Patience. Plenty of it was required over the four-day Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta in Chicago as wind conditions varied from fresh to frustrating and wind shifts swung unpredictably from the lakeshore to offshore. But those who kept their composure during long morning postponements were rewarded with challenging races in the end.
Irrespective of the outcome for each of the 163 teams sailing in the regatta, it was a beautiful weekend to be on the cooler Lake Michigan waters, looking westward to the heat factory of downtown Chicago. For the family teams that populated the fleets, it was also an ideal way to spend their Father’s Day doing what they love.
Onboard the Sydney 38 Eagle were three generations of O’Neill sailors, which proved to be the winning combination as Eagle won four of six races in its PHRF division, capped by a win in the final race.
“We weren’t sure if the sea breeze was going to win out,” says Shawn O’Neill, recapping Sunday’s variable winds, “so we were trying to play both sides and be conservative. We’ve had this boat for 16 years and the core of the team has been together for three decades, but this weekend we had some new guys including my son, Conner, 18. With my father Jerry, 78, that makes three generations. With my wife onboard as well, it was a great way to spend the weekend with family.”
Martin Johnsson, Jorgen Johnsson, August Hernandez, and Sue O’Neil, the all-amateur J/70 team, triumphed in Chicago after finishing in the top three in each of the regatta’s five races and winning by a single point over John Heaton’s Empeiria. They’re now another NOOD regatta father-son team with a winning streak — the younger Martin is 38 and the elder, Jorgen, is 67.
“We’ve always had smaller one-designs and dabbled in big boats, but we enjoy the purity of the smaller one-designs,” says Martin. Onboard Aquaholiks, Jorgen is the spinnaker trimmer, Martin drives, Augie does tactics, and Sue does bow.
“It’s the first sportboat my father has raced so it’s different for him, especially trimming the asymmetric,” says Johnsson, “which is a good thing because it forces him to focus on his trimming and not my driving.”
For the Johnssons and their teammates, the regatta ultimately came down to the final race. Heaton was in control in the overall standings as they motored out to Chicago YC’s Belmont Circle, but only just.
“We had a two races today and had a good one in the first, but going into the last race we were trying to be more conservative,” says Martin. “We knew we needed to be top three. We knew where our two competitors were — Robert Hughes’ Heartbreaker and John Heaton’s Empeiria.”
The Aquaholiks kept close tabs on their competition and rounded the weather mark second and jammed in a tight four-boat pack. “We just tried to be calm as we went downwind,” says Martin. “Heartbreaker peeled out so we had stay with the other boat. Then it got really challenging at the leeward mark with the J/111s coming upwind. It was difficult to decide which gate to take, but John Heaton split to the left gate and we went to the other so we could do our own thing.”
The split worked out well, he says, but at the top of the beat, a right shift appeared and suddenly the fourth-placed was in play and Martin had to defend their position again.
“It was a lot of match racing up the last beat,” says Martin. “We probably did six or seven tacks, but we just needed to be close.”
At the weather mark again they were fourth, close behind third and covered the boat immediately ahead. “We got on their air and positioned ourselves for the finish,” says Martin. “We did a good job at position ourselves to get on top of those guys at the finish and the last two jibes.”
In the last 50 meters they advanced from fourth to third to win the regatta by one point, which in turn won them the Helly Hansen’s NOOD Regatta in Chicago’s overall trophy and a trip to the BVIs to compete in the NOOD Caribbean Championship.
The elder Johnsson is a veteran of the Caribbean racing scene, having won numerous regattas in Antigua, and will be a key asset come October.
J/111 co-owners Karl Brummel, Steve Henderson, Mike Mayer, on Kashmir, put a hard fought performance to win the classes’ North American Championship. They won both races on Sunday — the first one easily and the second one after recovering from a bad start— to secure the title by 7 points over Bennett Greenwald’s Perseverance. After a slow start in the four-day series, in which they posted a 4-6, they kept their finishes to top three, and as is usually the key to such regattas, consistency was what mattered most.
FOR FINAL RESULTS, CLICK HERE