Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Canadians Win J/105 Stella Artois North Americans

J/105s sailing NA's (Larchmont, NY)- Terry McLaughlin and Rod Wilmer’s MANDATE won the Stella Artois J/105 North American Championship, winning the first five races before ‘stumbling’ with a 2-3 to close the series. The Canadian crew, which included Graham Hicks, Fraser Howell, Evert McLaughlin (Terry’s son) and John Millen, earned their second J/105 North American Championship title in three years.  Larchmont YC hosted the event and LYC’s PRO, Butch Ulmer, led the amazing LYC RC and mark boat crew over the four-day’s of racing.

“If we had another race on this last day in 25-35 kts, we might have worn hockey helmets,” joked McLaughlin. “This was good Canadian weather, and a real test of crew work.” Rod Wilmer added, “We had solid starts, focused on finding a lane and getting clear to stay out of trouble.”

J/105s sailing NA's off LarchmontThirty-seven teams representing Bermuda, Canada, Great Britain and the USA took to the waters of Long Island Sound for the 11 a.m. kick-off of the Championship. McLaughlin and Wilmer, winner of the North American crown in 2014, dominated the fleet. Behind them in race one were the Stone/Breault husband and wife team on GOOD TRADE and Adrian Owles family team on MAD BLUE. Local favorite ECLIPSE earned the silver spot in the middle battle, with David Greenhouse’s SKIPPERDEE in the bronze position. The top three in the final contest matched the top three overall for the day: MANDATE, ECLIPSE and GOOD TRADE.

MANDATE reveled in the blustery conditions on day one.  With winds gusting strongly from the east between 16-20 knots, the Canadian team lined up perfect scores in Thursday’s three races to take a five-point lead over second place Damian Emery on ECLIPSE (4,2,2 for 8 points). Bruce Stone and Nicole Breault’s GOOD TRADE was in third with 9 points (2,4,3).

On Friday, a squishy Low slowly moved offshore, dumping torrential rain all over the northeast and sucking all the wind out of Long Island Sound.  A solid attempt was made by LYC’s PRO Butch Ulmer to run a race in the horrendous conditions, but it was to no avail.  LYC RC had to fire off the three cannons to signal the cancellation of the one and only “driftathon” Friday afternoon.

J/105s sailing upwindSaturday was a completely different picture.  For several days, the weather forecasts indicated that a cold front would move over the region overnight and produce 15 to 30 kt winds from the NW quadrant.  Temperatures also dropped into the forties under gray skies.  As the fleet sailed out to the race course, the breeze rapidly built from 12-15 kts up to 18-25 kts by the time boats got to their first top mark rounding.  The enormous windshifts, often accompanied by massive holes or ginormous puffs, produced many rapid changes in the standings as the fleet sailed three windward-leeward races.

MANDATE continued to build a perfect scoreline through five races, until Stone & Breault’s GOOD TRADE won Saturday’s final race. The Canadian team on MANDATE held a nine-point advantage over local Emery’s ECLIPSE going into the final day of racing on Sunday. GOOD TRADE stood at third overall with 21 points.

Trailing MANDATE in the first race was Texan Bill Lakenmacher on RADIANCE, then ECLIPSE. The familiar three boats of MANDATE, ECLIPSE, and GOOD TRADE comprised the top three in the second match, and again in the next— this time just flip-flopping to GOOD TRADE, MANDATE, and ECLIPSE.

J/105 sailing off Larchmont, NYSunday dawned bright and beautiful, the quintessential, post-card perfect fall colors day in New England.  The forecast called for sunny skies all day with a cool breeze building from the West to 15-25 kts.  Like Saturday, the morning started off with a moderate breeze in the 10-15 kts range.  However, about 15 minutes before the early 10am start time, the wind’s intensity increased dramatically.  By the time the fleet reached the windward mark, many boats were seen getting blown sideways as hammer-blow puffs in the 25-35 kts range started to blast the fleet.  Needless to say, the puffs were so violent, that about half the fleet broached on their first downwind leg; gybing, in fact, became a game of “russian roulette” as teams waited for lulls to execute their maneuvers.

