Monday, October 10, 2016

CATAPULT Wins Epic ALCATEL J/70 Worlds!

Alcatel J/70 Worlds- San Francisco, CA
(San Francisco, CA)- The regatta promised San Francisco Bay’s classic weather conditions and provided it in spades!  Five straight, exhausting days of sailing in conditions that ranged from sunny, sublime waters with winds in the 8 to 15 kts range to foggy, chilly and nuking- the proverbial “blowing dogs off chains” pounding upwind in washing machine chop and flying downwind with bow wakes arcing over the entire boat!

J/70s sailing Worlds in San Francisco“It’s been a tough series for us— we expected that— but, it’s been tougher than we thought,” said Simon Ling, skipper of the Corinthian Team RAF Benevolent Fund SPITFIRE (GBR 123). “Everyone warned us that it was going to be cold and windy, and it has certainly delivered. We like those conditions, but sailing a keelboat in the chop— we haven’t had a lot of experience with that, so that’s all been part of the learning curve this week.  It’s been a fantastic event and we are loving it.”  Ling’s comments were echoed time and again all week long by most of his compatriots on the race track.

Sixty-eight boats from 15 different countries sailed the 2016 ALCATEL J/70 World Championships, which was hosted by St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco, California. The Bay’s outrageous sailing conditions, made the twelve-race regatta a real test of skills- featuring some light-air action along with 15-25 kts winds and monstrous chop due to the afternoon ebb-tide cycles on the infamous Berkeley Circle sailing area.

Catapult- J/70 Worlds winnersAfter twelve races, Joel Ronning and his CATAPULT crew, that included San Francisco local John Kostecki, the only sailor to have won the America's Cup, an Olympic medal and the Volvo Ocean Race, took first place (49 points), followed by Julian Fernandez Neckelmann's FLOJITO Y COOPERANDO team (66 points), that included World Champion tactician Bill Hardesty, and Jud Smith's AFRICA team (76 points), that included tactician Victor Diaz DeLeon, which largely hails from the Marblehead, Massachusetts area.

Following on last week’s first three day’s reports, here is what transpired for the penultimate day and the finale.

J/70 Worlds- Claudi Rossi from ItalyDay Four
By the fourth day of sailing, the regatta had become something of an endurance contest for everyone. Yes, sailors are a hearty type, but even hearty bodies get tired, especially when exposed to world-class competition that requires A-game performances for several days in a row. Such was the game in this high-octane event. Stir in an even stronger ebb-tide cycle and the Berkeley Circle racing area quickly became a sea of white caps on top of enormous chop that sapped boatspeed and tested everyone’s stamina.

The day began innocently enough, with bluebird skies, 4-6 knots of breeze, and a flood tide that kept the racecourse smooth for the run to Berkeley Circle. Then, the air filled to 8-10 knots. Two knots of flood tide escorted the fleet back downhill after rounding the weather mark in 10-15 knots. These conditions suited Brian Keane and his Savasana (USA 96) crew, who took the day’s first bullet. “We got a good start; we got off the line cleanly. We headed to the left side of the course, and we got into the good wind and current,” said Keane, adding, “I like these conditions!”

J/70s sailing fast down reach- San Francisco WorldsUnfortunately, for Savasana and other teams that prefer the cerebral stuff, Mother Nature had other plans, as the breeze continued building and the tide clocked from flood to ebb. Small white caps appeared that grew into deeper troughs and prouder peaks as the tide powered up and the breeze built to 15-18 knots. The Race Committee started Race 9 cleanly, and—come the leeward gate—Douglas Strebel’s Black River Racing (USA 51) was in the lead, followed by Heather Gregg’s Corinthian MUSE (USA 95) and Matías Seguel’s Allegro (CHI 74). Strebel successfully staved off advances from the pack to take the bullet, followed by Joel Ronning’s Catapult (USA 187) and then MUSE.

Conditions got serious in Race 10, as the ebbing tide and breeze produced the week’s biggest seas thus far. Outbound water swept enough boats over the line early to warrant a general recall, which in turn inspired the race committee to fly the U flag, meaning that anyone OCS would be disqualified. Unfortunately, for Claudia Rossi’s Petite Terrible (ITA 853), who began the day in first, the Race Committee announced her over early; Rossi and company sailed a brilliant race and crossed the line in first place, only to realize their starting-line mistake. Instead, the bullet went to Jud Smith’s Africa (USA 179), followed by Ling’s Team RAF Benevolent Fund Spitfire and Ricardo Brockmann’s Vincitore (MEX 401).

Just yesterday, Smith reported that he preferred light-air sailing after taking a bullet in Race 7. “I changed my mind!” said an ebullient Smith. “We had a good start, the breeze was a bit more predictable this afternoon, and we have good speed. We’re good upwind and we’re good in the breeze.”

