Posted by: Jerry Garrett | November 19, 2018

Joey Logano Wins a Thriller, Earns 2018’s NASCAR Championship

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Joey Logano (22) passes Martin Truex Jr. (78). (NASCAR)

(Note: This is the original version of my story that appeared in the November 18, 2018 editions of The New York Times – Jerry Garrett)

HOMESTEAD, Florida

Joey Logano passed archrival Martin Truex Jr. with 12 laps to go for the lead, and then held on to win the 267-lap season finale and the drivers championship of the NASCAR Monster Energy series Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Logano, at 28, is one of the top series’ youngest champions, besides having already raced in it for a decade. The Connecticut native was racing against Truex, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick – all former champions – for his first title.

Logano, who had suffered a disappointing loss in the 2016 showdown, said that setback prepared him for this year’s clincher.

“I’ve worked my whole life to get here,” said Logano, who drove a Ford for the Roger Penske team. “I knew my car was good on short runs, and that last 20 laps under green was just how I wanted the race to play out.”

The four championship finalists battled each other the whole race, at the front of the field, in a classic battle. It appeared Busch, who had gambled on fuel and tires, might have an advantage at the end. But on a restart, after a caution period with 20 laps to go – caused when Logano’s teammate Keselowski ran into Daniel Suarez* – Busch was not able to hold off Logano and Truex. He faded to fourth, behind Harvick.

“We were just slow that last 16 laps. I got the lead, but I couldn’t hold them off,” Busch said. “My car had no speed. It just wouldn’t go. It was nearly undriveable the whole race.”

The race had a sense of déjà vu about it, as the four drivers still eligible for the Championship 4 were almost the same as the lineup a year ago.

Busch, Truex and Harvick were back for another year as finalists; Logano replaced his teammate Brad Keselowski from the 2017 lineup.

Asked if this quartet was the best group of qualifiers ever, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who retired this season, replied, “Ever? Hmmm. I would say these are the best four guys here today, to be battling it out for the championship.”

Despite the old Nascar adage that “you need friends out on the race track” to help you do well, this quartet continues to excel, year after year, even though they are among the prickliest competitors in the sport.

After a last-lap clash with Logano at Martinsville last month that cost him a victory, Truex promised, “I know he won’t win the championship.” Truex wouldn’t specify how he “knew” that about Logano’s chances. “”I won’t just wreck a guy,” Truex said, “Unless it’s the 22.” The pair touched fenders and smoked tires several times during the race, as they raced side by side, but without dire consequences.

Logano has had previous contretemps with drivers like Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth, who have intentionally wrecked him.

Logano said he expected an even higher level of intensity for the final. “It doesn’t matter how you are,” he said. “You find another gear here. A higher gear.”

Busch was candid about his feelings toward certain drivers in the series. “Sometime you just don’t like a guy,” he said simply.

Earnhardt, who often crossed paths with Busch often during his career, observed, “Kyle drives hard, and he doesn’t care who gets in the way.”

Busch and Harvick have also been in dust-ups on and off the race track with other drivers, most notably Logano’s teammate Keselowski.

Harvick’s team owner Tony Stewart, a notoriously pugnacious driver before retiring last year, said, “Kevin’s the guy who, if there’s five seconds to go, is the guy who you want to get the ball to. You want it in his hands. He’s what I call a plug-and-play type of guy. Plug him into whatever kind of high-pressure role and he knows what to do.”

Despite leading the early stages, Harvick said his car didn’t perform well enough when he needed it most, at the end. “We didn’t really have the speed we needed, the whole weekend,” he added.

Busch and Harvick had each won a season-leading eight out of the 36 races on the campaign, to help them get into the Homestead finale. Truex, the 2017 champion, qualified with four victories and a big cache of points. Logano peaked with key victories in the nine playoff-bracket races preceding the final event.

The battle among the car manufacturers was another case of déjà vu: The second year in a row that Toyota, with Truex and Busch, and Ford, with Logano and Harvick, squared off for bragging rights. And for a second straight year, Chevrolet, which actually fields the most total entries, was shut out.

“That’s disappointing,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s motorsports director. But, he noted, Chevrolet introduced a new car, the Camaro, to the series, and the teams struggled as they tried to sort out the car. The results improved as the season went on, and fan favorite Chase Elliott won three of the last 15 races; he wasn’t eliminated from the Championship 4 until the penultimate race.

Harvick barely made the field, after his car was ruled illegal, three races from the season’s end. His crew chief Rodney Childers was suspended for the remainder of the season, and the team was docked a critical number of points, and an automatic berth in the final. So Harvick had to race his way back in, in the remaining races.

The season finale also marked several milestones. Truex’s team went out of business, with the drop of the checkered flag, having lost its major sponsor. Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson finished without a victory for the first time in 16 seasons; and his crew chief Chad Knaus during that run left for another team.

The finale was conducted under perfect weather conditions at the 1.517-mile oval, southwest of Miami. Nascar announced a sell-out crowd for more than 46,000 was on hand.

*Another crash by Suarez late in the 2017 finale enabled Truex to win the title.

Jerry Garrett

November 18, 2018

 

 

 

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Posted by: Jerry Garrett | November 13, 2018

Camp Fire Hero, Allyn Pierce: The Rest Of The Story

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Allyn Pierce, from Instagram

PARADISE, California

Allyn Pierce, a nurse at the hospital here, ended up on the front page of The New York Times today for his heroism in helping patients survive the horrific Camp Fire that destroyed most of this town – including the hospital.

Pierce was trapped in his Toyota Tundra truck, along with hundreds of others in vehicles trying to evacuate the town, as fire engulfed the city.

Pierce said the flames became so intense, and the heat inside his truck so increasingly hot, that he thought he might not survive. “I was like, ‘I think I’m done’,” he told The Times. He added, “I just kept thinking, ‘I’m going to die in melting plastic.'” He even recorded a farewell message to his wife. Vehicles around him were bursting into flame.

But when a bulldozer knocked a burning vehicle out of the way, and cleared a path for him to escape, did Pierce something unexpected: He turned his truck around and headed back to the hospital, Adventist Health Feather River, where he thought he might be needed. Turns out he was, and he and fellow caregivers began helping injured patients, some of whom he recognized as his neighbors. When the hospital caught fire, Pierce and the others moved the patients to the hospital’s helipad, and continued treatment there until more help arrived.

Okay, that much was reported in The Times. What happened next wasn’t initially reported.

Turns out, while Pierce was helping others, his own house went up in flames. He lost everything. Even his trusty Toyota was pretty well singed.

