ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.-Local sailor Robbie Brown and co-skipper Chuck Allen, of Wickford, R.I., strung together a scoreline full of ones at the 2008 Sperry Top-Sider St. Petersburg NOOD Regatta. The only problem was two of them came in the first race in the form of an 11th.
After that minor bobble, however, the team was untouchable, winning the four remaining races to take first place in the 26-boat fleet by 18 points and the regatta’s overall prize, a Sunsail charter boat and entry into the Sperry Top-Sider NOOD Caribbean Rendezvous in the British Virgin Islands in November.
The choice was a popular one as the J/24 class erupted with applause when Sailing World marketing director George Brengle announced that Brown and Allen had taken the award over Terry Hutchinson, who won the 49-boat Melges 24 class, and Brad Boston, who won the 10-boat Ultimate 20 class with six firsts and a second.
“The first race was very light and we were in third or fourth on the run,” says Brown, of the opening race of the regatta, which was finished in drifting conditions after two of three legs. “The boats that got ahead tended to sail a little higher and we got about a 50-degree knock when we got to the bottom of the run. The boats from behind sailed down the rhumb line and got ahead. We had to jibe back into a really bad angle and we lost a lot of boats.”
In the remaining four races, sailed in between 6 and 12 knots, Brown and Allen were able to get in front and stay there.
“We got off the line really well. A couple of times it was really tight and we managed to squeeze out of there,” says Brown. “[Sunday] we had really good lanes coming off the starting line and just got in phase. I had a guy sailing with me today who is very knowledgeable about the Bay and we had a good feel for what the wind was doing today. I had a good team. We really sailed well.”
The forecast on Sunday was for more breeze than the two previous days-though that wasn’t saying much given how light the wind had been-and for the wind to gradually veer as the land heated up and the seabreeze started to mix with the gradient flow.
However, said Brown, even as the wind was shifting right, it wasn’t the sort of day where you could start at the boat end and tack for the right corner.
“We talked about this before the start,” said Brown. “I’ve sailed on the Bay quite a bit, Davis Island [YC, which hosted the J/24 Midwinters earlier last week] and here, and this can apply either place. Even when the wind is going right you can make gains by digging in to the left a bit and taking the left angles. The first race, we had a great start, but we went a little farther left than the guys who tacked immediately and when we came back across we had them handily.”
Like Brown, Hutchinson and his team on the Melges 24 Quantum Racing/Rosebud had an 11th in the first race and then strung together four great finishes to win the class. Hutchinson said the first race may have been the key to the regatta.
“Tampa Bay is a notoriously light and tricky spot. Looking back we probably won the regatta in the first race,” he said. “We rounded the top mark probably somewhere in the high 20s or low 30s and it was a downwind finish, one lap, and we battled back to an 11th. From there we went one, two, four, four.”
Keeping the light keelboat moving in fickle winds that dominated the regatta was vital and Hutchinson said that an experience he had at the Jacksonville event in December helped him immensely.
“We sailed with people down below, which was a big deal and we probably didn’t go as loose as we had been in the past on the rig, because it was somewhat flatter water,” he said. “I think the way our sail program is that helped it a little. We had enough power in the sails, but when you got these little puffs and the boat needs to accelerate, they weren’t too full that the boat couldn’t accelerate. Downwind it’s very interesting. Everyone sails with very eased vangs, lots of twist, way more than I’ve ever seen. That’s something that was neat to learn because it makes sense when you look at the way the breeze sees the sails, but I’ve never seen it done to that extreme.”
Hutchinson, who has most recently been a tactician on the Farr 40 circuit, said he is using this Melges 24 campaign to get himself back into the swing of driving a boat. This summer, he’ll be helming a Quantum sponsored TP 52 on the Med Cup circuit.
From 2003 until early 2007, Paul Callahan was flat on his back and unable to sail. A top Paralympic sailor, medical issues kept him away from the sport. He got back in a boat in early 2007, and judging by his performance at the St. Pete NOOD he has quickly regained his touch. Sailing in a mixed 11-boat fleet that included top Paralympic teams from Great Britain and the United States, a couple of youth teams from St. Petersburg YC, and a handful of able-bodied teams, Callahan won five of eight races. His only significant slip came in the second of three races on Sunday when he ran into a fleet of larger boats coming off the starting line and had to take evasive action. That dropped him almost to last, but he ground back to sixth for the finish.
“I think it takes a while to catch a groove, but I think we’ve been pretty on our game for the past six months and we’ll continue to try to improve,” said Callahan. “Winning a regatta, such as an able-bodied regatta is always a wonderful thing. Not only for me, but for all disabled people and able-bodied people. You can leave the wheelchair at the dock.”
When asked what was most important over the past three days, Callahan had this to say:
“It was a combination of just being patient and sailing intelligently. We ended up with all kinds of conditions and you had to pick your spots and understand the intricacies of the tuning of the boat, which is very important. But patience is just such a big virture in sailing.”
In Callahan’s case, so is perseverance.
The Sperry Top-Sider St. Petersburg NOOD Regatta was the first of nine to be held in 2008 around the country. The next stop is San Diego, in mid March.