After four days and ten races, Ronning’s Catapult was topping the leaderboard, followed by Julian Fernandez Neckelmann’s Flojito Y Cooperando (MEX 384) and Carlo Alberini’s Calvi Network (ITL 456).

J/70 Worlds action on San Francisco BayDay Five
Throughout the five-day, 12-race regatta, San Francisco Bay tested the heavy-air skills of the skippers and teams, so it was a bit of an anomaly when the wind was light on the final day of racing at this world-class event. A flood tide and 5 knots of breeze allowed for a spinnaker ride from St. Francis Yacht Club to the Berkeley Circle. There, racers were greeted a short postponement as the race committee waited for the breeze to gather.

Fortunately, the wait was contained to a half-hour, giving racers time to sort out their light-air modes and get their heads into the final two races. Prior to the sound of the day’s first warning signal, Catapult was topping the leaderboard, followed by Flojito Y Cooperando and Calvi Network. However, a light-air pop quiz would ultimately see a leaderboard change as Jud Smith and his Africa teammates and Calvi Network charged hard on the day the mattered most.

Once reliable pressure filled in, the race committee (RC) launched the fleet on a 1.6-nautical-mile beat in 6-8 knots of breeze. Africa slowly began sliding ahead and to weather of her competition, allowing Smith to enjoy a private windward-mark rounding as the pursuing fleet battled for clear air.

J/70 Worlds- sailing upwindSmith held his lead for the entire race, strutting into the leeward gate rounding and the final run to the finishing line in a wing-on-wing configuration that was replicated by the other contenders. Brian Keane’s Savasana (USA 96) and Neckelmann’s Flojito Y Cooperando followed Africa across the finishing line. “I consider us [to be] more of a light-air team,” said Smith, who clearly liked Race 11. “The guys did a great job getting us off the line, and we [went] the right way.” As for his the trick to amassing his enviable lead, Smith explained, “we didn’t have to fight, we could go our own way.”

Smith’s hometown of Marblehead, Massachusetts may have properly trained him for light-air fights, but it was the two best San Francisco hometown tacticians— Paul Cayard, sailing aboard Alberini’s Calvi Network, and John Kostecki, sailing aboard Ronning’s Catapult (USA 187)— who were able to capitalize on the heavier airs and ebbing tides that kicked in every afternoon.

While the Sailing Instructions included a 1430 hours deadline for the regatta’s last warning signal, the RC successfully delivered a full-ticket series to the competitors who had gathered from 15 nations. An ebbing tide, building chop, and a breeze that had built to the mid-teens defined Race 12, which began under friendly P Flag starting-line conditions. Alberini’s Calvi Network owned Race 12, promptly getting their bow into clear air and giving the rest of the fleet a fine view of their transom all the way to the finishing line.

J/70s sailing downwind at Worlds in San FranciscoAfter a full week of hotly contested racing, Ronning’s CATAPULT (USA 187) claimed the title of World Champions. “We feel like we sailed quite well,” said Kostecki. “We put a lot of preparation in, and we feel it paid off.” Fernandez-Neckelmann’s FLOJITO took the silver followed by Smith’s AFRICA in third.  Rounding out the top five was Carlo Alberini’s CALVI NETWORK, with World Champion and Volvo Race Champion Paul Cayard as tactician, placing fourth, and Claudia Rossi’s PETITE TERRIBLE team from Italy taking fifth.  Notably, Claudia also won the Helen Johnstone Memorial Trophy for the top woman skipper at the World Championship.

In the hotly contested Corinthian class, which awards its own trophy and championship title, Shawn Bennett, StFYC/SFYC (USA 32), took top honors, followed by Simon Ling’s Team RAF Benevolent Fund Spitfire (GBR 123) in second, Pat Toole’s Three Big Dogs (USA 58) from Santa Barbara YC in third, Heather Gregg’s MUSE from New York YC in fourth and Jim Cunningham’s LIFTED in fifth position.

J/70s sailing epic conditions on San Francisco BayFinally it should be noted, the Masters Award went to Peter Cunningham, the 70-year old skipper of POWERPLAY RACING, a long-time J-sailor, having raced J/24s and a J/29 by the same name for years and now races J/22s locally at the Cayman Islands Sailing Club in the Cayman Islands.

While the ink was still drying on 2016’s final results, news broke at Thursday night’s Italian-themed party, hosted by St. Francis Yacht Club, that the 2017 Alcatel J/70 World Championships will be held in Porto Cervo, Italy at the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda from September 12-16. “The location is amazing,” said Mauro Melandri, who works with the J/70 class in Italy. “The Yacht Club Costa Smeralda is at the beginning of a natural fjord and the waters are a gorgeous, deep, azure blue- it’s breathtakingly beautiful. We invite all J/70 sailors from around the world to join us for this premiere event!”  Sailing photo credits- Chris Ray- Sharon Green-Ultimate Sailing-   For more information about ALCATEL   For more ALCATEL J/70 World Championship sailing information.