The International Knarr Championships returns to the San Francisco Bay.
Every three years San Francisco hosts a most unique regatta featuring world class racing and the sailing lifestyle in equal measure: The St. Francis Yacht Club played host once again to the International Knarr Championship (IKC) September 2 – 10, 2016.
The IKC rotates between the three countries where these beautiful 30-foot Bermuda-rigged, long-keeled wooden boats flourish: Norway, Demark and the U.S.A., specifically San Francisco Bay. The Knarr was designed in Norway in 1943 and the international fleet now boasts hundreds of members who race traditional wooden and modern fiberglass versions of this classic yacht. The 25 best teams in the world are selected to compete in the IKC each year.
However, being the best at sailing your own boat isn’t enough for the Knarr class. During the IKC, teams are randomly assigned a new boat each day to increase the challenge.
Finding the boat’s personality
“No one can buy themselves an advantage. When you come to the IKC you don’t know what boat you are going to sail,” said sailor Johan G. Hvide who travelled from Bergan, Norway, to compete.
“The focus is on sailing the particular boat you have today. You’ve got about an hour to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the boat and how you are going to use your tactical skills to make this boat perform to the best possible outcome,” Hvide said. “The key is to know your sailing, your crew and the boat. Each boat is unique, they all have peculiarities, but they sail remarkably equal if you treat them well.”
“You have to find the boat’s personality,” said Morten Heldal Haugerrud also of Norway. Morten fell under the Knarr spell in 1973 with his first purchase. “The boats are beautiful, whenever I sail I get complements, but it’s so much more. There is a very good milieu, a very good camaraderie. It’s inclusive and very welcoming. We come together as Knarrists, but are friends on and off the water. It’s like a big family.”
Both Johan and Morton are longtime Knarr sailors and past IKC champions.
The class reminds us that the Knarr is “not just a boat, it’s a lifestyle” on posters, souvenirs, race materials and on their website. The IKC lived up to this credence with a series of off-the-water events highlighting just why this class is so much more than the boat they sail.
Nine après-sail events, including a post-race wine tasting by Cultivar Wine, Glenmorangie Scotch and Fort Point Craft Beer Party and the Martin Ray Winery Awards Dinner capped the on-the-water action.
The opening ceremony was a tri-national event. Morten Soerensen, president of the Danish-American Chamber of Commerce gave the opening address as the Danish national anthem played and the Danish flag was raised. Sindre Stemshaug, Norwegian Consul General in San Francisco, followed with remarks as a trumpeter played the Norwegian national anthem and the their flag was raised. “Sons of a Beach,” a choir of Knarr sailors, sang the U.S. national anthem as the American flag was raised. The opening ceremony concluded with a celebratory toast of Taittinger Champagne, sponsor of the IKC Opening Ceremony.
Spirits were high as family and friends socialized with the seven teams from Denmark, six teams from Norway and 12 American teams. It was a perfect opportunity to learn about these passionate sailors and the lifestyle they enjoy.
Tuesday offered a special offsite excursion to the Tito’s Handmade Vodka Mid–Week Dinner Party at the Matthew Turner Tall Ship in Sausalito. Racers, family and friends enjoyed music by Philip Claypool as they sipped the regatta’s signature drink, the Tito’s Vodka “Knarr-tini.” It was a most fitting location for a classic fleet; the Matthew Turner is the first tall ship to be built in San Francisco in 100 years.
“It’s a lifestyle in that birds of a feather flock together. Meaning we tend to enjoy the same things whether it be golf, skiing or cars. We’re renaissance men and women who appreciate many things including a beautiful old boat,” said IKC chairman Mark Dahm.
“I’ve done high-performance sailing, but what drew me to the class was the people. That, and I saw a future for me in that it’s affordable to campaign. It takes only four people to sail and is 30 feet long. It also comes with a culture built in. It’s really fun in that regard,” he said.
Mark has been racing his Knarr for 14 years, but it’s not unusual for people to have been racing Knarrs for much longer. Knud Wibroe, founder of the San Francisco fleet and the IKC, will turn 90 this year. He’s been sailing Knarrs for 82 years, 50 of them on San Francisco Bay.
“No one ever leaves the fleet. Even if they sell their boat, they come back in some way. It’s not about buying a boat, it’s buying a lifestyle, one that involves the whole family. We are the envy of other sailors for our organization and the camaraderie among sailors,” said Knud.
“It’s your friends, your moments, the special times that when you are 98 you will look back on and treasure,” said Manon Settlemier Baze, a Knarr sailor since the age of two.
Knarrs on display
San Francisco’s renowned windy racing conditions did not disappoint during the six days of intense competition.
Chris Perkins, a local favorite, took the early lead and maintained it throughout the regatta—no easy task given the level of competition and lengths the class takes to level the playing field. New jibs were purchased and all the shrouds were taped in addition to the daily boat switching.
Chris won the regatta by 18 points over his brother Jon. He attributes his decisive victory to the terrific season they’d had leading up to the championship and to his crew, which included his brother Phil Perkins, Peter Clark, Hans Baldauf and his son Charlie.
“Going into the series we were confident we could be in the top two boats and that we could shave together a good series,” said Chris. “We were always racing for first, second or third, which is just an amazing experience.”
Chris grew up with Knarrs. As a youngster, he was invited to crew on Grant Settlemier’s Knarr and was hooked. “It was always one of those things in the back of my mind, someday I’m going back to them.” After racing many different one-design classes, in the early 1990s he bought a Knarr with a friend and hasn’t looked back.
While sailing Knarrs may not be on the highest level of sailboat racing available, Chris says the Knarr fleet is one of the strongest on the Bay, especially for people who love racing. Currently, there are 42 Knarrs based in San Francisco, of which up to 30 are actively raced.
“It’s a great fleet of local sailors,” he said. Next year the IKC will be held in Oslo, Norway. The top five teams from San Francisco will qualify, as well as Chris as the defending champion.
The club’s fleet
The Knarr is one of the most active fleets at the St. Francis Yacht Club and recognized by many as the “fleet of the club.” No fewer than 20 staff commodores have raced Knarrs, and 10 of the 12 U.S. Knarrs raced in the regatta are owned by StFYC members.
After next year’s event in Norway and then Denmark, the IKC will return to San Francisco in 2019.