Wednesday, February 24, 2016

J/Crews Sail Miami to Havana Race!

New J1000 blue carJ/120 CARINTHIA Wins Class!
(Miami, FL)- It was a beautiful, sunny day that saw the forty-six sailboats prepared for a brisk forecast at the start of the first-ever Miami to Havana Race, organized by the Southern Ocean Racing Conference (SORC).

It was a sight that Comodoro José Manual Diaz Escrich, the founder of Havana’s Club Nautico Internacional Hemingway De Cuba will never forget.  “When I founded the Club more than 24 years ago, I dreamed we would one day see a fleet of boats from our sister city in Miami racing toward our home, and it means so much to me to finally get to see it,” said Escrich.  ‘El Comodoro’ added that while he’s seen a huge amount of interest in racing to Havana Southeast since diplomatic relations between the island nation and USA have improved, the Miami to Havana Race is unique, and truly special for the sailors of both cities.  “The relationship between Miami, Havana, and the history of the SORC is so important to sailors all over the world, and we’re grateful that so many people worked together to make this race happen so quickly,” said Escrich.

Havana, Cuba harbor approachInstead of screaming speeds and the organized chaos of a big wind race, four monohull classes milled about sedately as the starting flags flapped limply at the 1 PM start of this historic race, with 4-6 knots of wind allowing just enough power to move even the slowest boat in the right direction: South.

“We were all a bit surprised at the conditions when we got to the course, but it was a gorgeous day for spectators, VIPs, and of course all the racing crews,” said Chris Woolsey, Race Chairman.  “As long as there’s enough wind to buck the Gulf Stream no one will be complaining too much, and it’s always easier on crews when the wind starts light and builds, rather than the other way around.”

The PHRF A class features dedicated racing yachts as well as several racer/cruisers, and on a 7 PM call-in from spinnaker trimmer Dan Tucker, learned that the fleet was extremely close, thanks to very unstable conditions.  “It’s light enough that the [full-race] Class 40s can’t really get away from us, especially now that the spinnakers are down,” said Tucker, sailing aboard Gary Weisberg’s Massachusetts-based J/111 HEAT WAVE. At 7 PM, Weisberg’s boat was reaching under Code Zero with around 12 knots from the WNW after “pretty much all the spinnakers around dropped at sunset,” according to Tucker.

The first two hours was troublesome for every race team; huge shifts in velocity and wind direction provided extremely tough trimming and helming conditions, though as Tucker explained, “It’s absolutely gorgeous out here now.”

J/120 sailing to Havana, CubaWith the forecast looking moderate and relatively sedate for the next day, the fleet’s navigators had to make their most important decision of the race that night as they approached Marathon Key.  Do they head into the Straits early, minimizing distance while facing more time in the adverse Gulf Stream?  Or, do they play it safe, keeping ‘one foot on the reef’ in the protected water near the shore, jumping off into potentially worse current at Key West? As it turns out, the choice about what to do with “the Great Divide” made big differences due to the divergent strategies dealing the Gulf Stream’s capricious currents.

The winners committed to a far more aggressive strategies than most expected.  One headed much farther west before crossing the stream.  As one navigator noted, “Our weather updates convinced us to send it right down the Keys; not only did it keep us out of the current for the maximum amount of time possible, but it set us up for the lift and subsequent gybe.”

But, Frank Kern found a little treasure of his own with the opposite strategy; the Michigan-based crew of the J/120 CARINTHIA worked the South hard, gybing onto starboard only when they found a secret lane of friendly Gulf Stream countercurrent to bring them right into Havana.

“We saw over a knot of southwesterly current over on the left hand [Southeast] side of the course, and we weren’t going to miss that,” said Kern, who adds a Miami to Havana PHRF B Class victory to CARINTHIA’s overflowing resume of ocean racing wins.  Just behind them was Marcus Cholerton-Brown’s J/120 SUNSET CHILD in 5th place.

Leading the charge in PHRF A class for the J sailors was Weisberg’s J/111 HEATWAVE from Jubilee YC in Gloucester, MA, taking 4th in class.  They were followed in fifth place by Robin Team’s J/122 TEAMWORK from Lexington, NC.

Then, in PHRC C class, it was Ken Ganch & Ed Reagan’s J/105 GONZO from Columbia YC in Chicago, Illinois happily celebrating taking the silver in one of the more eccentric collection of boats in any class- two monstrously heavy Little Harbors and a quartet of skinny Hobie 33s!  Sailing photo credit: Marco Oquendo/SORC   For more SORC Miami to Havana Race sailing information