After Tough Start, Bella Vita Enjoys the Good Life

An exclusive report from the 2006 Lands' End San Diego NOOD Regatta.

SD NOOD Saturday Montage

Stuart Streuli

SAN DIEGO-Taken as a sum, the 15 points scored by Martin Burke's Beneteau 36.7 Bella Vita in today's three races put them squarly in the middle of their 10-boat fleet at the 2006 Lands' End San Diego NOOD. But considering that they were dead last in the first race, its understandable while bowman Rochelle Terry was smiling this evening as she picked up two daily-race mugs for the second- and third-place finishes Bella Vita put together to finish off the day."We caught so much kelp in the first race," said Terry. "It was the first time, in all my years of racing, that we've backed down during the race."Terry said it's the forward crew's job to watch out for the kelp-anyone who races offshore in San Diego quickly learns how harmful catching a strand can be to ones results-and that they must've caught it when the forward crew was focusing on something else."We think we caught it during the start," she said, adding that the team initially couldn't figure out why the rest of the fleet was pulling away. "We were tweaking everything." By the time they'd diagnosed the problem and dislodged the seaweed, there was little they could do but follow the rest of the fleet around the course.Regrouping after such a tough start can be difficult. Terry said the Bella Vita team relied on their experience. "Our skipper just said, 'Let's get back in the game,'" she said. "We've race together for so long, we know we can be up there. We had great starts in both races and just held out position."Leading the way in all three 36.7 races today was Chick and Alexis Pyle's Kea, the regatta's defending overall champion. After a somewhat lackluster 5-3 in yesterday's light conditions, Kea was unstoppable today and now leads the class with 11 points. Tom and Lois Hirsh's Tangerine is second with 13.Rain was forecast for the second day of this three-day, 167-boat regatta, but the sky never completely clouded over and competitors sailed in sunshine-although temperatures were a little on the cool side for San Diego-and a beautiful 10- to 15-knot westerly breeze. All 16 divisions got in three races.As often is the case in San Diego, the inside course in South San Diego Bay had slightly more wind than the outside courses and the collection of planning dinghies sailing there thoroughly enjoyed the conditions.With a first and two seconds, Kris Henderson and Allan Johnson now have a four-point lead in the International 14 class. While the conditions weren't particularly extreme, Johnson noted that the I-14 carries so much sail, it's a handful in almost any conditions. Keeping the boat under control goes a long way toward winning races."We were going really fast downwind, good sets, good jibes, and good douses," said Johnson. "We really tried to be conservative and not tip. A lot of boats were tipping over. It's a twin-trap dinghy, you can tip in any condition.""Right now," added Henderson, the boat's helmsman, "I think we're making the least mistakes."Johnson said the 20-boat fleet is about the same size that they'll get for regattas like the class's North Americans, and included in the pack at this event are at least two former world champions.When pressed, Johnson acknowledged that their success wasn't just a product of keeping the mast pointed toward the sky all day. "Paying attention to the shifts was also important," he said. "A lot of people were going right toward the bridge and there was a header there. It was key to keep your head out of the boat and find the puffs."With a four-point lead over second and a 10-point lead over third, Henderson and Johnson plan on playing things conservatively tomorrow. "With no throwouts, we're most concerned about a big number," he said. "So we'll be starting far back from the line. If we have the kind of breeze we had today we feel we can get into the top five."Among the 16 classes sailing today, six skippers won all three races: Judge Ryan in the 29er, Simon Garland in the Flying Dutchman, the Pyles on the Beneteau 36.7 Kea, Curt Johnson in the J/80 class, Kent Pierce in the J/24 division, and finally Chris Winnard in the Holder 20. Winnard has won all five races in the Holder 20.The Lands' End San Diego NOOD, the second of nine stops on the international 2006 NOOD tour, will conclude tomorrow.