Just went things looked the bleakest for Pierce, he got a note on his Instragram account, where he had posted a photo of his blackened truck, from someone at Toyota’s corporate headquarters in Plano, Texas, saying, “We are going to get you a new truck.”

He thought it might a prankster, but it wasn’t.

“We thought it was the least we could do for him,” said Scott Vazin, a Toyota executive that I talked with at an event today in Carmel Valley, California (where the smoke from the Camp Fire shrouded the community, even though Paradise was over 100 miles away). “The poor guy lost everything, while he was helping others. What a hero.”

Jerry Garrett

November 13, 2018

 

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Area IV of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition)

LOS ANGELES

On July 26, 1959, a worker at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, about 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles, was trying to remove nuclear fuel rods from a reactor in a secretive rocket research testing facility, when one of the volatile rods broke off. The broken rod dropped back into the reactor, starting a potentially deadly “China Syndrome” type accident. The blunder was compounded by other workers who, in their bumbling efforts to stop the runaway reaction, broke off another rod that also fell to the bottom of the reactor.

Crews barely managed to get the reactor shut down before an explosion occurred; a chain reaction that would have followed such an explosion likely would have detonated nine other reactors also operating at the clandestine site. The nuclear holocaust that would have resulted likely would have wiped out much of the greater Los Angeles area. As it was, an undisclosed – and unmeasured – amount of radiation leaked out and drifted back toward Los Angeles and many suburbs in between. It was, some claim, America’s worst nuclear disaster.

Although utter catastrophe was narrowly averted, the crisis wasn’t over, because the poorly trained workers struggled with how to close down the reactor site – and close it off. Their errors might be considered comedic, if they didn’t have such tragic consequences.

In the nearly 60 years since, the various owners of the still-secretive site – Atomics International, Rocketdyne, Boeing and others (including agencies of the state and federal governments) – have been flummoxed about what to do with it. And they haven’t been very forthcoming about what their solutions might entail. This much is known: The reactors were shut down (at least three others also experienced malfunctions) and the damaged fuel rods “temporarily” stored there; but the dangerous materials, still after six decades, haven’t gone anywhere, because the United States has no permanent place to store nuclear waste. So the site remains toxic, volatile, and a source of illness, danger and death (mostly from strange cancers) to the residents downwind.

In September 2005, an “event” at the Santa Susana facility was blamed for triggering the devastating Topanga Fire, which charred nearly 25,000 acres nearby, caused 31 injuries and cost tens of millions of dollars to extinguish. On November 8, 2018, the horrific Woolsey Fire also started on the grounds of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, fire officials confirmed in vague terms; to date, it has burned an area more than four times as large as the 2005 Topanga blaze. Hundreds of multimillion-dollar homes, including those of many celebrities, were incinerated. Some blame Southern California Edison, which reported a “disturbance” at its SSFL-area substation near the time the blaze was first reported; but what caused the substation to be “disturbed”? Hard to tell.

Even though the Woolsey fire consumed many acres of contaminated soil, brush and structures at the site, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control said it “believed” the noxious smoke from the fire contained no toxic or radioactive materials. It was a claim many found hard to believe.

“This is an agency that has repeatedly lied to us, minimized risk from the Santa Susana Field Lab and broken every promise ever made regarding the clean up,” community activist Melissa Bumstead wrote Nov. 11 in a change.org article. “Why would we trust them when the lab is on fire – especially now that we know the fire actually began at Santa Susana?”

“The fire started near the same location, which is only about 1,000 yards from the site of the 1959 partial nuclear meltdown,” said Bradley Allen, a scientist, activist and former resident of the area, in a tweet Nov. 12. He added, “Decades of nuclear & rocket engine testing activity, including nuclear reactor accidents & other toxic spills & releases, have resulted in widespread contamination throughout SSFL’s 2,850 acre facility.”

The Physicians for Social Responsibility group also issued a statement that “strongly caution[s] anyone who [is] in or near areas impacted the #WoolseyFire to wear a mask or to stay away until smoke clears. The potential #health impacts are severe” despite statements by the DTSC and other government agencies minimizing any danger.

But why is there an experimental nuclear testing facility so close to Los Angeles, in the first place, and how was it that it came to be located there?

The lab was built in the mid-1940s, to study nuclear weaponry, test chemicals and their interaction, and to develop powerful rocket engines such as the Navaho and Delta II. The federal Atomic Energy Commission and the private company, Atomics International, chose the location because then it seemed a safe distance from Los Angeles. And, on the western fringes, of the then-sparsely populated San Fernando Valley. The AEC and AI knew the work could be dangerous. They just didn’t know how dangerous. And since the research was experimental, workers didn’t know exactly what they were getting themselves into.

Atomics International, a division of North American Aviation, was merged into Rocketdyne in the mid-1950s (Boeing acquired Rocketdyne when it bought Rockwell International in 1996. Nine years later, United Technologies bought the Rocketdyne unit, but Boeing retained the contaminated SSFL site.)

The fateful 1959 accident actually began two weeks before the near-meltdown. An out-of-control nuclear reaction led to a Sodium Reactor Experiment (SRE) being shutdown. Workers couldn’t understand what happened, so they started it back up again. It ran until the radiation monitors pegged the meters on July 26.

Workers quickly realized the reactor had “run away” from them, and radioactive gases were vented into the atmosphere. That heightened the sense of panic, as the workers realized most of their families lived downwind in the San Fernando Valley.

Weeks after that, the workers thought the glowing-hot accident site had cooled enough to reach the fuel rods. But first they had to clean up the immediate contamination. No safety protocols existed then, so they began to scrub everything down with water and sponges. Mops didn’t hold up well, so the crews ultimately switched to using feminine napkins (Kotex), according to a report that came to light years later.

The workers had no protective clothing – just coveralls and cotton caps that read, “Your Safety is Our Business — Atomics International.” Fully enclosed radiation suits with face masks are used by nuclear workers today; each are single-use suits to disposed of after one use.

AI had prepared an unclassified report for the AEC in 1961 entitled “SRE Fuel Element Damage”, but little was known publicly about what had happened at the SSFL until a 1979 Los Angeles Times report that an AEC-sponsored analysis determined there had been numerous indications of malfunctions at the SRE. The report was critical that the operators continued to run the reactor after the initial run-away.

That’s about the time the 1979 accident and radiation release at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island nuclear power plant heightened public interest in such dangers.

But the most significant discovery of information occurred some time after that when UCLA film students stumbled upon a classified report with important additional details.

