Look Who's Coming to Dago

The Etchells are back for the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta in San Diego, Wings will defend and the Bennies have company

Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta San Diego

J/105 Sanity

Rick Goebel's Sanity is one J/105 team that defending champion Dennis Case identifies as one he must watch out for at the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta in San Diego.Paul Todd/Outside Images

If there’s one stop on our cross-country Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta circuit where we’d expect everyone to be ready to go on the opening day, it would San Diego where you can sail all 365 days if you wanted to. So why is it that Olympic 470 medalist JJ Fetter is fretting about the state of her Etchells, which she’s entered into next weekend’s NOOD Regatta? Well, first off, she confesses, she hasn’t sailed the boat in three months, and secondly, she hasn’t quite gotten around to finalizing her team.

She only races the boat locally and these days she typically finds herself “rambling around” on Friday nights in search of pickup crew. “I’m embarrassed to admit that it’s usually on the tow out to the racecourse when we remember what we were supposed to fix and didn’t,” she says. “And that whole going out and practicing thing…I know…I know.”

Still, with her husband John Reichel (“a big middle guy who can’t say ‘no’”) and whomever she enlists before March 18, she’ll put in an honest effort as San Diego’s Etchells fleet will feature the NOOD as the first event on its new four-regatta West Coast Series, which local spark plugs are hoping will re-energize the establishment fleet.

In his second year as fleet captain, Xavier Sheid says the fleet is on an upswing, partly because of better communications and the 2017 world championships being held in San Francisco. But the West Coast Series, fashioned after the successful Etchells Florida Winter Series (formerly known as the Jaguar Cup) is certainly a big part, attracting visiting squads to the NOOD from Colorado and Seattle. At the time of writing, the Etchells fleet has 11 entries, but Sheid anticipates at least another dozen, which could make it the largest class at the San Diego NOOD—perhaps even eclipsing the popular J/70s, currently with 21 entries.

As the numbers grow, however, so too, will the challenge of positioning for “The Tow.” The Tow, of course, refers to the daisy-chain courtesy ride out to the ocean course off Point Loma, and there is much strategy involved.

“It’s first come, first served,” explains Sheid, “but it’s also crap shoot. You try to position yourself in the middle to the back of the tow because some of the corners can be tight. Sometimes the race committee boat will come from the north and make a right at the docks, and sometimes the boat will go south and make a large sweeping left-hand turn to pick people up, so what you think is going to be the end of the tow ends up being first or visa versa. You have to be waiting and watch the way the committee boat is going and paddle your way to where you think you want to be based on where you think they’ll go.”

Indeed, tactics start well before the first race.

For Ultimate 20 champion Mark Allen, from Salt Lake City, Utah, the challenge is not in getting to the towline but in towing his boat to San Diego from Richmond, California, where he left it earlier this year for keel repairs. Allen’s Junta is one of six Ultimate 20s coming from out of town—there’s only one local boat. “As a fleet, we will cover more miles than anyone else,” he says, and when they get there, we’ll all pile into the Vagabond Inn, situated on the outskirts of Shelter Island. Allen is a master brewer so the Vagabond’s parking lot, he assures us, will be the scene of nightly tailgating. If Uinta is your brew of choice, follow the hoppy aroma trail to the Vagabond.

The San Diego NOOD wouldn't be the same without Dennis Case's Wings. Case and his wife Sharon long dominated the Shock 35 class here before switching to the J/105 many moons ago and doing the same. While Sharon has excused herself from duties of the pit these days, Dennis remains "Steady Eddy" at the helm. "We're not traveling out of town any more," he says, "so the NOOD is the number one regatta for us."

He’s got a few new sails for the occasion, a light No. 1 and an all-purpose spinnaker. The fleet now allows them to carry two jibs, and the AP opens up the wind range in his downwind inventory.

Wings won its fleet last year, but only just, by a single point over Gary Mozer's well-sailed *Current Obsession 2 *from Long Beach, California. It was the series' final race that Case fondly recalls. "It was one of the most memorable races in my time, he says. "Going up the last weather leg to the finish they had a damn good lead, at least five boatlengths on us. After rounding the leeward mark I said, 'Guys, we're going into a tacking duel.'

“As soon as we tacked, they tacked to cover. Each time we tacked we picked up half of a length, which is a lot. We were surprised they’d come back at so frequently. At around tack 13 I ducked them and we swapped sides. They let me go and I got to the right of them. When we went back at them I got a good piece of them, but they were still able to hold their leebow so I tacked away. On the 15th tack, I could lay the pin and figured we’d picked up another half-length, so I put the bow down to go a bit faster and forced them to tack early. When they did, I just stuffed it right up…and the faces on their boat said it all. I just kept the bow down and pushed out. I was really proud of my guys. I don’t know what we did to be able to do that, but it was wonderful.”

Look for this J/105 rivalry to pick up right where these two left off.

A growth spurt for the Beneteau 40.7 fleet is not by chance, but instead by the cajoling of Lugano owner Mark Stratton, of Los Angeles, to get other Southern California teams to come together in San Diego, particularly two teams from the Long Beach area, bringing the fleet to six. “I’ve been pushing one of these teams for a few years to come along,” says Stratton. “When we went to Long Beach we shared with them how to tune the boat and sail it better. As result the owner changed the team over and they’re now keen to do more.”

Stratton won the Beneteau 40.7 fleet in 2015, on account of having a loyal crew that he doesn’t change much. He keeps his boat pristine and uses the NOOD as the first major event for the season. “It’s 17 hours to San Diego,” he says, “so I make sure we’re ready to go.”

While the regatta’s other one-design fleets continue to assemble with late entries, including the Beneteau 36.7s, J/120s, Flying Tigers, Bucanneers, Viper 640s, and International 14s, North Sails Saturday’s highlight includes the North Sails Rally fleet, an eclectic mix of designs sailing a pursuit race around government buoys scattered about San Diego Bay. In amongst five trimarans are four vastly different keelboats, including a Melges 24, a Pearson 30, a Catalina 320 and the local sleeper known as Allen Wench, campaigned by NOOD first timer Dennis Allen. Wench is a BB-10, native to Skandinavia, rescued from San Francisco and extensively restored by Allen in his backyard for a year and a half.

Allen describes the BB-10 as an oversized Etchells, and as a wet design that sails low to the water. His particular hull, he says, was built in Florida by “a bunch of ding-a-lings,” and his own hard labor has gone straight to fixing shoddy workmanship (he says he lost 20 pounds block-sanding the darn thing before painting it himself).

“I tore it apart and put it back together,” he says, “and when we finally started racing it we got our butts kicked.” But once he got some “real” sails from Elliott-Pattison and dialed in the sail trim, Allen suddenly found himself going from last to first in his local PHRF races. “For the longest time it wouldn’t point and it go upwind,” he says. “And when we won our first race we were dumbfounded.”

With the proper fresh fruit flying from the rig, and with the boat’s long lines, Allen anticipates his boat will have the right stuff should the right conditions present themselves for the Rally. But as a first timer to it, and with the multihulls to consider, he’s unsure how it will all play out. Either way, he’s simply looking forward to a day of racing and an opportunity to slip out of his machine shop check the value of his sweat equity.

Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta in San Diego

Beneteau 36.7s in San Diego

The Beneteau 36.7 fleet traditionally delivers close racing off Point Loma. When defending champ Chick Pyle's Kea is on the course, nothing comes easy.Paul Todd/Outside Images