Michael Date AU

THE LOOSE ENDS OF A CHRISTMAS TALE
The following message from Michael Daterecently appeared on FB:

I havent posted for some time as I have been seriously considering my position as an entrant in the race. I have decided to pull out of the race. It has been one of the hardest decisions to make but I feel it is the correct one. I have the organisers of my decision and am now making it public. There are three main reasons my inabilty to make good decisions this was shown to me when doing some of my sailing off the the Gold Coast with shipping was real issue. My decisions were not what they should have been. The decison has also been prompted by my lack of sponsorship even thou I have financed the rebuild of my boat my self there is still another $100K that I need and dont have. I have also weighed up leaving my familly for the best part of a year and that has weighed heavily on me. So the decion has been made to pull my entry for the GGR. If anybody is interested the boat is for sale and is 95% ready for the race and is for sale.

credit Michael Date

Heartfelt words from a 61-year-old man in the prime of life who has clearly been wrestling with a very weighty decision. Participating in the GGR essentially means a demanding three-year all-in commitment of time and energy with obvious consequences for family life (Michael’s shore team includes four children and a dog) as well as the inevitable financial challenge. The pressure must have been enormous and Michael obviously concluded in the end that he was better off out than in.

Reading this bittersweet news made me think perhaps it was time to examine some of the factors that may have contributed to the story ending as it has.
I have been familiar with Michael’s yacht Harmony, an Aries 32, since 2013. Her previous ownerNick Jaffesailed half way around the world back in 2008 with a Windpilot-equipped Contessa 26. He was even kind enough to send me an update on reaching Barbados:


04.05.2008
Hi Peter, I hope you remember me – I hassled you a lot about a Windpilot, and finally bought one in Holland. Anyway, I just wanted to say I did successfully make it across the Atlantic, and while I was late all through Europe, and even pretty late on my crossing, I am here in Barbados, the West Indies. The Windpilot was fantastic, steering nonstop from Gran Canaria. I’ve attached a picture!
Kind regards,
Nick

Nick bought Harmony in San Francisco in 2012 and quickly set about fitting the boat out for the trip back home to Australia. His Windpilot was dispatched to SFO and installed in April 2013. Quite by chance (as if), it came to my attention that a Pelagic autopilot had been retrofitted to the Pacific system.
My heart skipped a beat looking at the photos: the autopilot was mounted on an M6 bolt with an extremely short lever arm, which, I feared, could lead to the windvane bracket being broken very quickly due to the near-impossibility of synchronising the working range of the Pelagic with that of the push rod on the Windpilot Pacific.

I wasted no time in contacting Mike Scheck, the manufacturer/distributor of the Pelagic and proprietor ofScanmar Marine International ( Monitor ), (also home of the Monitor self-steering gear), to see what we could do to head off disaster (as an aside, it has come to my attention that a reference to this installation of a Pelagic on a Windpilot still appears on the Scanmar Marine International website a good seven years later).
By another coincidence in 2019, I learned from Mike Scheck that Nike Steiger had received a Pelagic to fit on her boat Karl, presumably as a sponsorship arrangement. A few mouse-clicks later, I had brought Nike up to speed on the situation and made sure that she would not make the same mistake Scanmar had (which could have had major consequences given how many views her YouTube videos are prone to generating). Taking care of little issues like this is a never-ending task, but essential to prevent damage to my products and brand. All part of my life’s work!

Pelagic


But back to Nick Jaffe, der im GGR 2018 Nick performed a key role in IT for the organiser during the GGR 2018 and was someone I met daily while we were all in Les Sables d’Olonne preparing for the start. Nick had the decency to send me the following e-mail as the race developed:

Hi peter I found it interesting because I had zero issues with your gear while Istvan and others reported problems – which in the end were more than likely skipper issues not engineering issues.
I’m well aware of the bad press these guys created for you, but I think you will recall I never complained with my units because I never had an issue and they steered me many thousands of miles.
Nick

It is always fascinating for me to hear what sailors really think when they feel free to speak objectively without fear of having to carry the can for their own misjudgements or face the wrath of a jilted sponsor (be it a personal sponsor or an event sponsor).

