733 Montagnana from Venice, is worth more than $2 million. Mr. Ma will be playing a score by John Williams with Itzhak Perlman on violin, Gabriela Montero on piano and Anthony McGill on clarinet. Mr. Perlman could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Ma is not the only inaugural string player using a Luis and Clark instrument. At the “We Are One” concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday, the entire Joint Service Orchestra string section — 44 musicians in all — played the company’s carbon-fiber cellos, violins, violas and basses.

“My cello is a couple hundred years old,” said Staff Sgt. Ben Wensel, a cellist in the United States Army Band, before rehearsing on Friday in 14-degree weather. “I wouldn’t dare take it outside in this.”

Sergeant Wensel said that this would be the first time a major orchestra had exclusively used carbon string instruments. The orchestra is a combination of the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Navy and Marine bands.

Mr. Leguia, who studied under Pablo Casals and played cello for the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 44 years, came up with the idea for a composite cello after going sailing on a fiberglass Hobie 16 catamaran. He was struck by how efficiently the boat’s hulls transmitted the sound of the waves. “The greatest instruments can be heard through the din of an orchestra,” he said in a telephone interview. “I saw potential in that.”

The first cello Mr. Leguia built was of fiberglass in 1990. He then moved to carbon, partnering with Steve Clark, a champion sailor and carbon-fiber expert from Rhode Island. Mr. Clark helped refine the design and construction process, and the Luis and Clark cello was born.

About 12 Luis and Clark instruments are manufactured each week at Clear Carbon and Components in Bristol, R.I. The cello costs $7,139. Each instrument takes about a week to build and is handmade of layers of carbon fiber and epoxy. More than 600 have been produced.

As for the sound, Mr. Leguia said that he had tried to maintain the full-bodied sound of top-end instruments, but at a much lower price. A carbon cello, he said has a “flooding, deeper sound,” though “not quite as penetrating” as Mr. Ma’s Montagnana.

René Morel, who deals in fine string instruments in Manhattan, has said the sound is as close as you can get to a traditional top cello like a Stradivarius without being one. The cellist Aldo Parisot, a longtime instructor at the Yale School of Music, has been recommending Mr. Leguia’s cellos to his students for everyday use.

Sergeant Wensel said that his instrument “sounded a little raw at first,” but that “the sound has opened up for me.”

“It’s a good cello,” he added, “not just a good carbon cello.”

Classic Six Metre's starting in 2009 World Cup, Newport, RI

Six Metre World Cup 2009 Classic Start, Photo by Onne van der Wal

September 13, 2009
Classic Yachts Ride Wind and Waves in Return to Newport
By CHRIS MUSELER

NEWPORT, R.I. — Something familiar caught Harry Anderson’s eye as he walked the docks of Newport recently. Anderson, the former commodore of the Seawanhaka Corinthian and the New York Yacht Clubs, saw the 80 wooden sailboats that had been gathered for the Museum of Yachting’s annual Classic Yacht Regatta, but there was one, its sharp bow and white topsides glistening in the sun, that he had not seen since the late 1940s.

It was Goose, a 1938 International Six Meter with a towering spread of white sails and a hand-crafted hourglass wooden hull. Anderson spent his summers as a youngster grinding her winches and working her spinnaker.

Goose, along with 24 others from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s that have been restored to racing trim, were tuning up for last week’s International Six Meter World Cup, which started Tuesday. Many of them competed against one another for the first time since they were first raced.

“In my school days in the ’30s, our job was to stay below and crank as fast as we could; all we could see was sky looking up from under the deck,” said Anderson, who is one of the last remaining crew members of the boats that were raced in the Olympics by kings and used for training by America’s Cup legends like Briggs Cunningham, Harold Vanderbilt and Sherman Hoyt.

Not much has changed in 60 years, I realized, as I sat below one of these needle-thin 35-footers with winch handles spinning under the deck and sea water spilling over the rails during a blustery race in Narragansett Bay.

