Over the first two days of the Melges IC37 National Championship, the defending champion Pacific Yankee team was dominant, winning three of four races and building a substantial lead. But, says skipper Drew Freides, the narrow margin for error in this competitive one-design class doesn’t allow for playing it safe.
“If you’re not right on [the starting line], you don’t get to control your own destiny,” says Freides. “That was our secret all week: getting great starts, being on the line going fast, getting poked out, and then we can control where we want to go. If you can’t, then it gets really hard. If you’re second row, then you’re totally hosed.”
So even after picking the wrong side of the course in the first race, and finishing seventh, and then starting early in the second race and being disqualified, Freides, co-owner Bill Ruh and tactician Marcus Eagan knew there was only one way to approach the start of the deciding race: push hard and grab the early advantage, which they did en route to another race win and a repeat championship.
The Melges IC37 National Championship was run concurrently with the ORC East Coast Championship by the New York Yacht Club Harbour Court in Newport, R.I. Both events took place July 16 to 18, with the Melges IC37 fleet competing seven buoy races while the ORC divisions sailed six buoy races and one middle-distance race. The two regattas were sponsored by Safe Harbor Marinas, Hammetts Hotel and Helly Hansen.
While the Melges IC37 class rules requires an all-amateur crew, with one exception, Freides and Ruh have modeled their program after successful professional sailing teams. The crew list remains the same from event to event and they always put in the extra time practice, including two full days prior to the national championship.
“We pride ourselves in having a really good team,” says Freides. “We’ve got the crewwork down pretty well. But it’s more of shifting gears and always keeping the boat going fast [that separates us from the competition]. I don’t think we’re faster than anybody, but we’re better at getting up to top speed more quickly.”
John Brim’s Rima37 started the final race tied on points for the lead and finished second in the overall standings with Members Only, a syndicated headed by New York Yacht Club Rear Commodore Jay Cross, Hannah Swett and Ben Kinney, in third.
A subtext to the overall title was the battle for the New York Yacht Club’s spot in September’s Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup. Commodore Christopher Culver and Peter Levesque’s Blazer II started the regatta with a significant lead over Members Only thanks to a strong performance in the 167th Annual Regatta in June. But by the final race of the National, Blazer II‘s lead in the qualifying series was down to just four points.
“It was a match race between us and Members Only in the last race,” says Culver. “We worked hard and got a good start. We controlled them at the start and that set the tone for the race. It worked out in our favor. We’ve worked hard at this for years. It’s just wonderful. I’m happy for the team, and we really look forward to competing in the Invitational Cup.”
ORC Champions Make Strong Statements in Regatta Wins
If there was a common theme to the three division winners in the ORC East Coast Championships is was their comprehensive dominance across a variety of conditions and course configurations. The three winning boats earned 16 of 21 individual race victories and won ORC A, B, and C by 11, 7 and 2 points, respectively.
New York Yacht Club Vice Commodore Paul Zabetakis stretched his personal ORC winning streak to three with his victory in ORC B aboard his Swan 42 Impetuous. After a great opening to the regatta on Friday, with a second and two firsts. Zabetakis and his team faltered during Saturday’s distance race, picking up a scoring penalty at the start and then struggling to sixth in the race. Starting the final day of racing, four teams were within two points of the overall lead.
“Today we just said we need to dig deep and get back to the kind of racing we’d been doing,” says Zabetakis. “The first race we won, the second race we got second and then the third race we nailed the start and got out front, everybody on the crew was totally focused on our boat. The jibes were great, the sets we great.”
Another victory, the team’s fourth of the regatta, gave Impetuous a 7-point advantage over Patricia Young’s Entropy in second.
Jim Swartz’ Maxi72 Vesper also recorded its worst result of the regatta during Saturday’s distance race. In this case, however, that was a second. Swartz and his team, which included a number of America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race veterans, won the other six contests.
Being at least 20 feet longer and significantly faster that every other boat in ORC A meant the Vesper crew was often sailing by itself, measuring success against the clock.
“It’s just great to be back sailing and get everybody in the groove,” says Swartz, who bought the boat in 2019, but was only racing it for the third time this weekend. “We had a lot of rusty edges to work off. Every race you could see the teamwork getting better and better.”
Swartz is no stranger to big race boats, but this current Vesper is the largest he’s owned and a different animal.
“The boat’s deceptive because it wants to perform, but when it goes wrong, it goes wrong quickly,” he says. “The TP52 is much more nimble and you can just maneuver around a lot more to get out of trouble. This one’s got it’s own momentum. We’re learning that.”
Among the remainder of the ORC A fleet, all between 44 and 50 feet long, Jim Madden’s Stark Raving Mad was the best of the group, finishing second overall.
In ORC 3, it was Sandra Askew’s IC37 Flying Jennythat dominated the race wins, taking top honors in the first four races. But a fifth in today’s first race brought the overall title into question as Paul Milo’s Orion, which was second in each previous race, jumped into a tie for first. Askew and her team rebounded with another two race wins to clinch the title by two points.
Photos: Paul Todd/Outside Images
|2021 ORC East Coast Championship
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|Melges IC37 National Championship
Click here for complete results