Wednesday, February 26, 2014

CATAPULT Launched @ ST Pete NOOD

J70 Catapult team BUCKAROO Kicks J/24s, J/29s Sweep PHRF 2
(St Petersburg, FL)- The sailors at this year’s Sperry Top-Sider NOOD Regatta were blessed with good sailing conditions for two of the three days on Tampa Bay.  Over the long Valentine’s Day to President’s Day weekend, the forty-five J’s sailing were treated to a well-run regatta by host St Petersburg YC. After an on-shore postponement the first day, the breeze picked up for a nice afternoon of sailing.  Breezy, shifty conditions made for a great second day on the water on the Bay.  Unfortunately, the third day was a total “glass-out” all day.

Starting with the world of sailing classic J/24s, the twelve boat fleet saw extremely competitive racing with a surprising outcome from the perspective of the local hotshots— the sailors “who came in from the cold” of the Great North trumped highly regarded American J/24 teams!

J70s sailing off St PetersburgWhile many expected the pre-regatta favorite Robby Brown on USA 799 to be one of the top boats overall, not many were expecting “the Canadians” to thaw out quick enough and sail hot and fast in sunny southern Florida.  After winning three of five races, compiling a record of 3-1-1-4-1 for 10 pts, Dave Odgen and his merry bandits from Toronto, Ontario aboard BUCKAROO certainly deserved their win.  Brown’s team from St Petersburg, FL sailed well, perhaps a bit shell-shocked by the Canadian’s performance, and managed to amass a 4-2-3-1-3 tally for 13 pts, good enough for second overall.  Taking third was another Canadian team, this time from one of the eastern provinces.  Ben Maloney’s crew on LIFTED, hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, started off fast with a bullet, then sailed consistently to capture the last spot on the podium with a 1-7-4-2-5 record for 19 pts.  The balance of the top five was Tom Kane’s Chicago, IL crew on HONEY BADGER taking fourth on a tie-breaker over Dave Mendelblatt’s team on FAT LADY from St Petersburg, FL.

In the PHRF handicap arena, the trio of J/29s swept their class, dueling for class supremacy all weekend long.  Ray Mannix on SEMPER FI from Largo, FL took the honors with a stunning five straight bullets!  Just behind them it was a battle for second and third overall for the other two J/29s, both with all finishes in the top three!  The Mui/ Kennalley/ Davies trio from Chicago, IL on MEATLOAF/ FAMILY CIRCUS outlasted their colleagues, taking the silver with a 3-2-2-3-2 record for 12 pts.  On the losing end of the fight was local Tampa Bay guru Harvey Ford sailing WILDKAT to a 2-3-3-2-3 scoreline for 13 pts.

J/70 sailing on Tampa BayA fleet of twenty-eight J/70s participated in this year’s ST PETE NOOD, a collection of teams that have sailed both the Key West J/70 Midwinters and the Quantum Winter Series at Davis Island YC just across Tampa Bay.  The J/70 class emerged as this year’s most competitive by far. The 28-boat fleet was the regatta’s largest and saw dramatic jockeying atop the leader board. The day began with Jud Smith and crew aboard AFRICA leading the class, however three consecutive first-place finishes to start Friday’s racing launched Minneapolis-based skipper Joel Ronning into the lead. Ronning and crew, on the aptly-named Catapult, sprung into the class’s top-spot by making quick, tactical decisions and flawlessly executing their sailing strategies in choppy waters.

After the dust settled, it was pretty obvious that Joel Ronning’s team on CATAPULT had not only another gear upwind and downwind to sail fast, but they used that ability to get themselves out of trouble to win the regatta by ten points.  Ronning’s crew amassed a 2-1-1-1-2 record for 7 pts; they were followed by Jud Smith’s AFRICA in second with a 1-2-6-2-6 score for 17 pts and third was Mark Ploch’s SUGAR DADDY with a steady 3-3-3-3-8 line for 20 pts.  Will Welles’s RASCAL was fourth and Martie Kullmans’ TOUCH2PLAY was fifth.

Sailing aboard Ronning’s team was a crew that consisted of Bill Hardesty calling tactics, Willem van Waay as cockpit and “guest star” Meredith Powlison from SAILING WORLD magazine.  Meredith was a last minute recruit and wrote a blog report about her experience and “lessons learned” on the winning boat.  She provided some good insight on what it took win the regatta.

Here’s Meredith’s report on Day One:

“‘I’d rather work on boats peed than takedowns,’ Bill Hardesty says the day before racing. ‘If you’re ahead of everyone, the takedown will just happen.’

We’re talking about our plan for the day ahead at the 2014 Sperry Top-Sider St. Petersburg NOOD Regatta. A few hours earlier, Hardesty and Joel Ronning pulled me aside at registration and asked if I could sail for the weekend on Ronning’s J/70 Catapult, as winter storm Pax has cancelled the flight of their fourth crew.