J/105 offshoreThe final downwind run was perhaps the most bizarre of the entire regatta.  Most of western Long Island Sound looked like a “white-out”, with spraying flying off the top of wind-whipped waves- epic conditions, indeed.  Small dogs, cats, birds, everything was getting blown off their chains in Connecticut and landing on the Long Island shore to leeward!  Rounding the top mark in the top three were George & Alex Wilbanks’ REVELATION, followed by the familiar MANDATE and Bill Lackenmacher’s RADIANCE.  Fourth place was ECLIPSE, fifth was GOOD TRADE and sixth was SKIPPERDEE.  The top four boats all gybed within minutes after setting their gennakers, promptly sailing into a massive hole larger than the Sahara Desert!  Meanwhile, GOOD TRADE simply “sent it” in planing mode off to the other side of the course.  After executing a near flawless gybe in 25-30 kts, GOOD TRADE aimed for the finish line doing 15-17 kts boatspeed, spray flying everywhere.  It did not take long for GOOD TRADE to assume a commanding lead as they planed towards the finish.  However, a massive blast of nuclear proportions (35 kts plus) hit them J/105 Mandate- sailing NA'sas they were surfing for home; the boat spun instantaneously into a monster broach with the masthead nearly hitting the water and crew clinging onto the lifelines.  After going sideways at about 5 kts on their side for what seemed an eternity, GOOD TRADE’s determined crew managed to aim the boat back downwind, but the kite never made it- exploding into a thousand torn pieces of expensive AirX nylon.  As a result, the GOOD TRADE crew sailed the last few hundred yards under jib and mainsail to take a 6th place.  Meanwhile, the four leading boats extricated themselves from their hole on the other side of the course and surfed into the finish line.  RADIANCE won the last race followed by Owles’ family crew on MAD BLUE in second, MANDATE in third, SKIPPERDEE in 4th and REVELATION in 5th- quite an enormous flip-flop of the top boats on just one leg!

With the wind conditions getting stronger, LYC’s PRO Butch Ulmer wisely blew off the three cannons to cancel racing for the rest of the day.  Again, over half the fleet broached at some point on the final run and puffs continued to steadily climb into the 30-35 kts range- truly epic, awesome conditions on a bright, sunny day.  No question, many crews were grateful not to sail another race in such demanding breezes.

By virtue of a sixth in Sunday’s only race, Stone & Breault’s GOOD TRADE took second place, winning the tie-breaker with Emery’s ECLIPSE.  Rounding out the top five were Paul Beaudin’s LOU LOU in 4th place and taking 5th place was Adrian Owle’s family crew on MAD BLUE.

Another notable performance took place in the last blustery race. The YOUNG AMERICAN crew, posted an 8th place sailing with a reefed main!  But, that was not by design.  The crew was comprised of all kids under the age of 18 that are part of the Young American Junior Big Boat Team at American YC in Rye, New York.  The skipper, Carina Becker, explained, “As the youngest helmsman competing in this event, I found that the competition did not give me any free passes due to my age. This regatta was four days of intense racing, in which we over came the challenges of a 40-boat fleet. The J/105 class is incredibly friendly and provides great competition for junior crews!”  Her crew consisted of Brooks Daley, Meg Leary, Matt Wallace, Jack Rogan, Nick Hein and AYC coach Peter Becker.

Why the reefed main?  Here’s what happened when their main halyard broke just before the start of the race.

Brooks Daley described her team’s amazing feat of seamanship- “first, it was great to be out there in the big waves and big winds and see our young team step up to the challenge and perform against some big names and top teams.

As for the mast climb, it was all about maintaining composure to get the mainsail ”reef" all rigged. The crew acted quickly and it was really a team effort to get ourselves back racing.  They hauled me up the mast in a harness and I pulled up the main and tied it around the mast above the forestay with a sail-tie! We then reefed the bottom of the main to the boom!  What was most impressive to me was the crew’s ability to maintain focus after such a detrimental loss; the team continued to race hard regardless of our handicap, allowing us to stay in the thick of the race!”  For more Stella Artois J/105 North Americans sailing information