That is exactly why some owners have spent nearly $500,000 to bring these classic miniyachts back to life: to race them as hard as they did when Egyptian cotton was the sail material of choice.

“The best yachtsmen and the best designers in the world were interested in the six meters,” said Henrik Andersin, who brought his 1938 six-meter Djinn from Finland for the week’s races. “I am attracted to the beauty more than the racing. If you ask a 4-year-old to draw a sailboat, it’s a six. Everything is the right proportion. It’s what a beautiful boat should look like.”

Andersin’s boat was designed by Olin Stephens, the founder of Sparkman and Stephens, for Henry S. Morgan, the son of the famous banker J. P. Morgan. Her frames were steam bent and her keel was carved by seasoned shipwrights.

Henry Morgan’s son, Harry, a broker at Sparkman and Stephens in New York, was instrumental in helping Andersin duplicate Djinn’s layout down to placing the custom mahogany cleats.

“He had amazing color photographs from the first days the boat was sailed,” Andersin said.

A New Zealand family shipped Scout, built in 1909, to Newport to celebrate the boat’s 100th birthday. Jerry Castle drove down to Newport from Ontario to see Goose, which he owned and raced in the 1950s.

“It’s remarkable to see the boats here,” Castle, 89, said. “Every boat has a history, and they are all different shapes and sizes but sail the same speed.”

The name six meter does not refer to the length but is a formula rule, similar to the one for the former America’s Cup 12 meters, used by designers to produce similar boats with similar speeds.

Nearly 300 six meters were built between 1907 and 1950. The boats were so popular in the United States that The New York Times covered the daily racing in Long Island Sound. But the class withered in numbers internationally after it lost its Olympic status in 1952.

It was not until the 1990s, when a small group of Americans and Europeans began restoring the boats, that the renewal of racing began. This followed the trend set by the antique car community, which has run competitions like the Monterey Historic Races in California since the late 1970s.

Since 2007, more than a dozen six meters in the United States have been restored, with spindly spruce masts, varnished teak and mahogany trim, and bronze fittings. Simple names like Jill, Sprig and Totem, all original, are squeezed in gold leaf on the two-foot-wide transoms, and each boat has a story or some rivalry. At the World Cup, which was scheduled to conclude Saturday, some were poised for a rematch of their last meetings.

“Goose and Djinn were fierce competitors,” said Anderson, who sailed aboard Goose in the 1949 British American Cup in Cowes, England. “Titia, Djinn and Elizabeth X all sailed in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.”

Though “modern” six meters, those designed after 1965, were competing in the World Cup, the classics had the most entrants and drew the most attention with their long, delicate overhangs and slender profiles. Unlike a Concourse de Elegance, however, the event saw these thoroughbreds fighting for ornate silver trophies, as they did in the past.

Martha Coolidge, who had her 1931 Sparkman and Stephens-designed Jill restored in Maine in 2008, said, “The beauty of a sailboat like this isn’t experienced until she’s under sail.”

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Velux 5 Oceans 2007

Bernard Stamm aboard his Open 60 Chimese Poujoulet
February 22, 2007
A Very Lonely Journey Across the Globe
Solo Sailing Study to Show How Humans Cope With Stress
By CHRIS MUSELER

While several 40-knot squalls battered his 60-foot racing yacht Monday in the South Atlantic, the sailor Bernard Stamm had more to worry about than just the weather.

“I slept maybe two hours yesterday,” an exhausted Stamm said in a satellite telephone interview Tuesday. “I’m sitting in no wind now. I am running out of fuel to run electronics, and my water maker is broken. It is very difficult.”

Stamm, a seemingly invincible Swiss sailor, has been leading the Velux 5 Oceans solo around-the-world yacht race since the start. But he may finally be reaching his limit — and that is exactly what a group of researchers from a British university are looking to document, by using psychological tests developed by NASA to find out how the human mind copes with life-threatening situations.

Though the study relies almost entirely on interviews and self-administered tests, psychologists for NASA said the findings could benefit their astronaut-training program.

