Tuesday, October 8, 2013

MUSE Crowned J/70 North American Champion

J/70 MUSE- sailed by Heather Gregg-Earl at North AmericansHeather Gregg-Earl Sweeps N.A.'s, Corinthians & Top Women Skipper Trophies! (Annapolis, MD)- The mighty MUSE became the first J/70 North American Champions over a ginormous fleet of ninety boats! The co-owners from Boston, MA- Heather Gregg-Earl and Joe Bardenheier- had a complete Tufts "Jumbo" Sailing team crew that included fellow alumni Stuart Saffer and Billy Lynn.  By scoring a ninth in the final race they narrowly secured their victory in the seven-race series. The North American Championship was held at the Annapolis Yacht Club by J/70 Fleet #1 and title sponsored by Hillman Focused Advantage Fund. Brian Keane’s SAVASANA finished second overall and Tim Healy’s HELLY HANSEN placed third.

Heather Gregg-Earl winning J/70 NAs trophy- presented by Alan Johnstone“We didn’t know we won the regatta until we got to the dock!” beamed Bardenheier. “We just figured if we stayed in the top 10, we might end up pretty high in the event. We didn’t look at the scores all day.” In fact, MUSE was 13th after the first day, when they tallied two fifths plus a 55 due to having to overcome the challenge of a penalty turn. “Today we sailed very consistently and just stuck with it. We had great teamwork and good communication the whole time.”

In addition to the remarkable performances of the top three, the balance of the top ten included Peter McChesney's TROUBLE gang from  Annapolis, MD in 4th; Bob Hughes's HEARTBREAKER gang (including Morgan Reeser) from Ada, Michigan also had a "Heather-like, phoenix-from-the-ashes" performance to comeback deeper than her to capture 5th; in 6th was Joel Ronning's CATAPULT team (including Chris Larson) from Lake Minnetonka, MN; 7th was Doug Strebel's BLACK RIVER RACING team from Dallas, TX (including Jay & Jody Lutz); taking 8th was John Brigden's COOL STORY BRO team (including Chris Snow) from Menlo Park/ San Francisco, CA; 9th was Martie Kullman's TOUCH 2 PLAY team-- there's may have been the "hard luck" story of the regatta getting "black-flagged" in race 4 after sailing fast & smart enough to win the regatta; and 10th was Henry Filter's WILD CHILD team (including Moose McClintock) from Annapolis, MD.

J/70s starting at North Americans off Annapolis, MDWhat is perhaps most notable regards the first J/70 North Americans is that not only did a woman skipper win it, Heather Gregg-Earl on MUSE, but that three women finished in the top 20 in such a ginormous regatta with 89 boats!  In addition to Heather, Jenn Wulff from Annapolis, MD skippered JOINT CUSTODY to an 11th overall and Suzy Leech from Jamestown, RI sailed JUNKANOO to 18th overall-- remarkable performances by all three women and proof that a J/70 can be easily sailed and handled by top women anywhere in the world.  Imagine that!  These three women, collectively, beat several top World Champions in classes like 470s, Etchells 22s, Lightnings, Farr 40s, Melges 24s, Melges 32s, J/22s, J/24s and J/80s!  You go gurlz!!

J/70 North Americans- Tim Healy and Helly HansenThe host Annapolis YC and its Race Committee PRO, Sandy Grosvenor, performed magnificently and managed to keep the aggressive fleet of 90 boats from Bermuda, Canada, Mexico and the USA in check most of the time.  Considering how hard the fleet pressed the line, it was surprising to see how few "black flag" general recalls had to be implemented on the three-boat starting line.  And, even more impressive, was how well-behaved the fleet was in upwind/ downwind crossings and in mark roundings.  With enormous packs of boats criss-crossing constantly, many felt it was always better to "wave people across" than to have them tack or gybe on your air and block your path to where you wished to go.  Considering the size and competitiveness of the fleet, some members of the Jury expressed amazement that so few protests were lodged over the course of the three day event.

