Among the budding cherry blossom trees and the first sunny days of spring, skippers and crew will be brushing pollen off the decks and trailers to prepare for what is, for many, the first major regatta of the season. Nine classes, plus the North Sails Rally Race fleet, will be in Annapolis this weekend for the third stop of the 2016 Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta Series.
At this year’s Annapolis NOOD, the two newest classes of the regatta will be the ones to watch. The J/70 class boasts a fleet of 42 boats and top international performers among its registrants. Will Welles’ Scamp, Dan Troutman’s Pied Piper, and Bruno Pasquinelli’s Stampede will arrive in Annapolis following strong performances at Sperry Charleston Race Week. For the C&C 30 class, the Annapolis NOOD is the first event under its finalized class rules, specifically the mandate for owner-drivers. The paint is still drying on Mark Bremer’s City Girl, so this regatta will be trial by fire for the new team.
The J/105 fleet continues to show up in force, and the NOOD is no exception. “We have learned to enjoy subjecting ourselves to the vagaries of the Chesapeake Bay,” says Bermuda-based skipper James Macdonald. “It’s always a challenge to sail well.”
Macdonald, skipper of the aptly-named, Bermuda-flagged J/105 Distant Passion admits that the class isn’t as active as it once was, but maintains that there are still hotspots for regattas, including Annapolis. In Bermuda, says Macdonald, he generally races between six and eight other boats in their weeknight and weekend racing series. “In Annapolis, we see nearly twenty boats,” he says. “Those twenty are of high caliber as well. When it blows here, the racing gets interesting. When it’s lighter, the J/105 can be underpowered, but that’s when the tweaking and tactics come into play.”
After sailing his first J/105 from Bermuda to Key West Race Week and not enjoying the long haul, Macdonald purchased a second J/105 in 2009, Distant Passion, exclusively for sailing events in North America, like the Annapolis NOOD. When not competing in Annapolis, Block Island, or even Ontario, Distant Passion sits on a trailer in Annapolis, what Macdonald calls a good “jumping off point” for northeast regattas. Conveniently, then, the boat is already in place for this weekend’s competition.
The NOOD is a perfect event for he and his crew, says Macdonald, because the three-day event structure gives them enough time to make the trip worthwhile. Macdonald’s tactician, Jon Corless, also runs his own J/105 program in Bermuda, but the two combine forces for faraway regattas. They bring a variety of crew every year, another option made available by the characteristics of the J/105. “It’s easy to sail in some ways,” says Macdonald. “There are still enough controls for great variation among the fleet, but overall it’s a great way to get new keelboat sailors comfortable with the bigger boats.” Macdonald and Corless will be sailing against the Helly Hansen Junior Crew, a group of youth sailors with little to no keelboat experience.
While the J/105 has imports from further afield, the Etchells and Alberg 30 classes are full of local sailors. In Annapolis, the Etchells fleet has struggled to maintain numbers. According to skipper Jeff Borland, a lot of the fleet was lost to the Harbor 20, the J/22 and then the J/24. “We’re in the process of slowly rebuilding the fleet,” says Borland, an AYC member. “We used to require drivers to be over 50-years-old to sail in the AYC fleet, but we’ve changed the rules and now we see younger members buying these boats.”
Borland, a software engineer from Silver Springs, Marlyand, was attracted to what he fondly calls the “Wetchells” because of his love for tweaking controls on the boat. “The Etchells is more cerebral than physical,” he says. “I just love the feel of this boat, it drives so nicely and you can do so much more with it than other one design classes.”
The Annapolis NOOD is the local Etchells fleet’s biggest event of the season, and as Borland points out, it’s also their first, so it’s a reunion of sorts as well as a kick-off. “It’s an entire weekend of good friends and good competition,” says Borland. “Everyone knows each other and it’s a great way to put each other to the test in a major regatta.”
The Etchells aren’t the only born-and-bred Annapolis fleet making moves to recruit younger sailors into its ranks. The trusty Alberg 30s, a racing-cruiser hybrid with a strong foothold in the Chesapeake, has also seen a resurgence in younger owners. “These boats are comfortable in the deep blue and shallow enough to take you anywhere,” says Jonathan Adams, skipper of Laughing Gull and past Commodore of the Chesapeake Bay Alberg 30 Association. “We’re seeing folks who are looking for a boat that can do it all, and seeking a change of pace in life, buying these boats.”
According to Adams, the Alberg first came to Annapolis in 1964, when a consortium of locals purchased 20 to 30 boats at once, founding the Chesapeake Bay Alberg 30 Association, and began attracting local sailors as crew. In the 52 years since, many sailors have moved on to race higher performance boats, but the association remains 200-members strong. “I have so many sailors who want to race, I don’t have enough boats to put them on,” says Adams.
Of note, among the Alberg crews are also two of the oldest sailors in the Annapolis NOOD, Harry Gamber and Ralph Townsend. “Ralph is the perfect example of how to make sailing fun and not just about winning,” says Adams. “He can make the boat go without a whole lot of effort, which is fun to watch. Harry is the oldest AYC member still racing, and Ralph have a great time out there.”
For these three classes, and the other nine slated to compete next weekend in Annapolis, the forecast looks to be a challenging one. While the larger one-designs will be tested by the light air, the smaller boats will have three days of intense tactical battles ahead of them.
Full results for the event will be available on yachtscoring.com.