U.S. Offshore Championship winner decided in dramatic fashion

U.S. Offshore Championship 2011 winners
The Lloyd Phoenix Trophy was decided in dramatic fashion on Sunday at the U.S. Offshore Championship, hosted by the U.S. Naval Academy Squadron on Chesapeake Bay. Defending champion Bruce Kuryla (Milford, Conn.) of the New York Yacht Club and Milford Yacht Club and his team edged skipper Steve Travis (Mercer Island, Wash.) and his crew from the Corinthian Yacht Club of Seattle by a boat length in today’s final distance race to win the Championship.

'To pull it out at the finish line is unbelievable,' said Kuryla. 'We were behind Travis at the bottom mark, and after going back and forth with them, we trailed by a hundred yards at the top mark. We went low and fast in the light wind and kept creeping along in Long Island Sound style,' explained Kuryla.

Following spirited discussions among competitors and regatta organizers last night, a consensus was reached that completing the slated distance race was top priority for today.

With his marching orders, PRO Bruce Bingman launched the fleet to the race course area and the prayers for wind began in earnest. Fortunately a light northeasterly filled in and a line was set. Bingman selected the shortest course available and after a brief postponement, got the race underway. With the ebb still flowing strong, the left was favoured and teams able to hold their lanes ruled at the top mark.

Geoff Longenecker (La Jolla, Calif.) and his crew from Southwestern Yacht Club in San Diego led by a length over regatta leader Travis. Travis did a delayed set and quickly rolled Longenecker’s team. Jim Sminchak (Euclid, Ohio) and his crew from Lakeside Ohio rounded third. Kuryla who started the day tied for the lead with Travis, was back a ways in fourth. The ensuing reach featured shifts and puffs while still riding the ebb across the bay.

Sminchak squeaked past Longenecker and Travis to lead at the turn starting a three mile beat against the tail end of the ebb. It was a case of the rich getting richer and Sminchack stretched ahead as the fleet short tacked up the eastern shore. To win, Travis merely needed to stay ahead of Kuryla which he did tack for tack. At the last mark, Sminchak held a substantial lead and Travis was comfortably ahead of Kuryla who had moved up to third as they started the final jib reach back across the bay to the finish.

But the current was now turning and as luck would have it the breeze was dropping out. Kuryla started soaking low and gained lateral leverage on Travis who held the rhumb line.

As the breeze continued to diminish to near drifting, the low position began to show promise as Travis was now forced to soak down across the strengthening flood. Sminchak held on to win the race while Travis and Kuryla approached the shortened course finish line with Kuryla going for the leeward boat and Travis committed to the buoy. At the end, Kuryla and crew popped ahead to win the race by three lengths ahead of a disappointed Travis and giving the Kuryla team their second U.S. Offshore Championship in a row.

Kuryla’s team finished with a 2-1-3-4-4-2 scoring line and Travis posted a 1-2-2-7-2-3 line through six races. Kuryla was joined by crewmates Blake Marriner (Milford, Conn.), Bruce S. Kuryla (Milford, Conn.), William Tyler (East Haven, Conn.), Thomas Nolan (Milford, Conn.), Thomas Jankun (North Haven, Conn.), Robert Welsh (Waterford, Conn.) and Rod Swift (Branford, Conn.).

'Today reminded me of a day in July in Long Island Sound,' mentioned Kuryla. 'Our guys are tough and would not give up. It was real special to race with my dad too.'

Each team consisted of a crew of nine, including one skipper and seven crew members, plus one U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman provided from the varsity offshore racing team. Teams were invited based on resume. A minimum of five members from each team (including the skipper) must have raced together in at least five regattas. Seven buoy races were originally scheduled and a low point scoring system with no drops was used.

The Lloyd Phoenix Trophy will be engraved with the winning skipper's area and name, and will remain in the Sailing Hall of Fame at the United States Naval Academy. US Sailing medals were provided to the skippers and crews of the top three teams.

US Offshore Championship website
US Sailing website