Joe Woods and the crew of Red picked up their first-ever win in the Melges 32 class and earned top honors at the 2008 Sperry Top-Sider Annapolis NOOD.
In yacht racing, as in life, nothing is over until the fat lady sings, and so it was in the most competitive fleet in the 2008 Sperry Top-Sider Annapolis NOOD, the Melges 32 class. Two boats had been duking it out the entire eight-race series, Michael Carrol and Marty Kullman's New Wave, and Joe Woods' Red. On Sunday morning, New Wave had a one-point lead over Red, but the conditions had changed drastically from the first two days of the regatta. Instead of the light air the 268-boat fleet had been dealing with, a cold front had brought a northeasterly breeze, with winds topping out at about 15 knots. In addition, a strong line of thunderstorms and strong breezes had turned the formerly placid Chesapeake into a choppy mess.
In the next-to-last race, Red placed first and regained the lead from New Wave, which placed third in the race. "New Wave is a very good team. They've been around since the start of the fleet and they've now got Scott Nixon on the boat, so it's good to beat them," said Red's boat captain and mastman, Tim Edward. "We got in the class two years ago in Miami, and the first year was hard, it was fairly tough progress, but we brought some guys in from North Sails to help us out and that seems to have upped our game a lot. We have a regular crew that doesn't change much and we've always found from sailing in the past on our Melges 24 that having a regular crew makes a difference and we try to stick with that."
"It was close, and it was all on the last race," said Red's tactician, Dave Lenz. "Whoever beat who in the last race was going to win. We won the first race, but it only gave us a one-point lead, which in this kind of fleet isn't very much. Halfway up the first beat in the last race we were probably tenth, and it wasn't looking very good, but we had a good run and got ahead. We got a break at the leeward mark, and got a couple of shifts and it was reasonably comfortable from there."
The final race was a boat-on-boat death match between Red and New Wave. With two minutes to go, Marty Kullman and the New Wave crew went right at their competition and laid a port-starboard penalty on Red, which forced them to do penalty turns before the start.
"We went in the day one point behind, so it was all on," said Edward. "The first race got us back in the lead, but by only one point, so we knew going into the last race we had to finish one point behind them, or if they won that race, it was their regatta, so it was very close. It was a bit of match racing on the starting line, and New Wave managed to get a port/starboard foul on us, so we had to do a 720 with two minutes to go before the start, so we had to do our turns pretty quickly. I think the team dealt with that very well, we did it, put it out of our minds, and managed to get on with the race. Marty Kullman is a very good driver and managed to catch us by surprise. We managed to complete the turns just in time, and get off the line. We went off in the right-hand side of the beat, they went left, and fortunately it was OK, and we came up to the top mark fairly close. We had a bit of a luffing match with them between the weather mark and the offset mark, and we managed to use our speed and get past them."
"The owner is very pleased with this week," Edward continued. "It's something we've been working toward for the last year, trying to get our first win, so we've done that finally and we're happy about that. Hopefully more will come from this. He loves driving the boat, he's got three of them, so he must love it.
"The racing's good. It's a high-performance boat that rewards good sailing," said Lenz. "You've got to be good to do well. It's powered up in the light. You can race it in light air and have a lot of fun, and on a day like today, it's even better."
"The key for us all week was that we had very good pace," said Edwards. "We seemed to have our rig set up spot on. Our sail program is very good, and if you've got the speed, it goes a long way. We didn't help ourselves all weekend, we had a couple of poor starts, but tactically and speed wise, we always got ourselves back to the top end of the fleet. It helps if you have speed. Today was different, especially in the first race when we had a bit more speed and were actually planing, which was good fun. But in the second race it very quickly changed from planing to sailing soft, in displacement mode, so the last race was quite more challenging and shifty. Obviously, for us, we had our minds on New Wave, and vice versa, and we were focusing less on the shifts and just trying to protect the lead we had in the last race."
The next event for the Red crew is next week, in Lake Garda, Italy, for the start of the Audi Melges 32 regatta, a season-long series in Europe, but they'll meet up with the New Wave crew and the rest of the American fleet in Newport, R.I., for the Melges 32 Nationals. In November, however, they'll get a bit of a break in the Caribbean. As the overall winner of the Sperry Top-Sider Annapolis NOOD, they'll meet up with the overall winners of the eight other NOOD regattas for the NOOD championship in the British Virgin Islands.