Burt's Burden Takes Detroit NOOD

Modifications made to his Express 37 Burden IV over the years helped H. Burton Jones win first place overall at the 2007 Sperry Top-Sider Detroit NOOD. "First Beat" from our June 5, 2007, SW eNewsletter

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Tony Bessinger

The 2007 Sperry Top-Sider Detroit NOOD regatta may go into the Bayview YC race committee's record books as one of the more challenging events they've ever run. Day 1 set the stage, as all three of the race circles were in postponement until the early afternoon because the breeze was light. So light, in fact, that it was nonexistent. As mirror images of the boats reflected off the water, crews talked, joked, drank beer, and hoped that their day off from work would feature some sailboat racing.Finally, after several hours of waiting, all three of the race circle's signal boats dropped their postponement pennants and ran one race.

It may not have been the truest test of skill-and may be best described as a crap shoot-but considering the fact that the forecast for the next two days called for even lighter conditions, the RC was wise to get some points on the board. In IRC A, the scratch boat, Wally Tsuha's Melges 32 Saturn, held off the rest of the class and took first. Nick Ward's Soverel 33-2 Rum placed second, and H. Burton Jones' modified Express 37 Burden IV, rounded out the podium finishers with a third.

Jones, of Grosse Point Woods, has had plenty of success over the years, especially at the Detroit NOODs. Jones and crew won their class in the last two NOODs, and this year, racing under IRC for the first time and equipped with two spinnakers that used to fly from the Farr 40 Heartbreaker, they were looking for another win. "The performance change was considerable, and under IRC, it was a very small rating change," says Jones. "Going for a masthead chute under IRC is a very favorable thing to do. I was an engineer, so I'm always looking around for what I can do to make the boat better."

Last fall, Jones met with sailmaker Wally Cross, who suggested using a used Farr 40 fractional kite as a masthead kite. Jones had replaced the Express 37's aluminum rig with a carbon-fiber rig five years ago, and set it up to use either fractional or masthead spinnakers. "When we had the rig built, there were three sheaves up there," says Jones. "When we tried it for the first time, the boat just jumped. It gave us 18-percent more area; it was very impressive."

On Day 2, the best race circle to be on was A, because there was breeze, and the race committee took advantage of that and ran three races. Burden IV erased the previous day's deficit by winning the first race, while Saturn placed fourth. In the second race, the roles reversed again, with Tsuha's Melges 32 winning, and Jones' Express 37 taking a fourth. In the final race of the day, Burden IV bounced back up to first, and Saturn placed third. When the dust had settled, Saturn and Burden IV were tied on points, with Burden IV winning the tie thanks to its first-place finish in the last race.

The final day of racing began with a postponement called before the boats even left the docks. Zero wind, combined with a strong line of thunderstorms heading north from Ohio had the organizers meeting behind closed doors, discussing whether or not to send the boats out at all. The sailing instructions were clear, there would be no races started after 2 p.m. on Sunday, so the window of opportunity was shrinking fast. Many competitors, especially the ones without a chance of finishing in the money, had already begun putting their boats away. Others, like the crews on Saturn and Burden IV, for different reasons, were on tenterhooks. "We were talking about what we could do to make sure we'd win the next race," said Jones. "We sat there in the cockpit and talked quite a bit while we waited."

Jones sails with his two nephews, brothers Mark and Todd Jones. Todd is the helmsman, Mark trims the main, and Burt calls tactics with Jo D. Hartigan. When asked if the two brothers work well together, Jones replies, laughing: "No! Between the three of us, it's a war."In the end, the powers that be decided to blow off the final day of racing. Once again, Burt Jones had won his class.

In the hour before the final party and the awards ceremony, we talked with Jones. He was pleased with his win, but even more pleased to still be on the water at the age of 82. When asked if he thought he had any chance of winning the regatta overall, he demurred, saying it was much more likely that the overall winner would be chosen from one of the larger classes. When Jones and his crew came up for their class trophy, the crowd gave them an enthusiastic round of applause.

Jones-according to competitors and his own crew-can be vocal on the water, but his fellow competitors, and the other members at Bayview YC universally like him. We don't award the overall trophy until all the trophies have been handed out. We'd like to think that the crowd sticks around to see who'll win, but they're probably staying for the Mt. Gay hat toss, when we throw out the extra red hats into the crowd. So, the tent was still crowded when it came time to announce the winner. Sailing World's George Brengle explained that the award is given to the winner of the most competitive class, as determined by Sailing World staff and the race committees. When Brengle made the announcement, the crowd went wild, and the Burden IV crew, Burt Jones in the lead, came to the podium to receive their trophy. "Wow, that's all I could say," says Jones. "The crew was out of their minds with the fact we'd won the award, because none of us thought we had a chance. We were really happy."