The weather forecast for the event was providing both the RC PRO and the sailors some anxious moments.  While Thursday's sailing provided a good test of the fleet, it was light, full of holes and very shifty from the N-NE at 4-8 kts, but enough for three decent races.  Friday's sailing was cancelled since the wind never filled and settled in, welcome to the darker side of the notorious Chesapeake Bay!  However, Saturday's conditions permitted four good race in breezes that started from the N-NE in the 12-15 kts range and diminished to 6-10 kts by the last race.

Excitement ran high for the first day of racing, with lots of anxious moments for everyone as the fleet learned quickly what to do and, especially, what NOT to do.  The leaderboard changed with every race, but it was Bennet Greenwald’s PERSEVERANCE from san Diego, CA that had the lead after three races with an identical scoreline of 4-4-4.  It was a stunning performance for the first day of sailing.  Just behind them was Joel’s Ronning’s CATAPULT from Lake Minnetonka, MN that notched 22 points after finishes of 15-6-1 for second place. Martie Kullman’s TOUCH 2 PLAY was third with 18-1-22 for 41 points.

J/70 Heartbreaker- Bob Hughes at J/70 North AmericansIn the anxiety-ridden first race, the first test for all 90 teams to determine who was fastest, smartest or luckiest, Kerry Klingler’s MENACE seized the moment and took the first victory.  They were followed by Bodo von der Wense on TURBO DUCK and Douglas Strebel’s BLACK RIVER RACING close behind. Kullman’s team took the win in race two, trailed by two Annapolis "locals", Peter McChesney's TROUBLE in second and Henry Filter’s WILD CHILD in third. Ronning's CATAPULT snagged Thursday’s closing contest, and rounding out the top three were John Aras and Tyler Doyle.

Geoff Becker, sailing on Team HELLY HANSEN with Tim Healy had this report for Day One:  "Light and shifty winds and almost 90 boats in the fleet, then add a high level of talent and you are in store for some major mood swings.

After Day 1, it is clear that there are going to be highs and lows for everyone. Team Helly Hansen saw ups and downs today, and finished the day with a 23rd, 31st and a 9th. Believe it or not. But, that is good enough for 12th overall and only one point out of 10th.

J/70s sailing around mark in Annapolis, MDThe depth of talent in this regatta is outstanding. There are dozens of professionals and dozens more excellent amateur sailors all on the same course. Small mistakes, especially early in a race, will find you well back from the lead pack and struggling to find clear air, much less any passing lanes. Keeping your nose in clear air and being able to sail at full speed will surely help get you up to the front 1/3 of the fleet. If you are then able be on the favored side of the course, well that’s a bonus and might thrust you into the top 10.

On the way to the racecourse in the morning our team had a discussion about our overall strategy for this regatta knowing that there were so many boats and this was a no throw-out regatta. To us, that meant we had to work hard to pass boats no matter our position or situation. It was likely that most teams, including ours, would have difficult races back in the fleet. Overall positions in the regatta could easily come down to how many boats could be passed from the first mark to the finish. Staying focused and patient would be our biggest asset on the day, and each point would matter to our overall position.

J/70s sailing in packs upwind at North AmericansIn race 1 we had a good start and were able to sail clean to the left side, which we thought was better, but found that the right side had a bit more wind and we got to the first mark in the 30s somewhere. After the first mark, we were able to scratch back to our 23rd and felt pretty good about it. For race 2, we were too aggressive on the line, started OCS and had to return and re-start. Our return was quick, we found a clear lane and survived to finish in 31st. The final race of the day, Race 3, we saw better pressure on the right, started near the right and had a clear lane to the right. At the first mark we rounded third! Yay! On the second upwind leg we again went to the right, but another pack of boats found more wind on the left and sailed around us. Fortunately we were able to stay inside the top 10 and save our best race of the day.

I can say that our patience was tested and at times it looked like we had no good options for gaining in a race. Something that has been said on our boat many times before became our mantra today…Day-by-day, race-by-race, leg-by-leg, puff-by-puff. Staying in the moment and keeping our focus on our best options each leg of each race was something we tried very hard to achieve today. Truthfully, there were several moments today when that ideal was challenging and it seemed like we had no best option, but for the most part we kept our heads and continued to look for gains on the course.

