Racing Rio

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In a world where boating is threatened by too many alternatives vying for our free time (and disposable dollar), there are those who persevere—and in the process help the sport not only grow, but thrive. This is the story of a man who, once he discovered sailing in his mid-thirties, quickly made up for lost time.

Manouch Moshayedi made his fortune in the Southern California tech world. A highly driven and accomplished man, Moshayedi is one of those people who seem to manufacture time. While channeling his endless energy into a very lucrative career, he looked around for something else he could get into.

Moshayedi was well into his fourth decade when he was first introduced to sailing by his father-in-law, Jost Von Kursell, who took him out and literally showed him the ropes. “I tried sailing,” Moshayedi told me, adding a trademark understatement: “It was good.”

From this small spark, Moshayedi caught the bug. and quickly acquired a succession of big boats: a McGregor 65, a Farr IMS 50, and a couple of Transpac 52s. “The most exciting part was going fast, and it still is.”

Talking on the patio of his Newport Beach, CA waterfront home, Moshayedi is very practical and understated when discussing his sailing accomplishments; it’s clear he mixes equal parts passion and control in all he does, traits that have served him well on the sailboat racing circuit. He tells tales of losing rudders in mid-race, and raves about the accelerated learning curves that professional racing crews make possible. It’s clear he enjoys the planning, control and coordination of big boat racing over the past 25 years of sailing.

rio 100

BARN DOOR TROPHY

In 2014, Moshayedi purchased a 2003 Bakewell-White 98 footer named Lahana and revamped it into the 100 foot speedster Rio. The refurbished boat came out of a New Zealand yard in late 2014 and headed straight to Sydney, Australia, for the start of the Sydney-Hobart Race—quite a shakedown cruise.

Moshayedi didn’t just spiff up an existing yacht to sail on the gentleman’s racing circuit. His goal was to create a boat purpose-built to win the elusive Barn Door trophy for the West Coast’s Transpacific Yacht Race, which takes sailors from Long Beach, California to Honolulu, Hawaii. Run in odd-numbered years since 1906, this is the grand dame of offshore Pacific Ocean racing.

To qualify for the Barn Door honor, boats must sail the 2225-mile race in the shortest elapsed time (first to finish) with only manually-powered systems—no stored power, no canting keel, no water ballast, no daggerboards, no electric winches, and no hydraulic rams. Rio sailed with a crew of 19. As soon as I mentioned the challenges of choreographing a racing crew that large, I wished I could take my words back. For anyone who steers a company of thousands of employees, managing a crew of less than 20 must be child’s play.

No matter how many crew aboard, sailing a hundred-footer at top speed for six days is no small feat. And although Rio won the race, she came in a few hours too late to set a new race record—partly because midway to Hawaii, the crew had to stop and back down to untangle a fishing net wrapped around the keel. Of course, that near-miss gives Moshayedi something to shoot for in two years, when the race is run again. In the meantime, he’ll have to be satisfied with the “salad bowl,” as he refers to it; the take-home trophy is a large bowl made of Koa wood, somewhat reminiscent of the large Koa plaque that serves as the perpetual trophy for Transpac Barn Door honors.

When I ask Moshayedi about his plans now that he’s won the coveted Barn Door, his answer is matter-of-fact. “Well, we’ll win this a few more times and break the elapsed time record.” Of course, what was I thinking?

THE SAILOR BEHIND THE SAILOR

Jost Von Kursell

At 90, Moshayedi’s father-in-law Jost von Kursell is a charming man filled to the brim with life stories, any one of which would qualify as a movie. Born in Estonia, Kursell was first introduced to sailing (like many of us) through his father. From the age of seven, he and his brother were perpetually on the water. Unfortunately, the family had to relocate; Kursell went to Germany and then after World War II emigrated to Peru.

As a young man, Kursell worked in a Peruvian copper mine owned by a wealthy uncle. Missing his childhood pastime of sailing, Kursell asked his uncle to help him secure a card for the local yacht club in Lima. On his first day there, he and an Italian friend talked their way into borrowing a boat for the afternoon.

unexpectedly, they won a club race that day and suddenly, everyone wanted to know about the “gringo” who was so good on a boat. While Kursell was changing back from his sailing duds, his Italian friend manufactured a story that Kursell was an Olympian, which was picked up by La Cronica, the local newspaper. “It was the best introduction to Peruvian society,” laughs Kursell. “Of course, none of it was true.”

When Peru’s politics began to look a bit dubious, Kursell relocated to Spain and settled in Madrid, where there was little by way of sailing. He got his fix every summer in Newport Beach, where the family went to escape Spain’s seasonal heat—and where he eventually taught Moshayedi to sail.

Even with a dozen or so racing trophies on his mantle, Kursell never considered himself a professional racer. Instead, he always enjoyed the sport for its subtleties. “There is so much mystery in sailing,” he says. “A slight adjustment here and there and everything changes. Figuring out how to get a bit more speed is an art.”

Kursell’s quite tickled by the knowledge that he had a hand in making Moshayedi into a high-caliber sailor—and that one of his dusty old trophies has been revived into a prestigious award. In fact his only regret is not saving the page from La Cronica that described the gringo and his winning afternoon at the yacht club.

It is sometimes a surprise where great feats begin and what gets their momentum started. Thanks to a sail with his father-in-flaw, Moshayedi went from weekend warrior to a sailing force to be reckoned with—while giving the world of sailboat racing a nudge in the process. In a boating industry where sailing accounts for only 10 percent of the market, the individuals who manage to make a mark and highlight the beauty of the sport are rare. Moshayedi’s beginnings may have been humble, but he’s certainly reached new heights since.

Oh yeah, and when Moshayedi isn’t on the deck of his 100-footer, he zooms around Newport on a Harbor 20, just for fun. Different horses for different courses, but always ready to ride.