America's Got Tallinn
Updated: Apr 3, 2019
Billy Allen, Mike Akerstrom, and Kyle Lewis represent the Stars and Stripes in the heart of European power boating: Tallinn, Estonia.
The U.S. A-Team began its 2016 campaign for the World OSY-400 Championship in early spring when the A-Teams newest driver, west coast hot shoe Kyle Lewis, flew east to race one of the A-Teams three O’Connor hydroplanes at The South Shore Outboard Association’s spring Ice Breaker Regatta in Standish Maine on May 26-27. Traveling all the way from Seattle, Washington, Lewis was picked up at Logan International Airport by team captain Billy Allen on Thursday and after a one night stay at The Parke Avenue Speedboat Club in Squantum, the pair headed north to the nether reaches of New England where Lewis planned to familiarize himself with the “Left Coast Ghost” boat which he would be driving at the World Championship race later that summer on July 23rd-24th in the powerboat racing mecca of Tallinn, Estonia. “I didn’t want Kyle getting in the boat for the first time at the World Championship” stated the team captain. “I thought it was important for him to get comfortable in the rig and traveling all the way from Seattle also demonstrated his high level of commitment to the race”.
After a busy day of testing on Friday the set-up adjustments were complete, the exact prop was selected and the beautifully painted red #93 was ready for racing action on Saturday morning. Lewis delivered his own brand of west coast cool to Region One as he practiced his yoga positions in his skin tight black stretch pants in the pits under the sideways glances of his bearded, plaid shirted Yankee competitors. It wasn’t long however before his friendly personality overcame any trepidation by the New England racing crowd and he was offered to drive in several other classes besides the one he came for, OSY-400. Also joining the team for the race was the team’s Director of Video Operations Valerie Lighthart from Germantown, Wisconsin who would be gathering film footage for a documentary of the A-Teams trip to Estonia.
With Lewis safely returned to Logan on Monday morning it was back to the grind of getting ready for The World Championship as Billy and Racer Allen, along with the team’s other driver, Mike Akerstrom from Westford, Massachusetts, put in a heavy three weeks of testing and preparation of the teams other two hydros as the June 13th shipping date loomed closer.
On shipping day the container was loaded without incident for the long journey to Estonia by Billy Allen and longtime Team Scott member Jeff Thompson at the warehouse facility of Cool Air Creations in Smithfield, Rhode Island, the same place where the team purchases all of their great looking uniforms and apparel. As the container doors swung shut the Team Captain looked skyward and said a silent prayer to the heavens that the boats and equipment would reach the busy port of Tallinn in one piece and on time. However, as this team has learned by now, when international shipping is concerned, there are almost always unforeseen obstacles.
As the Teams July 19th departure date drew closer, there were occasional emails exchanged between the A-Team’s Director of Administration, Rachel Warnock and the shipping company to ensure that the boats would be safely at the Port of Tallinn on or before the teams previously selected date of July 20. Warnock was reassured numerous times that all was in order up until July 15th when an email was received from the team’s Estonian contact and Race Director, Algo Kuus, that he had heard from the customs clearance agent in Estonia that the ship carrying their container would not be docking until the day before the race. This email was quickly forwarded to the A-Teams shipping company and it was soon discovered that the container had missed being put on the previously selected feeder vessel to Tallinn due to congestion at the Port of Hamburg Germany. Team Captain Billy Allen was once again chewing his fingernails as he wrestled with both a yearly attack of anxiety and the decision whether or not to put his team on the plane to Tallinn. After several days and more emails between the A-Team, Estonian customs, the shipping company and the race organizers, it was determined that the ship had a more that 50 percent chance of making it to the port and cleared through customs by Friday, July 22nd. The first day of racing was on Saturday the 23rd. The decision was then made for the team to take the chance and fly to Tallinn.
Arriving in Tallinn on Wednesday afternoon were The 2016 U.S. A-Team crew of Billy and Racer Allen, Rachel Warnock, Kyle Lewis and Mike Akerstrom, Alan Akerstrom, Lois and Dudley Smith, Photographer David Recht, and Valerie Lighthart. The team had previously planned to use Thursday as a set up day in the crowded pits but could now only literally sit and wait for their ship to come in. The latest report from their very competent customs clearance agent was that their container would be arriving on Thursday evening and would be expedited as priority cargo off of the ship and cleared through Estonian customs on Friday morning.