A flurry of public outrage helped to finally get nuclear work at the SSFL shut down, but not until 1989. A 2006 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, determined that up to 30 percent of the reactor’s radio-iodine and cesium could have vaporized during the accident.

Despite those details coming to light, progress toward a cleanup was glacial.

Urban sprawl exacerbated the problem; the San Fernando Valley’s population grew rapidly. What primarily had been walnut orchards and sprawling ranches surround Santa Susana became suburban housing developments filled with families.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency eventually entered the picture, to help facilitate what shaped up as one of America’s most problematic cleanup projects. The site’s operators weren’t very transparent; an EPA inspection found three of the five buildings they were supposed to study had been recently torn down – including the SRE – and some of the debris from those buildings had been taken to regular municipal trash dumps. Radioactive metals went to a recycler who unwittingly melted them down, and re-purposed and sold them as new metal products!

Subsequent studies found workers involved in the original accident – all dead now – had died from lung cancer, cancers of the lymph and blood systems, and other rare cancers. Despite an alleged lack of cooperation from current owner Boeing, a further study on downwind cancer rates was published in 2006. It concluded the 1959 radiation release – hundreds of times the amount of radiation released at TMI – had caused an estimated 300-1,800 cancer deaths.

That led to a pledge by the EPA, DTSC and others to clean up the site by 2017. But it never happened (check out the Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition website for lots of historic photos). The site remained toxic, radioactive and volatile – and apparently ripe for another event like the mysterious ones that are blamed for triggering the 2005 Topanga and 2018 Woolsey fires.

Jerry Garrett

November 12, 2018

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | October 5, 2018

How Audi Made Me A Dieselgate Dupe

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Auto writers love contests.

A trophy is nice, but we don’t even need prizes. It’s just the competition. We love to beat the other guy. It’s kind of a car thing. Bragging rights.

That’s why it was so appealing to receive an invitation a few years back from Audi, to come to the Washington, D.C., area to test-drive a fleet of new Audi A6 and A7 sedans, powered by turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel engines. The pitch was to see if we could beat the EPA estimated fuel economy numbers of 25 city, 38 highway.

Well, of course, we could. We know how the EPA system works, and how to game it. (We weren’t the only ones, as it turned out!)

We were up for the challenge.

Audi encouraged my fellow competitors – a few dozen auto writers from around North America – to use social media during the program to boast about our accomplishments in real time. Audi even supplied mid-course updates, as to who was leading the miles-per-gallon economy challenge. Tweet, post pictures and videos, give Facebook updates. The more you were on social media, the better Audi liked it. In fact, Audi supplied a special hashtag for us to use, and they even re-tweeted or otherwise re-broadcast the most noteworthy blurbs on a corporate account with widespread distribution.

Just think of the glory that awaited the auto writer who was leading the MPG challenge with 52 mpg (which, for awhile, I was). Tweeted out to the world!

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But there was a problem: We didn’t know we were being used by Audi. We were being duped.

It’s fairly easy to dupe auto writers. Most of us aren’t really very technical, when it comes right down to it. We all like the glitz, the glamor, the prestige of driving around fancy, fast, and obscenely expensive new cars. All too often, we are blinded by the bling factor, I must admit.

There are volumes to be written about how an auto writer failed to notice an automaker had switched out a car’s regular tires for trick racing tires, to game race track results. Or how another manufacturer removed the spare tire, the jack, extra insulation and so forth to make the car lighter – and therefore more fuel-efficient – during a mileage test run. I personally recall one manufacturer who supplied a new hybrid-electric sedan in flaming red paint, to make sure it photographed more appealingly; the catch was that car was never offered in red.

But what Audi was doing in this instance was something of a cake-taker.

The cars being used all were equipped with devices to allowed them to cheat on emissions requirements. So the A6s could go farther, faster and seem capable of engineering feats that they were, in fact, not capable of. I guess Audi wanted to disingenuously suggest, via gullible auto writers, that their diesels should have scored even higher on an EPA test they were already thumbing their noses at.

Of course we didn’t know all that then. And in fairness to the auto writers involved: what Audi, Volkswagen, Porsche (and even others) were later to be found guilty of was one of the most devious swindles in automotive history; now we know it as “Dieselgate”.

Screen Shot 2018-10-05 at 12.49.09 PMFor years, Volkswagen Group (and its affiliated marques besides VW) had been introducing new diesel cars that were supposedly capable of incredibly good mileage – touting the company’s “excellence in engineering” and apparently unshakeable belief in the viability of diesels; “lesser” manufacturers professed to be incapable of obtaining such stellar results. Shame on them!

Here, I must credit my Times editor Norman Mayersohn for always remaining skeptical about these diesel claims; “There is no way they can achieve those mileage numbers and still pass the EPA testing regimen,” he contended over and over again. The only way it could have been possible, he added, was if the cars were equipped with an annoying and noisome urea-injection system to deep-clean the emissions system – which they weren’t. Eventually, of course, Volkswagen was found out; eventually Audi’s leadership role in the whole scheme came out as well. Fines were issued, executives were fired, some were jailed, and the cheating vehicles were pulled from sale.

But there was no skepticism on our Audi romp through the northern Virginia countryside. We were blissfully gifting Audi innumerable zillions of dollars in free advertising – the cars were even emblazoned with garish “clean diesel” advertising slogans – blessed with the imprimatur of dozens of supposed industry experts. And participating in the names of their unwitting publications.

Screen Shot 2018-10-05 at 12.53.52 PMIt was very cunning of Audi, whose slogan was, incredibly, “Truth In Engineering”. And very calculated. And I’m embarrassed now, looking back on it, that I was such a gullible accomplice – to the degree I was.

Thank God I didn’t tweet. I did not attend as a representative of any publication. And, most importantly, I didn’t write anything about it. I came, I saw, I shrugged my shoulders. Something didn’t seem right about the whole exercise – although I adored driving the car – but I couldn’t figure out exactly what bothered me.

Now I know: Audi made me an accomplice in Dieselgate.

A Dieselgate Dupe.

Jerry Garrett

October 5, 2018

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 26, 2018

45 Years At The Indianapolis 500

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Those thrilling days of yesteryear at Indy

INDIANAPOLIS

The first Indianapolis 500 that I ever personally attended was the 1973 running of it – the infamous “Fire and Rain” race that took three days to complete. I was covering the race for The Associated Press and was stationed near the pit exit where Salt Walther crashed in flames. I walked quickly away from that blaze, and was narrowly by missed the fire truck going the wrong way up pit road that ran over and killed a guy. Later, I stationed myself at the entrance to the pits, where Swede Savage had one of the worst crashes in speedway history. He died weeks later in the hospital. Another driver, Art Pollard, had been killed in practice; I had flown over that one in my one-and-only ride in the Goodyear blimp.

