(Jim Murray – Chicago, IL)
Ten boats assembled in Chicago for the J/109 North Americans, hosted with great enthusiasm by Columbia Yacht Club, with old friends Time Out and Chase coming from Wisconsin, while J/109 Class President John Greifzu and East Coast team Growth Spurt chartered Slapshot II for their title challenge.
Shortened to three days of racing by 20-30 knot winds on Friday, the heart of the regatta unfolded Thursday and Saturday.
Thursday was a classic Lake Michigan day, with a quick wind shift as the fleet sailed out from a 17-20 knot westerly to a 7-10 knot Easterly. That easterly kept the fleet on its toes, as persistent pressure differentials to the left and a wicked pin-end favored line meant that starting left in clear air and going left hard paid massive dividends. Closely contested starts and tight mark roundings made for extremely close finishes, with all ten boats crossing the line under a minute apart. Growth Spurt, Time Out, and Smee Again took the early lead in the standings, with Courageous (Ray Douglas and Kris Maybach) close behind.
Saturday was another shifty day with breezes swinging between NE and SE, but the race committee took advantage of a group of sailors eager to get out there and back at it after strong NE breezes and big seas led the race committee to pull the plug on Friday. With shifts again dominating the playing field, Day three saw Courageous (6-1-1-3) make her move. A tough race four was followed by two quick bullets and a third. Only Blackfin (2-3-5-4) was as consistent on Saturday, with Smee, Time Out, and Full Tilt all putting up great races but also tasting the back of the pack. It was Growth Spurt, however, who closed the day with a bullet, leaving them lurking just off the podium in fourth heading into the deciding final day.
Sunday was a gorgeous day on Lake Michigan, with a steady northerly that we measured at 17-20 knots. 3′-5′ rollers provided some excitement as the fleet looked forward to some heavy air action to round out the weekend. Race one saw exactly that, with downwind surfing (we saw 14 knots at one point, wonder what others experienced) on the first reach replaced by flatter water in the second reach. Getting clear air and going left paid, as Growth Spurt put some distance on her podium competitors. Chute handling downwind was critical, with a heavy penalty for a missed douse at the leeward gate. At the line it was Growth Spurt, Callisto, Time Out, and Courageous.
With their fourth place finish, Courageous clinched their North American Overall and Corinthian crowns. Time Out and Growth Spurt rounded out the Overall podium, while Growth Spurt and Blackfin hoisted honors on the Corinthian podium. Congratulations to Courageous and her crew for a hard-fought, well-sailed triumph.
A huge thank you to Columbia Yacht Club who provided five days of great social functions! A big shout-out to North Sails (Jack Orr, Keith Church, and John Baxter) for a great teach-in during our “wind delay” on Saturday.