As the team then prepared to explore the historic city of Tallinn on Thursday, they were once again horrified when word came via text that the paperwork forwarded from their U.S. shipping company was improperly submitted. Rachel and Billy then scrapped their sightseeing plans and Rachel went to work in the hotel room struggling with the U.S. to Estonia time difference with emails, phone calls and texts while Billy laid on the bed trying his hardest not to puke. The clock was ticking on the A-Team. After another full day of work the details once again seemed to be ironed out and the team was assured that the container had a good chance of clearing customs some time on Friday.
On Friday at 9:00am the call came in from the team’s Estonian contact, Algo Kuus that the boats would be released and could be unloaded from the container within the hour. The elated team members then piled into the rental car and followed Algo 20 miles to the unloading facility in Maardu, Estonia. Upon arrival, Algo checked in at the office and reported to the team members that the container was being put on a truck at the port and would be there shortly. As Video Director Valerie Lighthart continued to document the events she decided to get some words from Algo about directing the World Championship race. When she approached Algo, who was sitting in his car talking on the phone with the customs clearance agency he said “get Billy, there is another problem”. This time it was a big one. The paperwork from American shipper for a temporary import was missing the most important page with the required stamps from United States Customs. Once again Rachel, now sitting in the back of the rental car, got on the phone to the United States fighting the time difference and trying to straighten out another shipping problem. It was now past 11 am. Tick tock.
Now it was time for Estonian Race Director Algo Kuus to come to the rescue of The U.S. A-Team. Without the proper United Stated customs stamps on the import papers there was literally no way that Estonian customs could legally release the container. The only other option was for the Estonian Racing Federation to post a bond equaling the value of the shipment which was thousands of euros. The U.S. A-Team now headed 20 miles through traffic back to the Estonian Racing Club where Algo had an office. Algo now tabled his duties as Race Director for the benefit of The U.S. A-Team and all the Americans could do was once again sit and wait. Tick tock.
Finally, at 5pm on Friday, a weary Algo Kuus emerged from his office and stated to the Americans, “I think we can go and get your boats now”. With trepidation combined with renewed hope, the U.S. A-Team once again piled into their rental car and followed Algo, now traveling in a van equipped with a trailer hitch, the 20 miles back to the container unloading facility, where, after another 20 minute wait, the truck carrying the container, which had left Cool Air Creations six weeks prior, pulled into the unloading facility and was hastily unloaded by the frazzled Americans. Stop the clock.
As the van towing the three American boats pulled into the pits at 6:30 on Friday evening, a round of applause went up inside the big enclosed tent where an open UIM Meeting was now taking place. Unbeknownst to The Americans, the plight of their shipping and customs clearance woes had been circulating throughout the pits for the entire day and most everyone was relieved to see the trailer carrying the red, white and blue hydros finally arrive. The U.S. A-Team then went to work with a renewed sense of urgency, unpacking plastic bins, erecting ez-ups and boat dollies, unloading boats, assembling engines and of course, hoisting the long awaited American Flags in their pit area.
Saturday morning dawned clear and Sunny with little wind and calm water for the 8:00 drivers briefing in the pits. Race coordinator Varhu Joala welcomed the 60 drivers from 14 countries and two continents and gave a course review along with explicit instructions for the drivers and crews. Time trials for the OSY-400 class would begin at 9:30 with each boat being allowed one timed solitary lap to determine the starting positions for heat one. The fastest boat would start on the inside or pole position with the other boats lined up from left to right according to their lap times. The order would be determined by the boat number on the driver’s respective hulls with Slovakia’s Miroslav Bazinski, in the #2, driving under an Italian license going first with #3 Valdis Estereikis from Lithuania going second. Mike Akerstrom, driving the fastest of the American entries, made a costly miscalculation when he steered his #8 for the pit exit buoy instead of the corner pylons at the beginning of his lap costing him a valuable couple of seconds and ended up touring the circuit in a pedestrian 65.32 which was good for only eighth. When American Allen, in the #16, ran a 62.24, it was the fastest lap up until that point and was only beaten by last year’s pole sitter Cezary Strumnik who posted a 60.54 and defending World Champion Rasmus Haugasmagi from Estonia who ran a 60.66. The third American, Kyle Lewis, ran a very respectable 64.26 which was good for 6th. Then it was back to the pits for prop changes and set-up adjustments as the teams got ready for heat one of the world final at 11:30. Four heats would be run and each drivers best three scored to determine the final placings.