While our scores are not outstanding, we finished the day ready to work hard tomorrow. Light air, so many boats and mental highs and lows can be some of the hardest conditions to face on a racecourse. Tomorrow we plan to keep our pre-race focus positive and fight hard in every race, on every leg and for every point."

Youngest J/70 skipper- Joe Collins Jr with Rod JohnstoneAfter the "lost day" Friday, the fleet was anxious to get rolling for the final day.  Saturday’s conditions cooperated to allow four races in streaky, shifty NE winds that started around 12-15 knots and leveled off to 6-10 kts by the end. Keane crossed the line first in the day’s initial bout, with Healy and MUSE rounding out the top three. Douglas Strebel’s BLACK RIVER RACING won the next contest, trailed by Robert Hughes’s HEART BREAKER and John Killeen. Keane returned to victory in Saturday’s third race, while Jennifer Wulff’s JOINT CUSTODY placed second and Joe Colling/Ian Moran third. The final battle saw Cole Allsopp’s MOXIE take line honors, followed by Hughes and Bruno Pasquinelli.

Again, Geoff Becker on Team HELLY HANSEN had some great insights about sailing in this epic fleet. "The final day brought an early first start (10am), moderate shifty winds and 4 races! Because no races could be completed on Day 2, the RC needed as many races as possible on the final day. This meant that more than half of the regatta was to be decided on this final day of racing.

Team Helly Hansen was able to endure the fickle and streaky conditions to finish the event 3rd overall, with scores of 2nd, 6th, 22nd and an 8th on the final day of racing. Consistency was something all the teams wanted, but for this regatta it was difficult to achieve. Fortunately, we were able to stay out of major trouble and keep our boat going toward the better side of the course, most of the time.

Looking at the scores from this regatta, they show an effective illustration of one of the topics from my J-24 North American Blogs. Thinking of a regatta score in terms of an average, a score of ‘par’ can be found. A ‘par’ score in sailing is basically the average score per race versus the overall regatta score. By thinking of a ‘par’ score, it makes looking at the larger picture easier when you do finish 25th or even worse. For example, if a boat finishes 5th and 15th for a score of 20 points in two races, the average score would be 10th and thinking in terms of two 10th place finishes often offers a more positive outlook.

Looking closely at the scores for the J-70 North Americans, it is easy to see that every boat had big scores. Add to that that this regatta offered no drop races, and the average scores were much higher than would normally be expected. The winner of the event averaged over 13.5 points per race and even counted a 55th. Our team, finishing in 3rd overall, had an average score of almost 14.5 points per race and only one race in the top 5. Again, these averages are higher because of the lack of a drop race.

After some experience looking at race scores, a winning average score can often be estimated before the event begins. Some elements that effect the forecast of an average regatta score are, number of boats, depth of the fleet, consistency of the sailing conditions and number of races. During the J-70 event it became obvious early that the regatta would have a high average score for the overall. There were 89 boats, including a large number of high level crews, which combined with the fickle conditions made consistent top finishes more than challenging.

Ok, why does guessing an average score before the event matter? The answer is simple, "peace of mind." Knowing that the regatta will likely have a high average score, when your boat finishes a race in 25th place, that score doesn’t sting as much making it somewhat easier to re-focus for the next race. Basically, having an average score in mind helps even out the highs and lows that will surely occur during a long and tough event allowing the bad races to be put into the big picture more easily!"  Thanks for Geoff's contributions-- see more of his blogs at http://sail1design.com/airwaves-sailing-news/regatta-news-results/1184-j70report.

Next up on the J/70 world sailing circuit is the 2014 J/70 Midwinters hosted by Premiere Racing during the Key West Race Week from January 19th to 24th, 2014.  Already over two dozen J/70s are registered, by far the largest one-design fleet in the regatta.  Register now at http://premiere-racing.com.  The scuttlebutt on the streets and party tent were that over half of the J/70 NA's teams will be sailing Key West-- the party and the fun continues!  In fact, J/70s will have their own race course in Key West!   Sailing photo credits- Dan Phelps at Spinsheet.com  For more J/70 North Americans sailing information