Harmony was subsequently sold on in Australia to Michael Date, who treated her to a comprehensive rebuild (the cost of which marginally eclipsed the price of a new build and was out of all proportion with the actual value of the boat).

As things turned out, we ended up chatting fairly regularly about subjects such as whether Michael should continue to use the Windpilot Pacific. He had no misgivings as to its quality, especially having spoken in depth with other Windpilot sailors (including after the GGR), but he and Don McIntyre go way, way back. Michael took over a business from Don many years ago and I suspect he felt almost obliged to switch to a Hydrovane out of loyalty.

It is always fascinating for me to hear what sailors really think when they feel free to speak objectively without fear of having to carry the can for their own misjudgements or face the wrath of a jilted sponsor (be it a personal sponsor or an event sponsor).


Harmony was subsequently sold on in Australia to Michael Date, who treated her to a comprehensive rebuild (the cost of which marginally eclipsed the price of a new build and was out of all proportion with the actual value of the boat).

Don McIntyre

As things turned out, we ended up chatting fairly regularly about subjects such as whether Michael should continue to use the Windpilot Pacific. He had no misgivings as to its quality, especially having spoken in depth with other Windpilot sailors (including after the GGR), but he and Don McIntyre go way, way back. Michael took over a business from Don many years ago and I suspect he felt almost obliged to switch to a Hydrovane out of loyalty.

Which brings us on to another GGR participant,Mike Smith, the Australia-based self-builder of an Eric 32 (the same design as Abhilash Tomy’s Thuriya) who has been preparing for the GGR for many years. Mike helped Michael Date with the work to ready Harmony and tick the necessary boxes for GGR qualification and received Harmony’s now-surplus Windpilot system in exchange.

Mike was listed as a provisional entry for 2018 and is listed as such again for 2022. And it looks as though he will probably be unable to make the start again too on account of the difficulty of finding time and money enough to live and still have time and money enough over to finish preparing the boat (although his name is still on the list of skippers for now). The Pacific has already found its way onto the drawings for Pingo at least.
And so we come to the delicate conclusion of what has been a story of challenge and problem throughout. Some may be surprised to read it, but I am more than a little relieved that Michael has removed Harmony from the GGR start list: the boat is a Colin Archer design with a very-overhanging transom-mounted main rudder and the adventurous solution apparently proposed by the people at Hydrovane to the problem of how to install his product around this substantial obstacle did not fill me with confidence!

credit Michael Date

The braces are very long indeed and yet the vertical separation between the system’s upper and lower mounts is small, which has serious implications in terms of the likely loads in heavy weather. It seems to me this style of installation harbours the seeds of disaster: what happens next when a solo skipper finds the parts that need to be attended to in order to replace a shear pin or even the entire rudder are out of reach from a sailor condemned to work at deck level? It would be a race-ending situation, of this I am sure.

That, I believe, ties up the loose ends of this short tale, which has taken us around the world from Hamburg to the Golden Gate to Australia and beyond. I hope it brings a little extra pleasure to your Christmas. It was certainly a pleasure to recount!
25 December 2021 
Peter Foerthmann

1 Response to Michael Date AU

  1. Mike Smith says:

    Just today my helmsman, Nick’s Windpilot, has been reassembled. Every bolt undone, every part cleaned and examined very carefully. Apart from some wear on the vane arm bushes item 114, and corrosion around the push rod universal screw item 157, after a good scrub the Windpilot appears almost new and ready for further adventures. I was first impressed by the Windpilot performance when sailing double handed with Colin Davies on Solvesta from New Zealand to Australia. Having now had the chance to have a very good look at the construction, I can definitely say I have no reservations regarding the strength, although I have mainly chosen the Windpilot form my Suhaili Replica for performance reasons. More on this later. In a world that now recognizes the importance of sustainability I am really pleased to be “using it again”.

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