When the red light expired starting heat one the seventeen finalists flew off the jetty in an explosion of spray and noise as Estonia’s Haugasmagi passed pole sitter Strumnik and took command of the heat in his usual fashion. Allen followed in third with Estonia’s Anika Suuk taking fourth. Miroslav Bazinski rounded out the top five with Lithuania’s Gintaras Marcinkus sixth. Americans Lewis and Akerstrom finished in 7th and 8th respectively. When the Americans rolled their boats back to the pit area they were pleasantly surprised to be joined by American UIM Representative Fred Hauenstein who was in Tallinn for a series of high level UIM meetings and Ralph Donald who was vacationing and added his years of UIM racing experience to the now growing crew of Americans.
Heat two saw another great battle up front as the top three drivers repeated their finishes from heat one. Estonian Erko Abrams made some valuable adjustments to his hull which greatly improved his speed and handling and moved all the way from ninth to fourth which put him in the medal hunt. Heat two also saw Lewis and Bazinski come together in a dramatic crash out of turn three. Lewis, now with a ruined prop, was unable to finish and Bazinski finished fifth with Akerstrom moving up to sixth.
The Americans then went to work in the pits on Saturday night fixing Lewis’ boat before attending the complementary driver’s party where the very impressive heavy metal band stopped playing long enough to present A-Team Director of Video Operations Valerie Lighthart with a bouquet of flowers in honor of her nineteenth birthday. This was just another example of the extraordinary hospitality provided by the host Estonians.
Another beautiful day greeted the drivers and crews on Sunday as the seventeen boats lined up once again to compete in heat three. The Americans best chance for a medal now rested on the shoulders of Allen as Lewis was reduced to the last starting spot on the jetty due to his second heat DNF and Akerstrom was still battling just behind the leaders. As the boats once again blasted out of turn one it was again the unbelievable acceleration of Haugasmagi which propelled him to the lead with Allen fighting the newfound speed of Abrams for second and Strumnik in fourth. After two laps Abrams had settled into second and Allen held off the hard charging Strumnik to once again gain a third place showing. Akerstrom moved to fifth with Bazinski finishing sixth. With three heat wins Haugasmagi and his hull were quickly whisked into the technical inspection area where after a vigorous scrutineering process he would claim his fourth consecutive Gold Medal, a feat never before accomplished in the history of UIM racing. As the Americans lifted the #8 boat of Akerstrom onto the dock it was the deep voice of their newest pit member Hauenstein which announced more bad news for the team. “You’re missing a blade from the prop” announced Fred sadly.
With Haugasmagi not competing in heat four it was now Abrams driving from the pole position and he sprung to the lead off the jetty with Strumnik in hot pursuit and Allen battling Bazinski for third. Unfortunately for the Americans the only way Allen would get to the podium was by winning heat four and he just did not have the speed. When the points were tallied it was Haugasmagi with three heat wins holding the Gold, Strumnik with three seconds with the Silver and Abrams with a first, a second and a fourth grabbing the Bronze.
At the post race celebration the Americans were all smiles and handshake with their Estonian hosts and fellow competitors as team shirts were being traded back an fourth and the Champaign was spraying from the awards giving stage. Asked about the race, Team Captain Allen was quick to praise his hosts and competitors. “After what we went through just getting our boats in the race this year we were just happy to be racing” stated Allen. ”The Estonian race organizers and especially Race Director Algo Kuus were just fantastic. As for the competitors, these guys are great drivers, you can tell these teams work very hard and they are fast!” It was at this moment that Billy Allen was picked up by Miroslav Bazinski along with the Polish team and given a complimentary toss into Lake Harku.