After that, I wondered if my first 500 would be my last. Yes, it had lived up to its name as the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, but what a bloody spectacle it was.

But I did go back; it’s been 45 years now, and this year – the 102nd running of the event – I’m reporting it again for The New York Times.

In some ways, the race has changed surprisingly little since 1973. The cars all have their engines mounted at the rear, gumball tires and aerodynamic wings. In the 45 years prior to my arrival, the cars had evolved from the most primitive, earliest forms of automotive transport – with skinny tall tires, enormous engines in front, and cockpits where the drivers sat upright. For a few years, drivers had been accompanied by riding mechanics.

In the early days here, the drivers sometimes raced in street clothes, brogans and cloth or leather helmets. Many didn’t even wear gloves. In this era, of course, racing drivers are kitted up like spacemen in fireproof suits, and strapped in place (laying on their backs inside coffin-like cockpits) with multi-point harnesses.

In days of yore, as they say, drivers eschewed wearing seat belts at all, believing – erroneously – that it was better to be thrown clear of a wreck.

Driver protection has now evolved beyond once-unimaginable, unachievable levels. Not only are the cars now designed to handle impacts without inflicting injuries, so are the walls – the so-called impact-tolerant SAFER barriers – they plow into. Fatalities are rare.

The 1973 race resulted in many of the most significant improvements in crash safety in the history of auto racing: breakaway fuel fittings and puncture-proof fuel cells (drivers had actually sat between unprotected tanks holding up to 80 gallons of fuel), and energy-absorbing or crushable structures. So, that 1973 race probably ranks as a turning point.

Up until 1973, about 40 percent of Indy car drivers could be expected to be killed at some point in their careers. Perhaps 70 percent or more suffered crippling injuries – particularly burns. One of the sport’s longest-tenured drivers, A.J. Foyt, had his career threatened multiple times with burns, internal injuries and a broken bones; even after 40 years behind the wheel, he refused to retire despite shattered legs that were barely saved from amputation.

For a time in the 1990s, foot and leg injuries threatened to sideline an entire generation of Indy car drivers. But that vulnerability prompted another round of safety innovations that ultimately all but eliminated that danger.

The biggest change that I have seen in 45 years at Indy is among the drivers. Of course, all the drivers of that era have long since retired, although Mario Andretti still gives hair-raising rides to folks in an Indy car two-seater.

Andretti was in his heyday back in the 1970s – winning the 500 a second time (and then losing it in a court battle with Bobby Unser), winning a Formula 1 World Championship and capturing multiple checkered flags. But as Andretti’s time has come and long gone, so has the career of his son Michael, now a successful team owner. Now a third generation of the Andretti family is racing, with Marco, well into his career. Maybe one day a fourth generation will come along.

Now that will make you feel old!

Jerry Garrett

May 26, 2018

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 10, 2018

Solving The Mysterious Disappearance Of My Black Sheep Uncle

It’s been nearly 60 years, but I finally found my Uncle Eldon. He’s dead.

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Not my uncle, but close

Not surprising, or else he would have been 112 now.

I don’t know why, but I had been thinking of my mysterious uncle recently. It seems more than a coincidence; it turns out he died almost exactly 50 years ago (fittingly, around Kentucky Derby time). No one in my family ever told me – if even they knew – what happened to him.

When I was seven years old, Uncle Eldon blew into town like a tumbleweed. He stayed with us for a couple of weeks at our little house in San Gabriel Valley, California.

He was tall, thin, weathered, with sandy hair and stubble beard. When I did a Google image search for him, for some reason pictures of the actor Hugh Laurie kept coming up; close enough. I remember him dressed in old khakis, a dark shirt and a well-worn leather jacket. I never saw him eat; he was too busy sneaking a smoke in our non-smoking household.

“I thumbed it,” he said, when I asked him how he got from his home in Colorado.

“Thumbed it? What’s that?” I asked.

“You stand on the side of the road, hold your thumb out like this,” he said, with great tolerance for a nosy little kid who asked a lot of questions. I noticed his thumb and three fingers were stained nicotine yellow. “Eventually, some car will stop and give you a lift.”

From that moment on, the notion of hitch-hiking, anywhere you wanted to go – for free! – held an irresistibly adventurous appeal to me. I couldn’t wait to try it, although I was chastised severely by my dad when I tried it a few weeks later, on the way home from second grade. I thought my mom would be happy I saved her the trip; but she seemed cross as she called the cops and told them they could stop looking for me.

By that time, it had been firmly established that Uncle Eldon was a Bad Influence.

He was gone not long after. But he had left an indelible mark on me.

In less than a week, in addition to hitch-hiking, Uncle Eldon had taught me how to play blackjack, canasta, pinochle and a dozen variations of poker. I knew how to ante, bet, bluff, and count cards like a pro. I learned the finer points of cribbage and dominoes – both played for money. He taught me how to roll his cigarettes (I never smoked any, but his second-hand smoke was worth about the same thing).

Best of all, he taught me how to “play the ponies.”

The Los Angeles Times had a pretty good horse racing section back then, and Uncle Eldon could read it like a treasure map.

“The longshots tend to win the first four or five races on the card, especially the first three,” he confided. “The favorites are tough to bet against in the features.”

He acquainted me with the great riders of the day, who included Willie Shoemaker, Eddie Arcaro, Johnny Longden and some guy named Valenzuela who was the scourge of the longshots.

Eldon would mark up a tout sheet in the morning, and head off hitch-hiking somewhere. He would leave me the Times racing section and tell me to pick my own winners for the day. I guess I got really good at it.

“Didja pick any winners, kid?” he asked me a few days later.

“Yeah, but only four,” I remembered telling him, to his great surprise. “One was a 30-1. That’s good, right?”

“Jeezus,” he said, shaking his head. “Can you do that again?”

I told him I usually got at least three or four. “My goal is to pick ’em all. I got six once.”

“Jeezus,” he said again. “Tomorrow we’ll pick some together.”

The next evening, when Uncle Eldon got home, he handed me a $5 bill, which was basically more money than I’d ever had in my whole seven-year-old life.

“We did all right?” I asked.

“We did all right,” he said. “I should have listened to you.”

“We got six, yes?”

