In the heydays of Chicago yacht racing, it was the big boats that had everyone’s attention. There were legends of Lake Michigan—the beasts of the lake piled ten deep and more with crew. Back then, the stories weren’t about the number of boats, but rather the shear scale of the regatta: big crews, big parties, a deafening roar under the tent and the war stories that lingered in the halls and heads of the Chicago Yacht Club long past the final pour.
But those days are gone. Long gone. Replaced with the simpler raceboats of today, white one-designs, with colored asymmetric spinnakers and crews that skip meals in order to make weight. It’s the new world order, and that’s what the Chicago big boat has become. Every big city lures its big boats, and for this weekend’s Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta, the big attraction is the J/111 class sailing its North American Championship.
They’re a big deal at Belmont Harbor where fifteen of them will hold court over the next four days. Kashmir, that of Karl Brummel, Steve Henderson, Mike Mayer, says pro sailmaker Jud Smith, have their boat going the quickest. Smith is sailing with Richard Witzel’s Rowdy. Witzel is on his climb from the midfeet and since bringing Smith onboard, he’s seen and overnight improvement in his own skills and his understanding of what make the 111 go. The program is tighter, far more polished, and better than they were last summer.
Go-fast means managing the J/111’s forestay sag, says Smith. He’s still figuring it out, but what he’s confident about is the rig is hypercritical at the upper wind range. When the backstay changes, he says, the forestay effect has to be noticeable. Over bending is slow, but too stiff even slower. This is especially true in the strong winds expected on the first day of racing. They’ve got 15 to 20 knots in the forecast, a perfect start to the long weekend.