Newport, RI– July 23, 2006: A record nineteen J/109’s showed up for the inaugural North American Championship, held during the New York Yacht Club’s One Design Race Week. With so many talented teams on the starting line (and a Rolex watch at stake for the winning skipper), the competition was fierce and mark roundings were tight. Racing was held in Rhode Island Sound for the first three days; the final race was sailed inside Narragansett Bay. Team VITESSE, skippered by Jon Halbert (with Bryan Cook, Farley Fontenot, Mark Foster, Keith Fowler, Grey Rackley, Martha St. Romain, Mark Sutphen, and Jay Vige) won the ten race series by six points.
Breezes ranged in strength from 5 to 20 knots over the four days of racing, and a close brush with tropical storm Beryl left behind a mixed up swell that made steering a challenge. But even in the biggest breeze, the boat proved a platform that can be raced competitively by a variety of team and body sizes. Fifth place TASTES LIKE CHICKEN owner Steve Tedeschi sailed with a crew of nine and still weighed in as one of the lightest teams, with three of the crew under 115 pounds each. In contrast, second place finisher Al Minella (RELENTLESS) sailed with six for the first two days– and said crew work was the reason for their top finish. “I like the fact that you can compete short-handed,” Minella explained. “That is one of the primary reasons we moved to an asymmetrical/roller furler boat.”
The first day provided many challenges, as three races were run in an easterly that built from ten to sixteen knots during the afternoon. MOJO, skippered by Steve Rhyne, got off to a strong start with a 6,2,5. Three other boats (VITESSE, RELENTLESS, and OFFBEAT) also posted all top ten finishes the first day, setting high standards right from the beginning. TASTES LIKE CHICKEN won the first race, but in the second they returned to start after being called OCS and could only dig back to sixteenth. “The line wasn’t very square early in the day, which made it hard to get a clean start,” Tedeschi said. “The race committee had their hands full.”
Four races were sailed on Friday in a ten to fifteen knot southwesterly. Ted Herlihy’s GUT FEELING posted a very consistent 8,1,2,4 to move into the overall lead. Herlihy credited his son Andy’s tactical decisions for the team’s success. “It’s close racing with all boats finishing within one minute of each other.”
On Saturday, GUT FEELING continued its consistent run at the front of the fleet by posting a 4,5 in the most difficult conditions of the week. A southwest breeze built to over twenty knots by mid-afternoon, and swells combined with boat chop for a washing machine effect. VITESSE and RELENTLESS each won a race, but VITESSE had trouble with her spinnaker on the first reach of the second race. “Basically, we shrimped the chute,” said Halbert, who only started racing sailboats five years ago. “Trying to fly a chute on a reach is really tough. We had a hard time getting it down, then we missed the mark and had to come back around it.”
TASTES LIKE CHICKEN had a strong day with a pair of threes. “This was the first event for a lot of the crew, and we are all amateurs, so we improved through the week,” said Tedeschi. “Our boat speed was great. We vang sheeted a lot, and played the main as we steered around the waves to keep the boat on its feet.”
One race was completed on Sunday inside Narragansett Bay. The flatter water meant boat speeds were more even, and as a result most of the fleet arrived at the weather mark in a big clump. GUT FEELING AND VITESSE went into the protest room after racing, and the event was, unfortunately, decided there. When the smoke cleared, GUT FEELING had been disqualified and VITESSE was awarded the brand-new half hull North American trophy donated by J Boats.
“It’s a shame to have the regatta decided in the room after so much great racing,” said STORM’s skipper and class Vice President Rick Lyall. “But it’s also a sign of how competitive the class has become in such a short time.”
Thanks to Carol Cronin for her coverage of the J/109 North Americans.