“Like I said, I should have listened more to you.”

Uncle Eldon was gone the next day.

Santa Anita was only a few miles from our home, and it occurs to me now that Uncle Eldon’s visits coincided with racing season there. His subsequent disappearances likewise had something to do with exotic names like Agua Caliente, Del Mar, Hollywood Park, Golden Gate Fields, Ruidoso Downs, and a faraway place called Longacres.

“What do you do?” I asked him once.

“I’m a rolling stone,” he said.

“What kind of job is that?”

“It’s not exactly a job,” he replied. “It’s more of a way of life.”

He told my sister he lived in a tree, sparking my lifelong interest in treehouses.

Eldon was my maternal grandma’s baby brother, in a family of six kids, where she was the oldest. Eldon was born in 1906, and she was nine years older.

“Your grandma calls me the Black Sheep of the family,” he added. “Your grandpa calls me something else.”

That was about the only insight I ever got on Uncle Eldon’s life. My grandparents made a point of not talking about him (or letting him stay with them). He was single, 35, and still living at home in Sanford, Colorado, when World War II broke out. Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 3.08.36 PMFamily genealogy records indicate he married after WWII, and he is buried in a Denver cemetery, next to his brother, two sisters, his parents, and a woman identified as his wife. No one ever spoke of her, and I know he traveled alone. I don’t know what he died of at age 61; maybe something mysterious, maybe something more logical like lung cancer or cirrhosis. Maybe someday I’ll find out; the other great (still unsolved) mystery of my family history is his grandfather, who was murdered in 1905 in St. Louis, as he tried to return to Switzerland. So, stranger things have happened.

I only saw Uncle Eldon one other time – about a year later. I think he stayed with us only one night.

“Got me a ticket on the Greyhound,” he said, proudly waving an envelope. “Travelin’ in style.”

I asked him if we could play cards.

“Grandpa won’t play with me anymore,” I told him. “He threw the cards in the fireplace.”

“Your grandpa is some card player,” he remarked. “But a sore loser.”

“He said he must not be very good, if an elementary school kid could beat him.”

“Some people can’t see the humor in getting beat by a seven-year-old,” he observed.

“I’m eight now,” I said proudly. “Third grade!”

For diversion, I was still playing the ponies, I told him, “although my dad cancelled our L.A. Times subscription, so I couldn’t get the racing form anymore. But I get them at the liquor store.”

“Still pickin’ winners?” he asked.

“About the same,” I told him. “I picked seven a couple of times.”

“You’re wasting your time in school, kid. Jeezus.”

Jerry Garrett

May 10, 2018

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | March 7, 2018

Dodge Trucks: A Hundred Years Old? Or Dead?

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A “Centennial” Model? 2019 Ram 1500 (Photos By Jerry Garrett)

One hundred years ago, the Dodge Brothers started selling purpose-built trucks. A centennial celebration would seem to be in order. But Dodge Trucks are dead. Or are they?

When the Italian automaker Fiat acquired the Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands in 2009, it was announced the truck division of Dodge would be spun off into a new, separate brand christened Ram Trucks. It wasn’t just a name pulled from thin air; the Ram’s head has been a Dodge symbol on radiator cap mascots dating to the 1930s, and since the 1970s, Ram has been a perennial Dodge model designation. But the 2009 spin-off was a jolt for the brand faithful.

In many ways, not much has changed since that decision was made. Ram executives still work in the same building with their Dodge brethren, Dodge dealers still sell trucks, and most importantly, the public still seems to identify Ram trucks with the Dodge brand.

fullsizeoutput_19a7In fact, when a 2018 Super Bowl television ad placed by Ram stirred controversy, Dodge got tarred with most of the critical blowback. (The ad was criticized for allegedly commercializing a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King.) Both companies were quick to note the ad was presented by Ram Trucks, and that Dodge had nothing to do with it.

“But it was understandable in the sense that there’s a lot of history there, with our customers, that goes back decades, associating the Dodge name with our trucks,” said Rick Deneau, a spokesman for FCA Group, the parent of today’s Dodge and Ram brands. “Of course, we’ve done a lot of work in recent years to differentiate the two brands, and we’re going to be working even harder to do that, going forward.”

But the problem goes deeper than name association. Consider this: In 1994, Dodge completely re-made its trucks with a signature “big rig” look. Even though the nameplate changed from Dodge to Ram in 2009, the big rig look carried over. So, please forgive buyers if they considered a Ram truck that looked like a Dodge to still be a Dodge.

But for the 2019 model year, virtually every one of the many old Dodge styling cues – that distinctive broad-shouldered look and “outta my way” attitude that has endured over the past 25 model years – are finally gone. Crucially, even the Dodge-style “crosshair” grille has been ditched.

fullsizeoutput_19a8Despite the bold new design language, the 2019 Ram 1500 still bears a strong family resemblance. In fact, in introducing the new Ram to news media at an event in Scottsdale, Arizona, this week, Joe Dehner, the chief exterior designer, acknowledged, “The DNA on this truck still goes back to the 1994 model.”

And with a nod to the notion of a centennial celebration being in order, he reminded everyone, “We have been building trucks for over a hundred years.” In fact, after considerable research, he has decided this new Ram model is rightfully the “15th generation” descendant of the original Dodge Brothers pickup.

While historians note that Dodge Brothers Company passenger cars first appeared in 1915, and commercial versions (probably conversions) date from that period, the company’s first purpose-built truck arrived later.

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1918 Dodge Truck (“Oozlfinch” from Flickr)

In 1918, the United States Army ordered an exclusive military-spec truck based on the fledgling company’s sturdy, well-regarded and hot-selling Model 30-35 sedans. The army ended up purchasing 3,500 of those trucks, from 1918 to 1923. It wasn’t until 1924, after the army contract expired, that a “civilian” version finally went on sale.

(Collectors claim, despite its rugged reputation, only one running example of Dodge’s original military-spec truck – pictured above – is still in existence.)

So, back to our original question: Is a centennial celebration in order? Were Dodge Trucks born a century ago, and do they endure to this day? Or did they die in 2009? Maybe former Ram brand president Fred Diaz can clear that up, for the record: “Ram Trucks will always and forever be Dodges. Ram will always have the Dodge emblem inside and outside and they will be ‘vinned’ as a Dodge. We need to continue to market as Ram so Dodge can have a different brand identity: hip, cool, young, energetic. That will not fit the campaign for truck buyers. The two should have distinct themes.”

Champagne, anyone?

