With fourteen boats on the line, many of whom had never sailed against one another in a one-design regatta, meant no one had really any idea how the chips were going to fall in the inaugural J/111 North Americans hosted by Chicago Yacht Club.
With a reasonable forecast of SSW breezes in the 4-7 kts range slowly veering into the West meant the fleet could be treated to 'classic' offshore, ultra-shifty breezes, on the spectacular Chicago city waterfront. As can be the case, the forecast could not have been more wrong. As the fleet headed out onto the race track for their first start Thursday morning, the breezes slowly increased into the 12-15 kts range for the first beat. From there it rapidly diminished to the point that by the finish of the fourth leg of the 1.25nm run, spinnakers were collapsing from no wind and the fleet was spread out into every corner of the race course.
Leading around the first windward mark was recent Verve Cup J/111 Champions, Henry Brauer and crew on Fleetwing. However, it didn't take long for the fleet to split, with Fleetwing covering the majority of the fleet going left downwind while a small trio of boats (Len Siegal's Lucky Dubie, Dick Lehmann's Windczar and Paul Stahlberg's Mental) headed hard right on their own. As the fleet converged at the leeward gates, Fleetwing and the 'tres amigos' rounded as a pack. From there the second windward leg saw fairly dramatic shifts with some boats gaining lots of ground while others fell down the ladder. On the final drama-filled run with boats hitting every corner imaginable, Dick Lehmann's Windczar managed to hang on to win the first race, followed by Len Siegal's Lucky Dubie in second and Henry Brauer's Fleetwing in third.
the first race, the wind continued to abate and by noonish, the CYC PRO elected (somewhat valiantly) to start a race in 3-5 kts of wind from the West, but it was clear it was not going to be a fair race to the sailors. By the time most of the fleet had drifted to the windward mark, the race was abandoned due to a complete 'glass out' on the water.
After about an hour postponement, the breeze filled in nicely from the Southeast (not forecasted, of course) with an extraordinary amount of cloud cover. The first start attempt was postponed due to the fact the breeze kept veering right from 125-135 degrees in the Southeast to over 145 degrees. The fleet started in a decent 6-8 kts breeze from the SE and it became quickly self-evident the right was going to pay off big. A small number of boats got squeezed out at the starboard end and bailed right. A pack off the left end of the line got railroaded into the left corner. And, a few in between made it across the middle. At the top mark, those boats that had to bail right early led by an enormous margin-- with Dr George Miz skippering Impulse rounding first at the weather mark followed by Lucky Dubie in second.
A very holey, shifty and streaky run produced a number of position changes, but the two leaders maintained their grip on the fleet. Behind them is was a bit chaotic. After the final windward mark (where going right paid-off big again), the final run home produced yet more dramatic changes as the wind veered further into the 175 degree range. At that point, Lucky Dubie passed Impulse to post a commanding 2-1 scoreline to lead the fleet for the first day. Second was Impulse. Posting another top finish was Windczar, whose 1-3 tally put them in second for the day. Third on the day was Fleetwing with a 3-8 for 11 pts.
On the way into their slips the J/111 crews were treated to a Heineken 'beer toss' for those thirsty crews who swung by the end of the CYC piers. A wonderful reception with munchies, Mt Gay and Heinekens was held for the tired crews in the CYC 'beer garden' onshore.
With three days yet to go, it's extraordinary to see that eight of fourteen boats all posted top five finishes in the first two races. As Jack Slattery (tactician on Impulse) commented afterwards, 'it was like a game of 'Chutes & Ladders' on the Charles River in Boston! The boats point so high upwind tacking through 75 degrees, that one little puff with 5-8 degrees of lift and 2-3 kts of wind meant you went straight upwind!' With so many good teams assembled, it's not surprising the fleet will likely see their fair share of ups and downs over the next few days.
For more J/111 North Americans sailing information click here
by Stuart Johnstone
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6:30 AM Fri 16 Aug 2013GMT
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