Greetings fellow Fleet 11 J/109 skippers and teams!
The 2022 season is in full swing and we had a tricky Helly-Hansen Sailing World Regatta (HHSWR) held in Chicago June 10-12! It was an action-packed three days that saw all the boats dealing with shifty light winds, mixed with moderate to fresh wind. Typical June conditions in Chicago with wind shear due to the mixing of warmer air aloft and cooler temperatures at the lake surface. Clearly the trimmers on all boats were tweaking their sails to best optimize shape in these challenging wind conditions.
So here is the HHSWR Chicago 2022 J109 section recap! (NOOD was easier…)
Friday was day one of racing and the Tale of Two Races for the J109 circle. Race one started in about 5 knots of breeze, and saw the fleet looking for any type of clear lane. During the first beat to the weather mark, the wind persistently shifted to the left side of the course. Northstar, fresh off their Colors overall win, was first to the mark and never looked back. Behind them was a parade of 109’s fighting for higher lanes with multiple place changes. The Northstar team did a great job exiting the leeward gate, with lots of traffic from the fleets ahead dealing with the fickle and shifty breeze. Team Smee Again and Liquid Lounge also found clean but tricky exits from the leeward gate. All three of these teams maintained their positions and finished race one on the podium with Northstar taking first, Liquid Lounge second and Smee Again third.
The second race was started after a brief postponement by the Race Committee to allow a front to settle into the race course. There was a 180 degree wind shift to the North-Northeast with gusts up 23 knots. Skippers had to quickly make sail choice and rig tension decisions to set up best for the fresh breeze. With the breeze up and flat seas, the premium was on speed and height. After multiple lead changes, Callisto took the win followed closely by Northstar and a third place for Courageous. After race #2, the wind began to die off and get shifty, so the Race Committee sent the fleets back to the docks for the afternoon.
Races three and four saw mostly moderate breezes ranging from 7 knots with puffs up to 13 knots. (Race five was a different story which I’ll get to later.) The sea state was choppy, so the fastest boats focused on looser rigs and twisty sail plans. After a great start in Race #3, Callisto took first with Liquid Lounge a close second, followed by Northstar in third.
Race four began with “starting practice” as a General Recall and two wind-shift postponements during the sequence gave the 109 teams three chances to get their timing straight. Finally, the fourth time was a charm as the 109s launched off the starting line. Smee Again picked the left side of the first beat and sailed deep into a nice left shift. They established a dominant lead by the first weather mark and never looked back, taking first place with Callisto in second and Northstar in third.
Race five started after a short postponement to allow the wind to settle a bit. The wind was down range again, with barely 5 knots at the start. The teams that tacked onto port after the start found the only pressure on the racecourse up the right side and toward the middle. The boats that went to the left sailed into a hole and watched the other j109s sail away in the only pressure on the course. This race saw Smee Again and Callisto bunched up with Liquid Lounge, Blackfin, and Northstar all trying to keep a clear lane while trying to stay in the light pressure. Liquid Lounge found solid pressure and closed the gap with the two leaders. The Race Committee shortened the course and at the finish it was Smee Again with the win (again) followed by Callisto in second and Liquid Lounge taking the third slot.
And so after “Moving Day”, the leader board had Callisto leading the regatta with 10 points, Northstar in second with 14 points and Smee Again on 19 points. This put Team Callisto in familiar territory: having a four point lead over Northstar going into the final day of the Colors Regatta. Would Jim Murray’s team be able to hold off the clearly fast Northstar Team this time?
Sunday Final Races:
The gradient wind from the Northeast settled onto the race course overnight with good pressure and three to four feet waves. Wind speeds for race #1 were 12-15 knots with gusts. Team Callisto was “chomping at the bit” and nailed the start. They pressed the right side of the course and seemed to have their boat set-up nicely. Callisto was clearly sailing higher with better speed than most. Also off the line quickly was team Full Tilt. They also pushed the right side and challenged Callisto for the lead in this race. Smee Again came back strong off the left side of the course and made big gains on both downwind legs. However, Callisto held on for first with Full Tilt in second and Smee Again in third.
Going into the seventh and final race of the regatta, Callisto now held a nine point lead over Northstar, and technically did not have to start to win the section. However, Jim Murray’s team had another goal in mind. The breeze moderated from earlier with speeds now in the 8-12 knot range and lumpy seas. With another clean start, Callisto again pressed the right side of the first leg. After tacking under the starboard layline to consolidate, Callisto was first to the weather mark and held their lead all the way to the finish. Team Slapshot also pressed the right side after a solid start and showed fast boatspeed in the fresh conditions. After an average start, Northstar passed three boats to climb into third place. The seventh and final race was won by Callisto, with Slapshot taking second and Northstar in third.
After all the points were tallied, Callisto defended their J109 HHSWR title to take first on only 12 points! Northstar finished in second overall. Smee Again took third overall.
A testimony to the competitive sailing in the J109 fleet was clearly made on Sunday. Team Callisto was named the overall Caribbean Challenger, awarded to the team with the most dominant performance in a competitive fleet. They will represent all of us here in Chicago this winter at the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series Champion of Champions in the BVIs.
I called up Jim the day after the regatta to gain some insights on their performance. Here is a snapshot of our conversation:
Ray: “Hey Jim, congratulations on a simply dominating performance by you and your team! At the final day of the Colors Regatta, you had a four point lead over Northstar. There you were sitting in the same situation on Sunday in the HHSWR. What did your team do differently this time to close out so strong?”
Jim: “We talked about wanting to be aggressive. Our helmsman, Mike Hendrie, raced in college and we just let him do his thing at the start. He found clean lanes and his time and distance was spot on. After the starts, the team just executed. My team likes it when the breeze is up. We knew if we got off the line clean we would have a strong chance to win the regatta.”
Ray: “The wind was up and down all weekend. What was your sail plan and what adjustments did you make to the boat’s rig?”
Jim: “We took a completely different approach to our base settings. Especially in light and choppy conditions, the boat needs power. So we set our “new” base to a range of 6-10 knots. We also did not change our jib all weekend. We stayed with our Light AP jib and that gave us a deeper sail to give the boat more power in the choppy conditions, even when the wind was up range. Downwind, we went with our A1.5 all weekend. The flatter cut gave us more speed in those conditions where we needed hotter angles for power.”
Ray: “Any final thoughts on the weekend?”
Jim: “We love sailing in the J109 fleet! In fact, Jeremy Alexis and his team that is chartering Northstar, told me that this is the most competitive fleet he has sailed in. A good mix of professionals and amateurs. Anyone one of these teams can get on the podium, and one mistake puts you behind really quickly! We are looking forward to the Verve Cup in August already!”
Congratulations to Team Callisto: Jim Murray, Bill Colombo, Katie Davis, Mike Hendrie, Will Howard, Jonathan Hurthle and Mike Reynaert!
(NOTE: Also, congratulations to Jim’s Pac52 Team Callisto on their division win in last week’s Newport to Bermuda Race! Callisto won the Pro-Am division and finished 4th overall in the Line-Honors order.)
Final note: We are half-way through the J109 Inshore Championship! The points are close, so let’s all plan on having a great Verve Cup Regatta! The Chicago to Waukegan Race is this Saturday, and then we look to The Hook and The Mac in July!
Thanks to Keith and the Blackfin team for hosting the J109 beer cooler dock social!
See you on the water!