Jerry Garrett

March 6, 2018

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | February 21, 2018

Russian Racing Patron Rotenberg Headed for EU Sanctions & Blacklist?

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A European Union review of more than 100 blacklisted Russian oligarchs, due in March, will reportedly take a second look at SMP Racing principal Boris Rotenberg, who has so far escaped the list – even though his brother and business partner Arkady is on it.

The blacklist, compiled in 2014 as a means of punishing wealthy Russians for their country’s intervention in the Ukraine, and annexation of Crimea, prevents those on it from doing business or owning property in the 27-nation block, or even traveling through it.

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Boris Rotenberg (Forbes)

A joint investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and the French Le Monde published today reveals the extent to which Boris Rotenberg — reputedly Vladimir Putin’s childhood pal — continues to live the high life on the French Riviera, to run SMP Bank and the SGM Group construction business, and to mingle with the fast crowd at race tracks around the world.

This, even as his blacklisted younger brother Arkady has had to forfeit vast, lucrative properties and investments throughout Italy

You may have seen SMP Racing as a backer of drivers such as Sergey Sirotkin in Formula 1 and Mikhail Aleshin in IndyCar Racing, and a sponsor of the Renault Sport F1 team and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in the Indy series, as well as sports car, spec and formula series throughout the world.

The explanation has been that Boris, a co-founder with Arkady of SMP Bank and other Russian businesses, escaped the sanctions merely because he claimed Finnish citizenship – on the basis of a former marriage to a woman from Finland. However, Finnish government officials suggest Boris’ claim of citizenship could be reviewed, especially in view of the fact he is clearly Russian, a member of Putin’s inner circle of friends, and an owner and operator of Russian businesses.

And now there’s this: New disclosures about his heretofore undisclosed holdings in France and Monaco.

The OCCRP investigation found Rotenberg owns or holds an interest in multimillion dollar properties in Eze, France – in the hills above Monaco, in nearby Nice, and near Grasse. By registering some of his interests in tax-free Monaco, the probe also raised the question whether Boris could be using that status to avoid French and other EU taxes.

Should EU officials determine that Boris Rotenberg, 61, is just as deserving as his partner and brother Arkady of being on that blacklist, it could have an impact on the fortunes of more than 40 top-echelon racers and racing teams – although it’s open to speculation just how much.

You can read the full OCCRP investigation report here.

Jerry Garrett

February 21, 2018

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | February 17, 2018

PHANTOM THREAD – What’s That Car? Hint: You’ve Seen It Before

 

Arguably, the most interesting component of the 2017 movie, “Phantom Thread”, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as a slow-moving but fast-driving couturier, is his car.

What is it?

Here’s a hint: you’ve seen it on-screen before.

The same car was apparently also used in the 2009 movie, “An Education”. It was driven by the film’s shape-shifting lead character, played by Peter Sarsgaard (shown blow, driving with co-star Carey Mulligan).

The deep red sports car is a Bristol 405.

How can I tell it’s the same car? It has same license plate, “WDF 964”. (Lewis, shown above, opening door for co-star Vicky Krieps.)

 

This is a very rare 405; only 297 were produced, during its production run, 1955-1958. The deep red, or maroon, color was not unique, but only a few were turned out in that color. The Internet Movie Car Database reports that it is a 1955 model – further narrowing the range of likely suspects.

Bristol was a tiny, rather obscure British manufacturer that went into production in 1946. Originally known as the Bristol Aeroplane Company, since it began in 1910 producing flying machines, has remained in business, now known as Bristol cars, with a few interruptions to this day.

Although the cars were British in design and manufacture, its cars were powered, from 1946 to 1960, by sporty BMW six-cylinder engines. Chrysler engines were used after that; although the company switched back to BMW power in 2016. The 405’s engine was an inline six – a signature BMW design – that displaced 2 or 2.2 liters, depending on the configuration ordered. Horsepower output ranged between 100 and 125 – a strong performer for the day.

The Bristol 405 was noteworthy not just because it was one of the first production cars to sprout tail fins – albeit tiny ones – it was also Bristol’s only four-door, or “saloon” in British vernacular, ever produced. It also featured a unique center headlight, mounted in the middle of the aircraft-inspired grille.

Under its sleek, voluptuous body were other unique features, like a wooden frame, spare tire holders behind the front wheels, rack-and-pinion steering and disc brakes (developed with racing at LeMans in mind).

As suggested in “Phantom Thread”, the 405 was developed with fast driving in mind, for a wealthy, thrill-seeking clientele.

Besides the two movies mentioned here, a maroon 405 – probably the same car – has also appeared in other movies and television shows of late, including 2017’s “Crooked House”.

Jerry Garrett

February 17, 2018

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | October 26, 2017

A Halloween Story: Road Trip To Italy’s Most Haunted Hamlet

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“Where should we go today?”

“Let’s just get in the car and go,” said Sherry Kanani, my frequent travel companion. “We always find someplace interesting.”

Certainly, it seems anyplace can be interesting, if you have enough curiosity to find out why. And that is how we discovered what some people consider the most haunted place in Italy.

– – –

“Bussana Vecchia – Borgo Medievale” said a roadside sign, directing us up a steep hill from SS1, the coast road along Italy’s Riviera dei Fiori near Sanremo.

The road became more treacherous and tortuous, the higher we drove. It narrowed to barely one lane, with scant room to let the few cars from the opposite direction to squeeze by. Damage to the roadbed made it too dangerous to continue; we parked, and walked the short distance that remained.

“What is this place?” Sherry asked. “Something terrible happened here. You can feel it.”

Bussana Vecchia is not supposed to exist anymore. This hamlet, or frazione, was destroyed in a tremendous Ash Wednesday earthquake 130 years ago that killed an estimated 2,000 or more inhabitants in the area. Most buildings collapsed, including the roof of the hilltop church. Many bodies were never recovered.

Walking through here is like being in an unfinished graveyard.

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An Ash Wednesday service was in progress when the earthquake collapsed the church’s roof. (Jerry Garrett Photos)

Survivors decided not to attempt to rebuild; they moved down the hill closer to the sea and established a new Bussana (called Nuova). The areas of the worst earthquake devastation were declared off limits.

Despite that 1887 temblor, Bussana Vecchia has refused to die – even though Italian police and governmental authorities continue to try to kill it.

The ruined hill town, which dated from the 9th century by some estimates, lay abandoned for more than half a century. But after World War II, squatters – mostly displaced immigrants – began to trickle in, despite no water, electricity or sanitation facilities.

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The vines are slowly taking over.

