ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.-For John Pollard, the 2007 Sperry Top-Sider St. Petersburg NOOD Regatta was something of an experiment. Having traditionally sailed the Melges 24 with four people, he decided to see what it would be like with five. The early returns-after three races in very breezy conditions on Friday-were extremely positive. Pollard’s team on Excellent won each race in the St. Pete NOOD’s biggest class.
But Saturday was nearly the exact opposite of Friday, with light and shifty winds, and flat water. Pollard wasn’t as dominating as on the second day-Eamonn O’Nolan won the day-but he built on his lead over second place, expanding it from 4 points to 14 points.
When strong gusty northwesterly winds forced the race committee to abandon racing on Sunday, Pollard won the 44-boat class and was named the overall champion of the St. Pete NOOD, an honor that comes complete with a Sunsail charter boat for the 2007 NOOD Caribbean Rendezvous in the British Virgin Islands in November.
“The verdict is [sailing with five] is better in the breeze,” said Pollard, who hails from Torquay, England, “and if we’re going to continue with it we need to practice for the light. Ergonomics, with five instead of four bodies, is a problem.”
With the wind coming off the land on both Friday and Saturday, Pollard said that keeping track of, and predicting, the shifts was a key to victory. “We have some good weather programs running that we used,” he said. “We look for trends rather than specific times zones of wind direction.”
In addition to keeping their eyes out for the shifts, the winning J/105 team on Rum at Six credited their patience as a key to victory. “We didn’t look good often,” said skipper Worth Harris of Raleigh, N.C., “but we were patient and it worked out in the end.”
Harris said the team, which travels to four or five major J/105 regattas a year, feels more comfortable in heavy air. So it wasn’t surprising to see them jump out of the gate with a first in Race 1. But the light air on Saturday wasn’t their favored conditions.
“We did a lot on the rig tension,” said Worth, “because we knew the conditions would be a lot different. We’ve been better heavy air sailors than light and so we were really pleased with our effort yesterday, especially in the first race.”
While the other two courses were setting up, Circle B, which featured the J/105s, J/24s, and Melges 24s, banged off a race not long after 10 a.m. The breeze was spotty, and shifty, and the fleet spread out quite a bit on the beats. “We felt there would be more pressure on the left,” said Worth. “We watched the fleet ahead of us really closely and hung in with our game plan.” The result was a first in the lightest race of the regatta.
Down the stretch the local boat J’Makin’ Waves, owned by Steve and Dee Olinger of St. Petersburg, paced Rum at Six. In fact, in the last five races, J’Makin’ Waves was actually a point better than Rum at Six. But that first race, a seventh for the locals, provided the North Carolinians the margin they needed for the win.
Spike Boston got the margin he needed in the first race. He won it, and then proceeded to build on his lead by winning each of the next five. Boston’s S2 7.9 Frequent Flyer was one of two boats to win every race in its class, the other being Justin Scott’s Viper 640 Tusker. Boston, a veteran sailmaker from Ontario, Canada, and a longtime proponent of the plucky 7.9, certainly doesn’t mind winning, though he was a little bit sheepish about the way he dominated the 8-boat class.
“We’ve been fortunate for the last 10 years to be up in the top of the class,” said Boston. “Slowly, but surely, we’re getting other people more competitive, which is what I’ve been trying to do to help the class. It was unfortunate that some other teams couldn’t get out of the snow [and get down to the regatta.]”
But while Boston dominated this fleet, he doesn’t expect to do so when the class reconvenes, citing both the teams that didn’t make it to the regatta, and the boat Magic, owned by Joe and Jeff Pawlowski, which finished third in their first regatta in the 7.9. “They’re going to be tough to beat down the road,” he said.
In the Melges 32 fleet, the regatta came down to the first race on Day 2. Jeff Ecklund’s Star and Mike Carroll & Marty Kulllman’s New Wave were separated by 1 point after three races on Friday. Though racing on the shifty A Circle, which was nearest to the St. Pete shore, both teams had sailed consistently on Friday.
“That was the race where the wind came from three sides and our course was in the vortex,” said Kullman, who helms the boat. “[Star] fouled another boat, did a 720, got stuck in the vortex and never got out.”
While New Wave finished third, Star limped home in last place. Ecklund and his team, which included builder Harry Melges on tactics, won the final two races to go along with the two they’d won on Friday. But their four wins fell just short of New Wave’s consistent finishes. The local team never finished worse than third in a single race and won the regatta by two points.
“They sailed a great regatta,” said Kullman of Star, “it was just a roll of the dice.”