Tahoe sailor returns from America’s Cup quarterfinal repechage
It’s been an eventful year for Douglas Rastello: turning 50, celebrating his 20th wedding anniversary and sailing in America’s Cup for the second time. It’s the kind of year that seems to go by quickly, yet last a long time.
For Rastello, a 10-year Glenbrook resident who grew up sailing in Southern California, the opportunity to join an elite sailing team on Stars & Stripes, an 83-foot boat worth approximately $5 million, is an opportunity that just can’t be replaced.
“The whole event, it’s just exciting to be around, and it’s a full show,” Rastello said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything right now. It’s a great experience.”
His whole family moved to New Zealand for the race, which began this fall in Hauraki Gulf, near Auckland.
It’s hard work– up at 5:20 a.m. six days a week for a two-hour workout. Then breakfast and a daily meeting before packing sails, loading the boat and sailing all day.
By 8:30 p.m., resting for the following day is about all the crew can think about.
For Stars & Stripes’ crew, guided by New York’s Dennis Conner, the path that eventually leads to the finals, called the Louis Vuitton Cup, was a six-month ordeal. After advancing past the second round robin and quarterfinals, Stars & Stripes was eventually eliminated in the quarterfinal repechages by OneWorld, from Seattle, Wash.
OneWorld then went on to lose 4-0 to Oracle, from San Francisco, in the semifinal repechage. Oracle and Alinghi, from Switzerland, begin the Louis Vuitton Cup on Saturday. The winner will battle Team New Zealand in America’s Cup Feb. 15-28 in a best-of-nine series.
Rastello sees Alinghi as the favorite with Russell Coutts at the helm.
“I’d be surprised if Alinghi doesn’t win handily. And Oracle is a great team, it’s just that Alinghi has been so dominant,” Rastello said.
Rastello worked in the after-guard of the second boat switching off between strategist and navigator. During the races, he would work with telemetry and weather equipment to advise the crew on the course once the race began. He wasn’t allowed to communicate with the crew during actual competition.
Besides the salary that separates gifted sailors from the pros, sailing a race boat such as Stars & Stripes is more an exercise in technology, endurance and strength, although the sailors are still masters of the sea.
The Stars & Stripes’ team consisted of about 35 sailors and 35 support staff. Other crews were closer to 120.
“The boats are very physical,” Rastello said. Sailors are expected to grind winches all day, sometimes from a distance of 25 feet. Rastello became a part of the second race crew, although crew members are largely interchangeable.
The boats themselves are 83 feet long, with a mast of 118 feet.
“They’re tough boats to sail,” Rastello said. The hull weighs about 5,000 pounds, and the bulb, the large lead “torpedo” on the bottom of the keel, weighs about 40,000 pounds.
The boats are designed to tack, or move against the wind, quickly and aggressively, tacking across the headwind either way by about 30 degrees. They move about 10 knots into the wind and about 15 knots downwind.
“People don’ know how much effort it takes to get a team together to get to the starting line every day and the whole process,” Rastello said. “Last time we had football trainers … It’s very physical.”
Rastello grew up with the sailing elite. He raced in America’s Cup in 1986, then took a long work break before coming back this year to sail on Conner’s team.
Earlier this year, Rastello was on the boat that sank outside of Long Beach.
“It wasn’t that frightening. It was more just sad,” he said, adding that “tenders” were sailing nearby and picked up the stranded seamen.
About 35 feet of the bow was later reattached. The shore team put it together in a few days. The race crew later sailed the boat to a victory in the quarterfinals.
“I’m a competitor so I like the competition. The second thing is I knew many people on Stars & Stripes but many people I didn’t, and essentially those people became friends for life,” Rastello said, summing up the experience. “It’s a camaraderie thing, you’re a part of a team. You’re going through an effort and everybody’s putting out 110 percent every day. I get the opportunity to have a lot more long-term friends. And at the same time I get the opportunity to compete at the highest level, which I enjoy a lot.”
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