It was a precarious existence, as repairs were tricky to make; a collapsed section of wall might be holding up the side of an adjacent teetering building. Entry doors two or three floors up might no longer have stairways leading to them.

Police tried to run off the residents, but they refused to be easily dislodged. In the 1960s, hippies moved in. A few artists joined them. A small colony sprung up, existing in partially crushed apartments and homes.

An eviction order was granted in 1968, and police tried to clear the area. But residents barricaded themselves, and refused to leave without the confrontation turning violent. The police backed off. But the area was still considered officially “off limits.” Sporadic initiatives to roust the remnants have continued. As recently as 1997, the Italian government claimed ownership over the entire area, in hopes of evicting everyone. That didn’t work either.

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A few hardy souls still call it home.

These days, only a few hardy souls still consider themselves residents of this eerie ghost town. Several small artist studios are open sporadically. During the day, a handful of restaurants serve simple meals. Only the most primitive water and sanitation facilities exist. Generators provide some temporary power. But as night falls, the area becomes inky black and deathly quiet.

We decided to leave, before it became too dark to navigate the ruptured road.

Yes, Bussana Vecchia, officially, doesn’t exist. Once we left, it was like we were never there.

Jerry Garrett

October 25, 2017

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | August 13, 2017

Strange Saga of the Superyacht Dilbar I

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Natita, off the Côte d’Azur (Burgess Yachts)

(Editor’s Note: This story is a name-dropping dream: Russian oligarchs, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Mar-a-Lago, Ivanka Trump, Goldman Sachs, billionaires, scandals, superyachts and even JFK!)

Dilbar is the name bestowed on what is currently the world’s largest superyacht.

Dilbar, as noted on this blog in a previous post, is owned by Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, GazProm CEO and Vladimir Putin pal. The ship, which is 512 feet long, was completed in 2016 at a reported cost of $600 million. But the current Dilbar is not the first ship Usmanov, worth $18 billion and change (at last report), has owned by that name.

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Current Dilbar (JG Photo)

The original Dilbar, or Dilbar I, is the subject of this story, which just recently experienced a new plot twist. The yacht now belongs to Goldman Sachs, and they seem flummoxed over what to do with it.

That yacht is now called the Natita, and it’s a 216.5-foot long version of Usmanov’s yachting fantasy that was built back by Oceanco in 2005, according to Superyachts.com. It set something of a new standard of luxury back then, with an interior by world-renowned designer Alberto Pinto. Just check out (below) the onboard pool, cited recently as one of the 10 most beautiful superyacht pools.

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It also boasts a movie theater, eight guest cabins, a dance floor, and the obligatory helipad.

Still, it is less than half the size of the current Dilbar, and could supposedly fit entirely inside the bigger ship, with room to spare.

However, the original owner seemed never to be completely satisfied with it. It was completely refitted four years later, renamed, and then finally sold off. (A second Dilbar was commissioned and is now named the Ona, which apparently the Dilbar I was also named prior to 2010 – yes, it’s confusing to me too. So the mammoth current Dilbar would be, I guess, the third with that name.)

The original Dilbar cost something well into nine figures (possibly $263 million, according to one blog). When it changed hands in 2010, the asking price was somewhere around $80 million.

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“Bill the Billionaire” not so popular in Peru

I don’t know if that’s what the guy who bought it, Houston oilman William Kallop, paid for it.

Kallop made a fortune back in 2009, when he sold his Peruvian offshore oil exploration operation for $900+ million to investors from Korea and Colombia. It was a controversial deal, to say the least; Peruvian activists claimed their government got screwed out of $482 million in revenue, plus they argued Kallop personally owed another $270 million in income taxes from the sale. His company had earlier been implicated in a spying and corruption scandal that had helped bring down the Peruvian cabinet.)

Armed with that windfall, Kallop went on an international spending spree. He took a seven percent stake in $3+ billion energy company Quicksilver Resources. He also bought a 300-year-old pisco liquor distillery. He acquired three Gulfstream jets. (Some internet posts erroneously claim he invested in Quiksilver, the surf apparel company, which went bankrupt awhile back.)

He must have needed those jets to hop between his eight residences, which included a Peruvian mansion, two homes in the Dominican Republic, a working cattle ranch in Texas, and a couple of south Florida estates.

And he bought lots and lots of yachts — at least seven of them over the past eight years.

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The Honey Fitz (myhoneyfitz.com)

That total does not include the Honey Fitz, a 93-footer used by five U.S. Presidents including John F. Kennedy, that Kallop bought at Sotheby’s Camelot auction in 1998 for about $9 million. Kallop had it painstakingly restored in the early 20-teens, but he suffered many millions in unexpected costs in the process. It sits, as of this writing, in a Palm Beach area marina.

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Bill, now 74, married Peruvian wife Cristina, 57, in 2008.

A worse fate befell his 104-foot La Diva, once owned by Ivanka Trump; it burned to the waterline in a weird 2010 blaze at a different Palm Beach marina. The yacht had been purchased from close friend Donald Trump, according to Bill’s wife Cristina, who for some reason referred to it (or some boat they owned) as the “Jackie O”. The flamboyant Cristina was a noted hostess on the Peruvian and Palm Beach social scenes (she once masqueraded as Marie Antoinette – while Bill was a pirate) and held parties on the yacht, and at Mar-a-Lago with Trump as a guest.

Three or four years ago, Kallop’s financial situation seemed to come under stress.

The worst hit had to have been with Quicksilver, which made some multi-billion-dollar bad bets in the oil shale business and went downhill rapidly. The company actually was liquidated at the end of 2015 (there was an auction for its last $245 million in assets in January 2016).

In 2014, Kallop borrowed $21 million from Goldman Sachs for a 12,000-square-foot Polynesian-themed waterfront mansion, just down the cart path from his neighbor Trump at Mar-a-Lago.

Also in 2014, he decided to draw another $32 million from Goldman Sachs against the equity in the Natita and another yacht, the Bad Girl.

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A Kallop Palm Beach mansion

Two years ago, Kallop sold one of his Palm Beach mansions for $19 million. About the same time, he listed the Natita with yacht brokers at $67 million. He also offered it for rent – at $495,000 per week! He kept dropping the sales price, but the fish weren’t biting.

Last month, the Natita was seized in West Palm Beach by U.S. Marshals, at the behest of GS, which claims Kallop stopped paying on the remaining $28 million balance on his earlier $32 million loan. The marina is claiming millions in back mooring fees. The Natita reportedly has fallen into such dilapidated shape that a charter party walked off of it in March 2016. Goldman Sachs groused about having to refill its fuel tanks – just to keep its generators running – at a cost of $67,000!

