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2023 J/70 North American Championship - Day 1

by Amy Baxter Felder / Chicago Yacht Club 22 Sep 06:52 PDT September 18-24, 2023
2023 J/70 North American Championship day 1 © Hannah Lee Noll

It was a long day of waiting for wind for the J/70 North American sailors on the first day of racing. After postponement on shore until 2:30 PM, competitors headed out under cloud cover on Lake Michigan to officially kick off the regatta, completing one light-air race for the day.

Forty-five teams are seeking the designation of North American Champion, but it was the Californians on board "Midlife Crisis" of San Diego Yacht Club who have taken the lead after winning race one. Helmed by Bruce Golison, the team has finished in the top three in previous J/70 NAs and has been sailing together for many years. The team managed to secure first place in a dying breeze of 3-5 kts following numerous hours of waiting for wind in a breathless Belmont Harbor.

"It was fun to survive the light air in a race that could've been deadly," said Steve Hunt, tactician on 'Midlife Crisis.'

While "Midlife Crisis" led for most of the race, they were overtaken at one point and had to fight again to regain control of the leading position.

"We were never sure what was going to pay," Hunt said. "It was a light-air, crazy race. We sailed away from the top to get away from the bad air, and as we sailed down to the corner we figured we would match the boat ahead. They did a fake gybe, and so we just gybed and sailed down the run for a while. It turns out the way we went paid.... Bruce did a great job of keeping the boat going fast."

Putting up a fight against Golison and team was Bridget Groble, helmsman for Chicago Yacht Club boat "Norboy." Sailing as the only Mixed+ team in the regatta, with Laura Sigmond, Marty Kullman and Collin Kirby, "Norboy" clinched second place in race No. 1 after pulling ahead on the second upwind beat.

"We decided to stay pretty right of the entire fleet, which was not a super conservative move but we were going fast," Groble said. "We had a better angle on port than the boats ahead of us, so we kept going right and got into some pressure that the other boats didn't have."

On the Corinthian side of the regatta, Chicago native Bob Willis (2012 RS:X Olympic competitor) finished in the top 10. An early adopter of the J/70, Willis has been sailing his boat "Rip Rullah" for the better part of the last decade with most of his Chicago-based team, including Tyler Woodworth and Will Holz. The team also welcomed another Chicago native, Jacob Karlin, on board for the J/70 NAs.

"We had a good start and we won the pin," Woodworth said. "We went left and had good pressure all the way up the beat. We held onto it through the race and only lost a couple boats on the last run. We were talking about pressure the whole time and made sure to sail smart and clean and not do too many maneuvers."

The J/70 NAs is also a good test for racers of the new umpired fleet racing style, which has debuted as two of the last world championships and will also be set up at the upcoming J/70 Worlds hosted by St. Petersburg Yacht Club in St. Pete, Florida, later this fall.

"For the first time, we're calling part two rules, and we normally don't do that," said Stephen Wrigley, international umpire. "We normally only call two class rules--are they leaning too far over and are they pulling the pole out when they shouldn't. But now with appendix UF, we are able to call protests and make a decision on the water. If we don't see it, [competitors] still have the opportunity to file a protest."

So far, umpires have seen clean racing and hope sailors will enjoy settling scores on the water instead of waiting for onshore protests.

With the first day done, sailors are looking forward to three more days of racing--and hopefully more breeze.

"The North American championship brings out the best of the top racers, especially at a world class venue like Chicago Yacht Club," Chris Howell, executive director of the J/70 class, said. "Despite a slow start on Thursday, we are looking forward to seeing some awesome and highly competitive racing on Lake Michigan this week."

Chicago Yacht Club would like to thank sponsors AA Dive Services, Acqua Panna, Boater's Closet, Casa Azul, Crowley's, Noble Oak, North Sails, Sail 22, Samuel Adams, San Pelligrino and Twisted Tea.

Follow the action at Chicago Yacht Club's Facebook and Instagram pages. Find more information about the 2023 J/70 North American Championship at the event website.

Find results on Yacht Scoring.

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