When a blast of wind slammed into the maxi-racer, knocking it down, sails in the water, deck vertical, Leslie DeMeuse dropped her video camera and grabbed a 6-year-old boy who was about to be washed overboard.
"I have a child of my own," DeMeuse said, "and I could just see this kid going over the side. I hung onto him and watched my camera flying down the deck."
DeMeuse clung to the backstay, for what seemed much longer than the actual 30 seconds. Suddenly the big yacht popped upright. Miraculously, no one was injured or lost at sea--even DeMeuse's camera, tape running, came through unscathed.
"The camera got the whole scene," said DeMeuse, recalling the incident with a producer's pride and a sailor's respect for the ocean.
Although a knockdown at sea isn't an everyday occurrence, it's one of the risks you take when you're a producer for Channel Sea Television, an independent production company based in Laguna Niguel that specializes in sailing.
DeMeuse, who founded the company eight years ago with partner Phil Uhl, provides West Coast sailing coverage for ESPN and produces promotional videos for organizations such as the Beach Boys USA Syndicate, one of three groups hoping to win the right to defend the America's Cup for the San Diego Yacht Club in trials scheduled to start in January, 1992.
These days DeMeuse is spending less time behind the camera and more time producing, interviewing, directing and editing. Working out of her home-based office and a rented Anaheim studio, DeMeuse, who began as a one-woman show, now usually hires three camera crews to help her out. Channel Sea Television even has offices in Tokyo and Honolulu.
This week DeMeuse and crew are busy editing footage of the Kenwood Cup, a big boat competition that takes place every August in Hawaii. The half-hour show will air at 9:30 p.m. Oct. 10 on ESPN.
DeMeuse's success at developing a viable business out of a broadcast career and an interest in sailing took even her by surprise. In 1985, when she produced her first sailing program for PBS in San Francisco, she won a local Emmy.
"It was a shocker," she said, recalling the unexpected win for a program that some industry observers said didn't have a chance of even making it on the air.
"I was working as a producer part time then," said DeMeuse, "and I was providing sailing coverage for KTVU and was trying to get more sailing on TV. I decided I wanted to do a show for public television so I started putting something together and went to them with a proposal."
The first response, DeMeuse said, was not encouraging. "They weren't interested in a sport that everyone thought was boring and only for the rich and famous."
But DeMeuse persisted. "Finally, they said, 'OK.' But they gave me an air time against Monday night football."
To everyone's surprise the show, entitled "White on Water," did well in the ratings and generated hundreds of phone calls. From that impressive beginning, DeMeuse, who moved to Orange County five years ago, built a part-time job into a full-time business. "I used to cover one or two events a year," she said. "Now, this year already, I've done six major projects."
DeMeuse credits much of her success to good timing. She believes that television coverage of the America's Cup in Perth, Australia, generated such interest that sailing coverage everywhere benefited from the exposure. "It convinced program directors that sailing is worth covering," she said.
Unfortunately, DeMeuse is so busy covering sailing--often from a helicopter hovering above the fleet--that she seldom has a chance to go sailing. "This past year I've been traveling about three times a month," said DeMeuse, a single mother who often takes her 5-year-old son Kenny with her on long trips. "I don't have a boat right now, but even if I did I wouldn't have time to sail it."
Wind 'n' Women--More than 100 women are expected to take part in the WORSA (Women's Ocean Racing Sailing Assn.) Regatta Saturday and Sunday in the waters off Newport Beach.
Entries in the 11th annual event range from 24- to 41-foot boats, with crews of four to 11 women on each boat, according to Shannon Aikman, president of the association.
"This is our biggest turnout," Aikman says, "and we have lots of big boats entered."
Most participants are from Orange County, but some women are sailing down from Long Beach and Los Angeles to take part in the competition.
Three-time champion Kathy Adamson will be racing in a Catalina 38, while Linda Elias, another three-time winner, will compete in an Olson 30. Sue Franta, last year's defending champion, recently sold her boat and at the last minute was trying to borrow a replacement so that she and her crew could compete, according to Aikman.
Saturday's races are jointly sponsored by Balboa and Voyagers Yacht Clubs; Sunday's races are sponsored by Bahia Corinthian and Dana Point Yacht clubs. An awards ceremony will take place at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club, 1601 Bayside Drive in Corona del Mar. Races begin at noon both days in the vicinity of the Balboa Pier.
The regatta is the biggest event of the year for the women sailors. Other activities include sailing seminars, short day sails and cruises. The organization, designed to attract more women into the sport, is open to the public. Membership information is available by calling Aikman at (714) 673- 8521.