This year, the Viper 640 fleet made a triumphant return to the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta Annapolis.
“We haven’t had a start at the NOOD for a while,” says Mary Ewenson, an Annapolis local who’s pushing for the growth of the Viper class. “Last year we only had one local Viper, and now we have six, so we’re seeing some really good growth.”
The sporty keelboat is making a comeback in the Chesapeake, thanks to class cheerleaders like Ewenson. Successes in other fleets around the country have helped boost the popularity of the Viper, and Annapolis owners have been working to increase participation.
A fleet in Virginia has proved to be a source of inspiration for the owners in Annapolis.
“We watched the Hampton, Virginia fleet grow,” explains Ewenson, who joined the class last year and has enjoyed the uptick in participation. “It’s a really nice group of people – it's a lot of fun.”
This weekend, to help keep the number of sailors up, boats are on loan to some of the out-of-town crews. Five or six local boats competed, but just three Annapolis skippers took to the line; the rest of the 14-boat fleet came to town just for the event.
“A couple of the boats are on loan to people, so we had a couple of people out there yesterday who were very new to sailing the Viper,” says Ewenson. New blood is always a welcome sight, though, especially at the class’ first NOOD appearance in a few years.
The class representation at the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta Annapolis brings together a mix of sailors from around the country and across the age spectrum. There’s no way to accurately describe the average Viper sailor.
“It’s an interesting mix,” she explains. On the course, Ewenson is joined by a range of sailors spanning from their twenties to their sixties.
“There are a lot of twenty-somethings that are really getting excited about the boat,” she continues, looking forward to the future of the class.
Despite the age range, the camaraderie in the class is unrivaled. Teams practice together, help each other rig and swap information on daily sessions at debriefs after racing.
“I think we're seeing that the level of the competition is increasing,” says Mary, and she’s right. The more the class learns from experience, the more they share with each other. It’s all about fostering an environment that is welcoming to any one interested in the class and keeping the growth that fleets like Annapolis and Hampton have been seeing on the rise.
The conditions this weekend teetered on the upper edge of ideal for the Viper class, but like most of the classes at the regatta, they sailed through five races. Sunday’s breeze proved to be across the threshold for most of the fleet, though. It’s usually a group decision, with the fleet making the comfort call as a unit, rather than relying on the forecast.
“The boats don’t have a wind limit, but they do,” explains Ewenson. “They get up on a plane and it's a bit of a ride.”
Flips and wipeouts are common in a class like the Viper, but that’s not usually a deterrent. The boats are physical, but it’s a matter of how hard you want to sail them – part of the reason the class attracts sailors across a wide age range.
Ewenson led the fleet after the first day of racing, stringing together a first place finish and two seconds in Saturday’s racing. She ended up fourth overall after joining the majority of the fleet, sitting out Sunday.