While the Natita molders in impound, the Bad Girl seems to have vanished. Last February, off the coast of Punta Cana, Dominica; its locator beacon stopped sending signals.

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Bad Girl

According to the Wall Street Journal, former employees have sued Kallop for – and won – millions in back pay and benefits.

What’s next? For Kallop, hard to say; his lawyers did not respond to calls for comment. Same with GS. For the Natita, it seems like the auction block could be the answer. The asking price has been steadily dropped to $39.9 million. It is likely to sell for much, much less.

Maybe Usmanov could pick it up on the cheap, and use it as a dinghy for Dilbar III.

Jerry Garrett

August 12, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | August 5, 2017

Rough Seas Ahead for French Riviera Superyachts

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Dilbar, largest yacht by tonnage in the world, off coast of Monaco

(Jerry Garrett Photos)

MONACO

Superyachts cruise back in forth all day, in front of my modest balcony here, overlooking the Côte d’Azur.

Where are they going? To Monaco to visit their money? To the casino? To take on a new load of supermodels and aspiring actresses for another big “Wolf of Wall Street” type orgy? The imagination runs wild.

The truth, it turns out, may be rather boring. Many are just headed to Sanremo, Italy to get gas.

Big deal? Wait: This actually is a big story.

A fill-up for a superyacht can mean 200,000 liters of fuel! Enough for a trans-Atlantic crossing. The tab can easily run into the hundreds of thousands of euros. That’s if you fill up in French ports like Monaco, Nice, Cannes or Saint-Tropez.

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Just another thirsty superyacht.

If you can make it to Italy – Sanremo is only about 20 nautical miles from Monaco – you can save tens of thousands!

In fact, a fueling station attendant in Monaco tells the story of a mid-size 42-meter yacht owner who missed the station closing in Sanremo by a few minutes, and ended up paying an extra €40,000 to top up in Monaco! Ouch!

By “superyacht” I will arbitarily focus on yachts longer than 67 meters, or 220 feet. There are at least 200 of those in the world. In many countries, yachts larger than 24 meters must have a fulltime professional crew. Believe it or not, there are something like 5,000 yachts longer than 24 meters right now in the world.

The yacht pictured above, the 156-meter-long (512 feet) Dilbar, is the world’s largest yacht by tonnage (15,917 gross). Its 30,000-kilowatt diesel electric engine is the largest fitted to any yacht, said its builder, Lurssen.

Delivered to its new owner, Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, in May 2016, it reportedly cost more than €500 million.

It can accommodate 40 guests, and has a fulltime crew of 80 crew.

Right now, the Dilbar is berthed in Porto Cervo on the Italian island of Sardinia. It has moved to Italy – from Monaco, where I spotted it – as have so many of the world’s biggest yachts this summer. Why? Because of a bit of a dust-up over French prices and taxes.

The average daily mooring fee in Porto Cervo is actually twice as much as, say, Saint-Tropez (about €2,500 a day versus €1,200 or so). But fuel is cheaper in Italy now. And that crew of 80 costs literally millions less to base there.

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Fuel ahoy!

More and more yachting money is flowing out of the south of France to Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey and other Mediterranean countries, because the French have tried to tighten the screws on loose regulation of taxes and social services that they claim yachts are supposed to pay.

But in recent years, those taxes and fees have been getting dodged.

Many family members of yacht crews officially reside in France, where they enjoy generous social services, while claiming tax-free salaries because their wages are earned offshore. France now is sending out tax bills reflecting tougher rules, collections for pensions, health insurance, and other compulsory contributions – which are up from less than 15 percent of their wages to now 55 percent!

France is also now strictly imposing a 20 percent VAT on yacht fuel sales, which were previously much easier to avoid.

fullsizeoutput_1992Harbors on the French Riviera have seen busier summers.

Revenue at the iconic marinas such as Saint-Tropez, Cannes, Nice and Toulon are off 30-40 percent this summer, prompting a needy letter from local leaders to President Emmanuel Macron, asking for relief.

Their letter cited an example of a 42-meter yacht being refueled in Italy instead of France “gives a saving of nearly €21,000 a week because of the difference in tax.” Fuel sales by the four largest French marine fuel vendors has fallen by 50 percent this summer, the letter added.

As to crew wages and taxes, the letter stated that while the least experienced crew member may only make €24,000 per year, a captain can command €300,000. The letter noted that “the additional cost of maintaining a seven-person crew in France is €300,000 a year.”

Do the math on how much that crew of 80 on the Dilbar must cost!

Not surprisingly, crew members are being laid off in droves.

Even less surprising: Over one-third of those 5,000+ over-24-meter yachts are up for sale.

Yes, the people who own these yachts can probably afford to pay more, but not surprisingly, they prefer not to. It’s hard to muster much sympathy for them.

But there is a wider problem here, and it’s a problem for France’s new President Macron, who is trying to revamp the country’s severe labor and tax laws.

Wine producers in the south of France claim that it costs them far more to produce their wines than it does for producers in neighboring Italy or Spain. Liquor also costs far less in Italy; the same is true of building materials, designer clothing and food. Market days in Ventimiglia, Italy, on the French border are thronged with French shoppers, buying all they can carry.

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Artist rendering of what Ventimiglia’s yacht harbor will look like.

His Serene Highness Prince Albert of Monaco just recently bought the entire unfinished yacht harbor in nearby Ventimiglia, Italy (for a bargain €34 million); he means to finish it off and open it as a cheaper alternative affiliated with the harbor in Monaco.

Nicholas Edmiston, of the Edmiston yacht brokerage in Monaco, recently told The Daily Beast, “The possibility of this happening if taxes and fees were increased has actually been talked about for the last two years, and everyone warned what would happen. This where the French government so often goes wrong, this attitude of, ‘Well, we are France, people will always come here.'”

This time they may have miscalculated.

Edmiston said yachting is an important contributor to the Côte d’Azur economy, beyond the port fees, fueling costs and taxes, because yachts bring high-end shoppers and home buyers.

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If people are not made to feel feel welcome in the area, he warned, they will go elsewhere.

Something like this happened about 30 years ago, he recalled, and the yachting community did indeed go elsewhere – and they stayed away until the French eased off.

Maybe this is just history repeating and the problem will be eventually solve itself. Until then, it could be costly for France’s economy, but a welcome boon for beleaguered neighbors like Italy.

Jerry Garrett

August 5, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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