So we sort out the specifics of the day ahead, and how to get me up to speed fast in a boat I’ve never spent significant time in.

J/70 sailing fast downwind- spinnakerBut Hardesty’s words ring true when the AP is lowered the following day, in mid-afternoon, and we head out to the course for the one and only race of the day. The breeze builds to 5-10 knots as we get out to our circle, and the guys take the time to sail upwind as Willem van Waay locks in our rig tune. We discuss the jib car location and then spin back down to grab our starting sequence.

With a clean lane and our bow out off the start, we find our boat speed and get far away enough from traffic to play the shifts. We round the windward mark in the top five, and then take starboard jibe out to the leeward layline. With a good header, we jibe, round the favored gate, and head back upwind.

The leader’s too far ahead to catch, but we make our move to solidify second place by playing the righthand side of the course.

It’s a nice calm race to start the regatta with, and a good reminder that no matter who you’re sailing with, if you can get around the course faster than the other boats, you’re set up for success.”

For Day Two, Meredith exclaimed, “patience was a virtue in St Pete”:

“As we reached a lull on the right side of the course, with most of the fleet to weather and lifted, our race looked grim. We wondered whether the left shift was persistent, whether we’d missed our chance and would be putting more points on the board than we’d have liked to.

In the 28-boat J/70 fleet at the Sperry Top-Sider St. Petersburg NOOD, consistency was paying off. Joel, Bill, Willem, and I posted three first-places finishes on this second day of racing. Boat speed, good starts, and staying in phase in the shifty, puffy 10-15 knot conditions were key.

The first beat of this fourth and final race of the day was not ideal. We’d started near the boat and tacked onto port, the lifted tack, soon after. As the fleet to weather of us tacked and continued to be lifted, however, we held on to the right and continued to work to find the next shift.

As the breeze started to oscillate and head us farther up the course, we breathed a collective sigh of relief. “I wasn’t going to tack and go behind 15 boats,” says Hardesty.

It paid off to stick to our guns and stay in phase, looking upwind for the next shift.

By the top of the beat, we’d caught up to second place and held that position to the end. Even though our race was looking ugly, it paid off to stick to our guns and stay in phase, looking upwind for the next shift.”

After the final day of racing, Meredith asked Hardesty for their Five Key’s to success at St Pete:

“As we waited for breeze that never filled in on the third day at the 2014 Sperry Top-Sider St. Petersburg NOOD, I took the opportunity to consider what made our weekend so successful on board the J/70 Catapult. Skipper Joel Ronning, Bill Hardesty, Willem van Waay, and I sailed a consistent, smart regatta that led to a win for the weekend. With Hardesty’s help, I came up with five keys to success in the 28-boat fleet in yesterday’s puffy 10-15 knot conditions.

Keep it boring: Communicate your plan clearly and early. From picking which side of the course you want in the pre-start, to deciding on a gate, to knowing whether to launch the spinnaker at the windward mark or offset, make it clear so there are no surprises. As Hardesty says, “Keep it boring.”

Options off the line: After the start, we always had the ability to either hold our lane and continue on starboard, or tack if we wanted to, rather than having others dictate the first portion of the beat. We never tried to win an end of the starting line but instead found clean lanes toward the end that was favored. With our options open, we could head toward the favored side and start to leg out with speed--watch the video from our second race for more:

Choosing modes downwind: With puffy, shifty conditions on the second day, we alternated between planing and displacement mode. In the puffs, we’d be hiking with the jib out. In the lulls, we’d move forward and to leeward, and furl the jib up. Whenever conditions were on the edge, we discussed what the best mode would be and then committed to that.

Communicate the big picture: Hardesty asked van Waay and I to give big-picture input to him and Ronning whenever we could— things like: “Three minutes to the next wind line.” In addition to our calls on puffs, chop, and boat speed, these big-picture items ensure that everyone’s on the same page, and that you won’t tack short of the next pressure line.

Boat speed first: This tip is so crucial that it bears repeating. As Hardesty said the day before the regatta, “I’d rather work on boat speed than takedowns. If you’re ahead of everyone, the takedown will just happen.” We made sure our settings were just right before the race and then used our speed to get away from the pack and sail our own race. While Ronning, Hardesty, and van Waay were dialed in with the crew mechanics, I was learning on the fly for my first J/70 regatta. Pulling away from the fleet gave us that extra wiggle room to ensure that no major errors were made around the marks.”

Here is a sailing video of CATAPULT from race 2- it’s a great sequence of teamwork at the start, windward mark, chute set, gybe, take-down, and final mark-rounding.   Sailing Photo credits- Daniela Clark-  For more Sperry Top-sider St Pete NOOD sailing information