SAN DIEGO — Perfect, Pete. Of course it was just an accident, but while you're here, why not milk it for all it's worth?
Hollywood's just a hop, skip and a jump away, and producer-Padre owner Tom Werner, with documented interest in sports and television, might be a good contact for the duration of your stay in San Diego, which might end soon, as America 3 took a 3-1 lead over Il Moro di Venezia Thursday in this best-of-seven America's Cup final.
A3 grinder Pete Fennelly of Colonia, N.J., found himself the reluctant star of a bizarre incident during the fourth race.
As A3 was rounding the sixth mark--the tricky buttonhook rounding--of the 20.03 nautical-mile race, Fennelly, 28, \o7 who aspires to be a stuntman after the Cup is over, \f7 got his right ankle caught in a jib sheet, the line that controls the sail, during a gennaker take-down, as the crew prepared to jibe the boat.
But there was some slack in the jib sheet as the gennaker came down, and Fennelly got his ankle caught in a loop in the line and was yanked from his position in the middle of the foredeck over to the starboard side of the boat.
"The whole thing snapped me up and dragged me up in the air," Fennelly said as he described the ordeal, which he said took 15 seconds to sink in, but felt like "a lifetime."
The sheet not only dragged him up, but \o7 out.\f7 During an informal press briefing outside the syndicate's compound, Fennelly said he was never overboard, contrary to what had been announced earlier.
"They said on TV I was off the boat, but one foot (left) was on and one foot (right) was shoulder high," he said. "But I did get a little wet."
Luckily for Fennelly, the heads-up play by the foredeck crew helped save his leg and the race. Pitman Wally Henry, grinders Rick Brent and John Hufnagel, sail trimmer Mike Toppa, mastman Peter Craig and bowman Jerry Kirby were all involved, but Henry was the first to see that Fennelly needed help.
"I knew he was in trouble when started to jibe. I saw the jib sheet get tight and I knew he had gotten caught up in it," Henry said. "I thought he might go straight in the water, so I jumped up and grabbed him. I figured if I held on tight enough, he would loosen the line off his foot."
Henry was able to get Fennelly in a headlock, but the sail they were trying to take down covered them like a tent, making them invisible to the rest of the crew. As they were shrouded in sails, the sheet got tighter and tighter as it was ground into the winch.
"I knew with it that tight, it would break his leg," Henry said. "That's when Jerry came with his knife. He was about to cut it, then the sheet came out from the bottom of his foot."
When Kirby reached Fennelly, his leg was starting to bend around the capshroud, which is attached to the mast, and Kirby yelled to Toppa to ease the sheet.
"I told him, 'If you scream, I'll cut it.' That's when I started screaming for ease, and we were able to sort out the problem," Kirby said.
Said Henry: "That's as hairy as you want it to get. Any more hairy, we would have had to go back and pick up Pete."
Had Kirby had to cut the sheet off Fennelly's ankle--wrapped once around the sheet--America 3might not have had the speed to continue.
"If we had to tack to the other side, we would have been dead in the water and gotten passed," Kirby said. "If everyone hadn't done what they were supposed to do, we'd be 2-2."
Fennelly, who plans to live in San Diego or Los Angeles and look for a job turning stunts in the movies, said the team has been sailing for so long together, that he never felt in danger of losing his foot, his life, \o7 or \f7 the race.
"I was totally confident I'd get out of the situation," he said. "There's always potential that this kind of thing can happen, it just happenedto be on television, in Race Four of the America's Cup. The situation was more dramatic with cameras on board, but there was no reason for total hysteria."
Kirby said the silky-smooth crew work was simply a matter of doing their jobs.
"If you can't get through the fire drills you won't win the Cup," he said. "I've been in situations like that before, and you just do the natural thing. That's the fun thing about the fire drills. When you get to the actual fire, you just get your hose out and start squirting water and get it out before the house burns down."
As long as something like this had to happen, Kirby said, "he's the right guy to have it happen to. Anyone else would have screamed a long time before. He would have rather had his leg broken then lose the race. He's tough as nails."