“We’re trying to identify some of the common characteristics of people who consistently think clearly and perform under extreme conditions,” said Michael Tipton, the organizer of the study at the University of Portsmouth’s department of sports and exercise science. He said the results of the study, which requires all five sailors in the 30,150-nautical-mile race to take a weekly cognitive test, would help to better select and train people working in other extreme professions, including search and rescue squads, the military and the oil industry.

“We simulate helicopter escapes in pools,” Tipton said. “But we don’t know how much longer they’d hold their breath if the real consequence would be drowning. With these sailors, that’s a real consequence every minute.”

Stamm, 42, is expected to cross the Equator this week en route to Norfolk, Va., and the finish of the second leg of the competition, a 14,000-nautical-mile jaunt that began with seven competitors last month in Fremantle, Australia. He is expected to finish the leg within the next three weeks. Kojiro Shiraishi of Japan is in second place, more than 2,000 nautical miles behind. The five sailors are expected to finish in Bilbao, Spain, by the end of April.

Since the tumultuous start, when hurricane-force winds drove most of the fleet to run for cover, one boat has sunk and another was dismasted and withdrew from the race.

Two competitors have had to make pit stops to repair damage since that first storm. Robin Knox-Johnston, 67, of Britain was towed into Ushuaia, Argentina, on Monday to fix a broken mainsail and faltering electronics.

Portsmouth’s study involves questionnaires sent to the sailors weekly via e-mail messages. The questions are designed to cull information about the sailors’ mood and the conditions they are working under. Portsmouth bases its mental tests on a model that NASA created to assess its astronauts’ ability to work effectively under high stress. Psychologists for the space agency are now interested in the Portsmouth study.

“A huge amount can be gleaned from these guys,” said Dr. Albert A. Harrison, an behavioral health adviser to NASA. “They are isolated, and under a tremendous amount of stress.”

For Stamm, stress comes in the form of daily challenges that, if unattended, could spell disaster. He said he had only nine liters of water left Tuesday morning and had been unable to repair his water maker. If he cannot repair the device, he will be forced to collect rain water to drink. If his fuel runs out, he will need to hand-steer the boat for days at a time, a nearly impossible, muscle-draining task.

If Stamm is unable to solve these problems, he will have to sail to the closest land, probably in the Caribbean, or call for a helicopter rescue.

Harrison said in a telephone interview this week that even though space travel involved two or three astronauts, the solo-sailing data can be useful for assessing individual performance.

“Sleep loss, for example, is cumulative, and it has a lot of effects on working memory,” Harrison said.

He added that solo sailing was one of the few high-risk activities in which sleep deprivation could be documented, and that the information would be helpful in preparing for moonwalks and even potential “spam in the can” missions to Mars, in which a single astronaut would take a nearly three-year journey in a small craft to the planet.

Shiraishi, 39, the second-place sailor, has had little sleep since leaving Australia more than a month ago, and he said in an e-mail interview Wednesday that his mind and body were strained.

“I haven’t slept enough,” Shiraishi said, adding that he was stressed because of the weather. The yachtsmen often encounter thunderstorms as they cross into the Northern Hemisphere.

The lead sports psychologist at the University of Portsmouth, Dr. Neil Weston, said in a phone interview yesterday that the five sailors had a few common threads. “They all have a base mind-set that helps them react appropriately to disastrous situations,” Weston said. “Their panic threshold is higher than the average person.”

For Stamm, who spends much of his time in a cabin about the size of a bathroom, panic is not an option. “When it’s bad weather, I try to control myself and control the ship,” he said. “When it is in control, no matter what, I am safe.”

He said that his biggest motivation was to keep the boat moving as fast as possible. “When it is slow,” he said, “I cannot sleep, I must keep working.”

Researchers said that the characteristics they are searching for will surface as Stamm encounters storm after storm on his way to Norfolk, some 3,000 nautical miles away.

“Above all, these sailors are rational, calculating individuals,” Tipton said. “Their inventiveness and tough mindedness is what gets them through safely.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company