Chiurco Going for Yachting Title; Relishes Operating on High Seas
By Bill Alden
As a longtime neurosurgeon, Dr. Tony Chiurco looks forward to the adrenaline that starts pumping through his system when he performs a delicate operation.
But nothing gives him quite the rush he gets from competing in classic 12-meter yacht races.
Earlier this summer, the Princeton resident skippered his boat, the American Eagle, to the title in the classic 12-meter class at the New York Yacht Club's 150th annual regatta.
In mid-September, Chiurco will shoot for a bigger prize as he captains his boat in the North American championships in a three-day series of races to be held in the coast off Newport, R.I.
Chiurco's eyes light up when he reflects on the challenges that come from racing the classic 12-meter boats which average 65 feet in length and require 17-person crews. The 12-meter designation doesn't refer to the size of the boats but instead is the result of a formula that takes into account the sail area, keel depth, beam girth, and length of the boats.
"My job is keeping the boat in the groove between the jib and main," explained the lanky, affable Chiurco, whose American Eagle boat is the same yacht which Ted Turner sailed when he competed for the America's Cup in the 1970s. "It's very challenging on the water. I get such an adrenaline rush. I'm exhausted afterward, I feel like I just did an aneurysm."
The 12-meter classification came into being in the 1990s after the boat specifications for the America's Cup were changed due to the dispute between the U.S. and New Zealand.
The boats that Chiurco races are the ones used in the America's Cup and other top yachting competitions from the 1950s to the 1990s.
Chiurco, 62, who has been sailing for about 40 years, relishes both the beauty and complexities that come with racing the classic yachts.
"I love the aesthetics of the boats," said Chiurco, who started sailing in the 1960s during his medical residency at the University of Iowa on nearby Lake McBride and then graduated to day-sailing with small boats off the Jersey Shore after moving east.
"I also love dealing with the climate, wind, water, and all the varying conditions. It's like chess on water. The tactics are so essential, it's really cerebral."
Chiurco has a healthy respect for what's involved in racing the 12-meter crafts, particularly considering the major regattas in which he participates typically take place over three days. The competitions involve four to six races which are conducted around buoys on 20-mile courses and take about two hours to complete.
"The 12-meter boats are really close in speed," explained Chiurco, who got involved in racing in the 1980s after buying a 47-foot sloop. "It takes a lot to get the boats to the starting line. You have to have an experienced crew."
Chiurco has a charter arrangement with American Eagle and most of his crew is based in Newport. He said he does get a chance to do some sailing with them between competitions but yacht racing isn't something that can be drilled for since the conditions on the given day play such a big role in the strategy employed. He also has a deck boss who keeps the crew organized during the races.
After finishing second in last year's North American championship regatta, Chiurco is determined to be at his best strategically come next month.
"In 2003, we were tied with Weatherly for first going into the last race and I made a tactical error," admitted Chiurco. "I didn't cover her. The boat that makes the least mistakes is the one that generally wins. I didn't sleep the night before the race."
You can bet that Chiurco will be looking forward to more sleepless nights as he deals with the adrenaline that will be prompted by going for the North American title.