It’s a long way from Ballyholme near Bangor to Sugardock in Point Richmond on San Francisco Bay writes Betty Armstrong. But James Espey has made the leap and works as boat captain for Chris Welsh, among whose job titles are Strategic Consultant and Owner and Chief Sub Pilot for the Pentarius Project – (Its mission is to explore the depths of the five oceans).
James started sailing at Ballyholme Yacht Club age 10 and is an outport member of BYC and Royal Ulster. The 35-year-old sailor is known to his friends as Bapsy. (He got that nickname when he sailed in the Cork 1720 with Gareth Flannigan who had to ask him continually to ‘move your Bap’ out of the way of the instruments). James counts the first event he won as the 1720 Nationals in Cork in 1998. Principally a Laser Standard helm, his standout results are probably 1st in the Silver Fleet of Sail for Gold in 2009 and 4th in the same fleet in the 2012 Sail for Gold regatta. Another top-scoring result was a 4th in the Silver fleet in the Sydney International Regatta. In 2012 he secured a place in the London Olympics in the Laser Standard and in 2017 he raced across the Atlantic on CQS.
James looks after Welsh’s investments in sailing. He is based in Sugardock in San Francisco and involved in a lot of interesting boats and projects. Sugardock is a uniquely configured full-service deep-water dock on San Francisco Bay, about 7 miles by water to downtown San Francisco.
One of the projects is L'hydroptere, owned jointly by Chris Welsh and Gabriel Terrasse. She is a French experimental sailing hydrofoil trimaran imagined by the yachtsman Éric Tabarly. The project was managed by Alain Thébault, the design done by naval architects VPLP design and the manufacturing by a group of French high-tech companies. She was abandoned in Hawaii for 5 years. After being bought in an auction she was rebuilt and brought back to San Francisco, the plan being, as James says, to “make her fly again in San Francisco”.
Now not content with one big project James is also involved in the complete rebuild of Ragtime which was one of the world's fastest yachts in the 1970s. In 1973 she became famous for beating the favourite, Windward Passage by 4 minutes, 31 seconds, in the Transpacific Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu. With new sails, mast, winches, engine and repainted interior she will eventually James hopes, make the passage to Europe and he then wants to bring her to his home town of Bangor.
Another interesting project based in Sugardock is the Pentarius Deep Sub.
The pressure hull is built of carbon fibre with an aluminium dome at the back end and a fused quartz dome at the front. Chris Welsh bought the Submarine company and travels all over China and Japan in the vessel carrying the submersibles, the 38 m Cheyenne, the old PlayStation. The plan is to build the subs in the Sugardock yard.
At present James splits his time between London and California, and he and his wife, Genny Tulloch, an accomplished yachtswoman and social media producer, reporter and presenter, plan to live in San Francisco and spend time also in London.