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North Sails 2021 LEADERBOARD

Pensacola's David (DJ) Johnson crowned 2021 Fish Class World Champion

by Talbot Wilson 11 Oct 14:20 PDT 9-10 October 2021
David (DJ) Johnson (#5) Helen Welch and David Richards won the 2021 Fish Class World Championship Regatta in a 15-point tie with Tom Pace (#27) Brandon Addison and Stuart McMillan. Seven races were sailed. © Talbot Wilson

David (DJ) Johnson rules the Fish Class for 2021. The Pensacola Yacht Club sailor used three first place finishes to break the 15-point tie with past two-time champion Tom Pace to win the Fish class Worlds sailed last weekend on Pensacola Bay. The top four finishers — Johnson, Pace, Denny Blume and Neil McMillan— were within three points of each other after seven races, dropping their worst score. Johnson dropped an 8 and Pace a 7, Blume a 6.

Accepting the World Championship Trophy with his team of Helen Welch and Dave Richards, Johnson said, "This was an amazing regatta, I haven't sailed this hard in years. Five boats scored first places. The competition was intense."

The 2021 Fish Worlds goes down as a 'snakes and ladders' regatta... shifty, tricky, and difficult sailing. Racing where sometimes you look like a star, sometimes you look like a looser. In you get a lucky or unlucky shift, you move from the penthouse to the outhouse or visa versa. It's up the ladder and down the snakes.

Racing got under way Saturday with four races sailed. Blume took the lead right out of the gate with a bullet. He ended the first day with 11 points after a run of 1-2-6-2 scores. Pace was in second with 14 points from scores of 2-7-1-4. Johnson trailed in third with 16 points and scores of 3-4-8-1. Johnson and his crew Helen Welch and Dave Roberts were just hitting their stride.

Johnson went on to win the first two races on Sunday with some tough sailing in a shifty east-northeast breeze. He and Pace knew they were in a battle to the end. There were several lead changes throughout the 5th race, but Johnson outlasted Pace at the end as they finished 1-2. Blume took one of his two 6th place finishes in the series.

In the sixth race, Johnson won again with Pace taking 4th. That set the stage for the final race. Pace needed to put three boats between himself and Johnson. Unfortunately, Pace only managed to finish 2nd to Johnson's 5th. That was enough to tie but the tiebreaker went to Johnson who had those three bullets on the board.

"DJ sailed a smart and steady series," said Pace. "We had some opportunities but couldn't make them work." Sailing with Pace were Brandon Addison and Stuart McMillan.

Winds both days were light and mainly from the east-northeast and just up to nine knots. Saturday saw one windward mark change and the course was shortened a leg in the first race to beat the required course time limit. Sunday with the wind six to nine knots again, PRO Hal Smith called for several course adjustments between races as the famous Pensacola Bay sea breeze popped the wind around to the south-southeast for the last race.

Pace, the class president, was a professional windsurfer in his youth, sailing in international competition on the Olympic level. He has now turned to the Fish Class as a 'mature' sailor's choice. Pace won his first two Fish World Championships 2019 and 2020.

"The Fish Class is making a comeback all across the Gulf Coast," Pace said. "The class has a long history at Pensacola YC and in the Gulf Yachting Association (GYA). The boats were sailed in the First Lipton Cup Regatta sailed over 100 years ago. They were the GYA club class boats for intra-club competition until replaced by the Flying Scot Class in 1969".

"We have eight boats in the fleet now, several in Pensacola and others from the Mobile area. Three new Fishboats are on order. Most of the boats are all wood built in the late 40's. Rules have been changed to allow fiberglass builds and aluminum spars, but the weights and performance are being kept equal to one-design standards."

"We always have close racing." Pace added. "We sail hard and have fun doing it."

The Fish Class sloop, also known informally as the Fish Boat, is a one-design sailboat designed in 1919 by New Orleans resident Rathbone DeBuys, a member of the Southern Yacht Club. It was the most popular sailboat racing class on the US Gulf Coast in the early 20th century and was the Gulf Yachting Association one-design racer. This Fish Class boat should not be confused with Nat Herreshoff's larger New England sloops, nor the popular singlehanded, single sail Fish dinghy.

Results are posted on Pensacola YC Racing.

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