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Inaugural Bacardi Invitational Winter Series for Melges 24s and J70s kicks off season

by Kathleen Tocke 3 Dec 2018 02:31 PST 1-2 December 2018
Melges start - 2018 Bacardi Invitational Winter Series © Kathleen Tocke

Biscayne Bay was open again for business as the inaugural three event Bacardi Invitational Winter Series kicked off December 1-­-2 in Miami, FL. The event is an off-­-shoot of the perennial Bacardi Invitational Regatta now run in conjunction with the legendary Bacardi Cup every March.

Despite light winds allowing only three races on day one and no racing on day two, the J/70 Class was extremely tight in the top five positions, with a different crew winning each race. In the end, Geoff Pierini's team took the honors with Bruce Ayres' Monsoon topping the Melges 24 fleet.

Many teams from up north and Europe, arrived early for the regatta and took advantage of the Miami weather to get in some practice days to get the rust off. On day one, sailors awoke to an overcast sky, a westerly breeze of 8 – 11 knots, and moderate Biscayne Bay chop. The Key Biscayne Yacht Club Race Committee set up a windward-­-leeward course of two laps.

The leaders in Melges 24 fleet headed to the left side of the course, where the pressure was the strongest and the usual left-­-hand lift prevailed coming into the windward mark on port tack. Brian Porter's Full Throttle led the first race wire to wire, but not without a fight from Bruce Ayres' Monsoon team, who lost by only a few meters. In race two, John Brown's Blind Squirrel fended off Full Throttle for the win, and in race three, Wes Whitmyer Jr.'s Sling Shot found their groove, slinging to the front of the fleet.

The J70 Class was the second start. In race one, the entire fleet went left on the upwind, so a strong start was essential to being in the top of the fleet. Henry Brauer's Rascal and Joel Ronning's Catapult led neck and neck at the first mark. The two boats battled closely throughout the race with Catapult victorious in the end. Trey Sheehan's team Hooligan sailed a near perfect second race, winning with a generous lead for such light conditions.

For most of the day, boats that got out in front, stayed in front. The day ended with Geoff Pierini winning the third race. His team kept their pace in the dying breeze and seemed to glide effortlessly around the race course. Pierini and his team were hyper focused on maximizing their speed and making the smallest of gains on every little puff.

Day one was as predicted. As it progressed, the breeze lightened, so did the chop. The left side continued to be favored, making starts difficult since everyone wanted to go the same way.

Melges 24 winners of the day, Monsoon, favored the middle of the line to start with a clear lane. Pierini's J70 team had three great starts that gave them the freedom to continue left as long as they wished and not be held out to the layline.

The breeze was relatively stable and pressure moved slowly down the course, so it was difficult to make major gains on the upwinds. Gains were sometimes made on the downwinds by teams taking a risk to jibe away from the fleet early. The majority of both the J70 and Melges fleets straight set on the downwinds and jibed only when they arrived near the layline. J70 winner, Geoff Pierini, attributes much of his win to his crew, US Olympian Thomas Barrows, keeping them in the pressure on downwinds, which helped them work the boat lower than their competitors, giving them the chance to jibe out when the opportunity presented itself. Timing was everything in the tight fleet.

Sunday's weather forecast proved over-­-optimistic. Despite the patience of the Race Committee and the competitors, the day's racing was called just after noon. The breeze never filled. The J70 and Melges sailors headed back to shore by motor. Smiles abounded later in the afternoon as the sailors found themselves again with Bacardi cocktails in their hands and surrounded by the hospitality of the folks at Shake-­-a-­-Leg, the regatta venue. Teams are looking forward to the Bacardi Invitational Winter Event Two, January 19th – 20th.

J70 Class – Final overall results after three races

1. Geoffrey Pierini (USA) – 6 pts.
2. Joel Ronning (USA) – 8 pts.
3. Trey Sheehan (USA) – 9 pts.
4. Henry Brauer (USA) – 11 pts.
5 Bruno Pasquinelli (USA) – 13 pts.

J70 Top Corinthian Team -­- Joey Kolisch (USA) – 40 pts.

Melges 24 Class – Final overall results after three races

1. Bruce Ayres (USA) -­- 7 pts.
2. Brian Porter (USA) – 12 pts.
3. John Brown (USA) – 12 pts.
4. Wes Whitmyer Jr. (USA) – 13 pts.
5. Richard Reid (CAN) – 18 pts.

Melges 24 Top Corinthian Team – Megan Ratliff (USA) – 20 pts.

A special thank you to this year's event sponsors and supporters including – Bacardí, North Sails, Shake-­-a-­-Leg Miami, Key Biscayne Yacht Club, Biscayne Bay Yacht Club.

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