Bill Buckles helped navigate Team Detroit through a wacky week of racing in the British Virgin Islands. (More Photos)
Well, the rain never stopped. It fell, intermittently, in drizzles and deluges, from the moment competitors arrived in Tortola, B.V.I., for the 2010 Sperry Top-Sider NOOD Championship right through the final dash from taxi to airport.
Through the foggy remnants of Tropical Storm Tomas, however, I caught glimpses of brilliant competition. During the regatta's fifth and final race—from Soper's Hole, Tortola, to Norman Island—a pack of boats separated from the fleet and engaged in a spirited battle. In search of current relief and better breeze, skippers Tom Babel (Larchmont winner), Russ Silvestri (Marblehead), Scott Whitney (San Francisco), and Mike Johnson (Seattle) short-tacked their Sunsail 39s up the north shore of St. John. "At one point, we were neck and neck with Russ Silvestri," says Babel. "Sure, we were tacking through 120 degrees, but I thought to myself, 'That's Russ Silvestri. He's working his juju on us, and we're working some of ours on him.' I mean, it doesn't get any better than that!"
With the guidance of tactician Bobby Brooks—a Texan with a Texan's tolerance for hot sauce—Babel was able to work right of the pack, catch the final shift, and take the gun. Team St. Petersburg—led by skipper Steve Lopez and Paul Hogan look-alike Scott "Alligator Dundee" Wolfersberger—placed sixth in the race but held on to win the regatta by one point. On my way out of town, I ran into Lopez waiting out a downpour beneath an awning at the Sunsail base. "It was a weird week, but we had a great time," said the newest NOOD champ, who had a few hours to kill before catching his flight back to New Jersey. "I never thought I'd be saying this, but I wonder if they've got a movie theater on the island?"
Ken Schram's Detroit team never did catch a lucky break aboard Sea Haas. The lightning bolt that zapped Schram on Day 2 also zapped the boat's refrigerator. When I came aboard on Day 4, crewman Ted Neisley warned, "If you don't want to vomit, don't open the fridge." Even after the crew jettisoned the spoiled shrimp and other perishables, a pool of fetid water lingered in the bottom of the appliance, repelling all efforts to clean up the foul-smelling mess. The refrigerator was off limits, but there was cold beer in the cooler.
The Detroiters did have one advantage over the competition—resilience. When the wind died during Day 3's race from Virgin Gorda to Jost Van Dyke, it didn't take long for most teams to turn on the engine and head for the anchorage. Not Team Detroit. The previous night at the Bitter End YC, they guaranteed victory and proudly defended that claim at the bar until the wee hours of the morning. Now, as the Sea Haas bobbed in place in six-foot swells and hangover-amplifying heat, they weren't about to give up. "We were sitting there going nowhere and everybody else was motoring in," says Schram, "The guys looked back at me and said, 'Look, Ken, we're in no hurry to get to the bar. We're going to be lying around somewhere. We might as well lie around out here.'"
As the race wore on, it turned into a standoff between Team Detroit and Team San Diego, both boats bobbing like corks in the windless swells. Finally, Bill Campbell's California crew relented. Team Detroit, the last boat bobbing, was the winner. It wasn't pretty, but it was a bullet, and they deserved it.
The most thrilling competition of the week, however, came after sailing was through. Prior to the closing ceremonies on Norman Island, Team Chicago took to the VHF to organize an impromptu dinghy race. Representatives from all teams motored over to the starting line with their Sunsail-issued, Tohatsu-powered inflatables. The race was on. Dinghies rubbed rails as each pilot twisted the throttle while lunging forward to get their craft on plane. The tenders zipped around the perimeter of the mooring field, sounding like an flock of tiny, buzzing biplanes, and curious onlookers emerged from cockpits to survey the commotion. Seattle skipper Mike Johnson separated from the pack and crossed the line first; even a last-minute, desperation shortcut couldn't save Detroit bowman Andrew Lockhart from bringing up the rear aboard his sputtering, puttering steed. It was a rough week in paradise.
2010 Sperry Top-Sider NOOD Championship: Results
Location, Skipper, Race 1, Race 2, Race 3, Race 4, Race 5, Total Points
1. St. Petersburg, Steve Lopez, 1, 2, 3, 3, 6, 14
2. Larchmont, Tom Babel, 3, 6, 2, 3, 1, 15
3. Seattle, Mike Johnson, 2, 2, 5, 3, 5, 17
4. San Diego, Bill Campbell, 4, 7, 1, 2, 4, 18
5. Marblehead, Russ Silvestri, 7, 5, 4, 3, 2, 21
6. San Francisco, Scott Whitney, 6, 3, 6, 3, 3, 21
7. Detroit, Ken Schram, 5, 4, 7, 1, 7, 24
8. Chicago, Rob Rafson, 8, 8, 8, 3, 8