June 12, 2009

ON BOARD S/Y BUSHIDO, OFF IBIZA—As everyone who has followed the America’s Cup fiasco knows, it is now up to international courts to decide who shall defend what and where. The egregious Swiss billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli is the holder, and has been sued by Larry Ellison, an American sick-making, money-grubbing billionaire, whose stink pot, Rising Sun, has to be among the world’s ugliest gin palaces.

Hence when word got out that the Pug’s Club regatta was to take place off the island of Ibiza last weekend, thousands of Spaniards swelled the beaches in the hope of seeing real sailing boats fight it out at sea, rather than in some dreary courtroom in San Francisco or Geneva. An added attraction was the presence of Count Leopold Bismarck, on board Bushido, who reputedly had announced his intentions to avenge the cowardly sinking of the great battleship and namesake by helping me defeat Tim Hoare’s magnificent gaff-rigged Alexa (a boat Adolf Hitler admired but was unable to purchase) and Roger Taylor’s Tiger Lily, reputed to be the only schooner in the world whose owner (drummer of Queen) managed to water-ski behind.

Other contestants, like Lord Rayleigh of Milk, recently elected to Pug’s, had to withdraw owing to swine fever, his boat having raised the yellow quarantine flag somewhere near Galicia. Two other prominent yachtsmen, both members, George Livanos and Edward Hutley, also failed the criteria, as did Mark Getty’s Talitha G, and the great trans-Atlantic record-holder Bob Miller, who was so distressed to miss the race he was hospitalised in New York with nervous exhaustion. Mind you, around 700 people turned out for the trials, which took place off the northern shore of Ibiza, but when news got out that Sir Bob Geldof was crewing for Hoare, and that Roger Taylor was skippering Tiger Lily, thousands of rock and sailing fans descended on the outlying towns of San Miguel and San Antonio, sparking alarm on the already stretched resources of the Guardia Civil. Never mind. The dinner the night before the race on board Bushido was a friendly affair, but beneath the surface nerves were running high. Professor Gimlet, aka Nick Scott, president of Pug’s, gave a speech urging the competitors to play by the rules, following rumours of tampering and nautical sabotage. He was roundly booed as Tim Hoare, Roger Taylor and yours truly would never descend to such low-life tricks.

Monday morning’s 20-knot breeze and calm sea were perfect for racing. On Bushido we dressed for the race. White trousers, Pug’s Club neckties and blue blazers. Debonnaire Bismarck, Chantal Hanover and the mother of my children chose long white linen Indian tunics. But Tiger Lily caught both Alexa and Bushido off-guard, racing off on an upwind beat, never challenged as she completed the windward leeward course in a record-setting two hours. The drama took place between Alexa and Bushido. Tim Hoare, an egregious gambler, steered a ragged path, veering dangerously off-course over rocks. What we didn’t know is that he had a retractable keel, passing Bushido on the last leg in a move not attempted since the days of Columbus. Thus ended the first Pug’s regatta, the beautiful silver trophy of two pugs awarded to Roger Taylor, followed by an extremely drunken lunch which finished at nine in the evening. Strains of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ could be heard throughout the night as thousands of Ibizans danced and celebrated.

Having announced that I would commit seppuku in case of defeat—“Don’t you think that’s a bit over the top, sir?” said Captain Paul—I took refuge in the bottle, drinking maniacally until I passed out. Bushido was brave but bad upwind. My crew, starting with Andrew, Nick, Carmella and Ruth, were overconfident, having assured me of victory time and again, and insisting we would win even as we came in third and last. One thing has to be said. Tiger Lily is among the fastest schooners around, and Tim Hoare’s seamanship a danger to all. But luck favours the brave, and the location for the defence of the cup now lies with Roger Taylor. If he chooses the Greek islands, Poseidon might throw me a crumb. I badly need it. I am getting sick and tired of coming in third.


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