Bumblin' Stumblin' Twins Take J/24 Nationals

Waldek Zaleski and crew won this 34-boat event despite a few finish line foul-ups. "First Beat" from our April 24, 2007, /SW eNewsletter/.

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Copyright 2007 Tim Wilkes / Www.timwilkes.com

Waldek Zaleski's Twins won the J/24 Nationals in Jacksonville, Fla., in commanding fashion-acing four of nine races-but the team didn't always look as slick as its scoreline. "We made a couple of mistakes where, if you were watching from the outside, you would have said, 'Those guys don't know how to sail,'" said Zaleski, who founded Z Sails in Stamford, Conn., after emigrating from Poland in the late 1980s. As Twins approached the finish of Race 3 holding second place by a few boatlengths, the boat's loaded genoa block exploded. Waldek's twin brother, Chris, jumped to leeward and acted as human genoa lead. When they tacked for the finish, the sheet stuck on the winch, backwinding the sail and slowing the boat to a snail's pace. With the crew fumbling on deck, Twins limped over the line with second place intact. The team approached the next finish with a sizable lead. Given the intensifying conditions, Zaleski knew that a sail change was probably overdue, but with only five boatlengths to go, the 46-year-old had no choice but to hope for the best. Midway through the final tack, the genoa sheet snagged the leg of bowman Yahoo Glinski. "That was maybe not so funny for [Glinski]," said Zaleski. "He had the rope around his leg with the wind pulling him in one direction and the grinder pulling him in the other."The crew, which also includes Maciek Kosciuczuk and Randall Perkins, was able to unwrap Glinski before the finish, losing nothing for the mishap but style points. You didn't make it to the J/24 Worlds last month, but in winning the Nationals you did beat Mike Ingham and Mark Hillman, who placed second and third in that event, respectively.Before the regatta, we knew those two guys were the ones to beat, and they were up there in all the races. Plus, on top of beating those guys, we also beat the three guys who beat us at the Midwinters in February, which is encouraging. So now we say, "This is good. This is where we stand right now."From the bio on your website, it sounds as if Poland's Communist Party was indirectly responsible for the founding of Z Sails. That's right. My brother and I graduated from the maritime academy [in 1985], where after graduation everybody gets a job on a ship. But you have to be a Communist Party member to work on the ship, and we never joined the party because we were against the system. After two and a half years without getting a job, we decided to move out of the country since it was running this way. So in this respect, [the Communist Party is] responsible that we're here. Also, in those two and half years while we were waiting we started racing more. We built two boats and we started making sails because we couldn't work in our profession. In some ways, I'm grateful to the Communist Party for that. What was your key to victory in Jacksonville?We sailed well in the strong breeze, and we had good speed. But you know what? The key was that the last day there were three races-it was like a whole new regatta. Going into the last day, there were five or six different guys who could win, so that kind of took the pressure off. The key was we never felt pressure. We never got nervous. We never did anything crazy to step ourselves out of the race. We sailed conservatively, not wanting to be over early, that was the most important thing. We tried to just stay out of trouble and use our boatspeed. I've never seen our team that calm and quiet before. Not ever. What is the most memorable move you pulled in the regatta?In our last regatta before this, we were twice Z-flagged. So for this regatta we were extremely conservative, almost never starting in the front row. Before the last race we had an 18-point lead, so we said let's just not be over early. We decided to start late at the committee boat, then go. What happened? Everybody started away from the committee boat so we won the start at the boat!When you moved to the United States, what caused you to choose J/24s?We had been sailing Quarter-Tonners, which are 25-feet-long. We wanted something similar to the Quarter-Tonner but also very competitive. Maybe two weeks after we arrived we sailed in our first J/24 regatta.