When I spoke with the crew of the J/105 Vytis on Saturday night, the team stood in fifth place, 8 points out of first. In the blare of the regatta tent, downing Mount Gays and chewing on a dinner roll, crewmember Keith Krause made a hopeful declaration. “We’re still in the hunt,” he said. “That’s all that matters.”
I nodded my head and wished him luck, but I must admit I never expected Vytis to post two bullets on Sunday and vault to the top of the standings, unseating fellow Chicago boat and perennial rival, Messy Jessy, earning first place overall at the 2009 Sperry-Top Sider Chicago NOOD, and winning a trip to the British Virgin Islands to compete in the NOOD Championships this November.
Michael Lovett| |**Moments after winning first place overall at the 2009 Sperry Top-Sider Chicago NOOD, the crew of the J/105 Vytis could barely contain their excitement. From left to right: Steven Druzbicki, Andrew Soltys, Tomas Petkus, Michael Collins, and Keith Krause. **| “This is huge for us,” says owner Tomas Petkus. “This is a regatta we’ve always aspired to win, and we come to the NOOD every year.”
By every year, he means every year for the past 18. The 2009 event was Petkus’ 15th in the J/105 class. And although the team’s comeback victory took me by surprise, it shouldn’t have. These veteran racers– Petkus (skipper), Krause (main trimmer), Steven Druzbicki (tactics), Andrew Soltys (jib trimmer), and Michael Collins (bow)– have completed more than 100 Chicago to Mackinac races among them, and when they needed to perform on Sunday, they did.
“We had to win both races to win the division,” says Krause. “Today we were in phase with every lift, every knock, every change in condition.”
Despite the need to pick up points, the team sailed fairly conservatively. “Our strategy was to keep our eyes on the boats ahead of us in the standings,” says Collins. “We planned stick with them and try to get ahead when the opportunity arose.”
As the racing played out, however, Vytis didn’t need to play a lot a catch up– the boat led at every mark, thanks to excellent starts and spot-on tactics courtesy of Druzbicki. “He’s the supercomputer,” says Soltys. “We input the information into the supercomputer and he outputs what we need to do.”
The supercomputer may work wonders, but it’s also incredibly humble. Druzbicki was quick to point out that his tactical decisions are only as good as the boathandling and boatspeed behind them. “The key was we were able to sail higher and faster than the other boats,” he says. “That way, we controlled our own destiny.”
In the highly competitive J/105 fleet, in which seven boats had a legitimate shot a victory on Sunday morning, holding a lead was no simple task. “With all the great local sailors and the boats that come in from all over the country, who are you going to cover?” says Petkus. “The thing about this regatta was the conditions were very trying. We were constantly changing gears. And in this fleet, if you fail to adjust your jib car before the other boat does, that could be the difference between first and fifth place.”
The Vytis guys sail their boat like a professional crew, but they’d never let you mistake them for such. “We’re a family boat,” says Petkus, “For us, it’s more important to have fun with our family and friends than to win.”
Vytis is a “family” boat, but only Petkus and Krause are related. It’s also a Lithuanian boat, though only Petkus and Krause speak Lithuanian. Don’t let these facts fool you– these friends are as close as family, and they’re proud of their Lithuanian heritage (Petkus’ parents emigrated to the United States in 1953 after Stalin overran Lithuania).
On the racecourse, they sometimes use Lithuanian to confuse their competition, lobbing around Lithuanian words while pointing at parts of other boats. “We’ll be pointing up at the other guy’s rig, yelling the Lithuanian words for lunch, dinner, eat, hungry, whatever,” says Krause.
The three non-Lithuanian crewmembers are happy to play along. “The rest of us have no idea what’s going on,” says Soltys. “It’s great.”
A few years back, when organizers of the Chicago-Mac were considering implementing a new weight limit for the J/105 class that would break up the Vytis crew, Petkus responded that he would sooner race PHRF than give the flick to one of his family members. The solidarity of the team is so great, competitors have a running joke that Petkus must have a 401K plan in place for his crew.
“I’ve yet to see the returns from my plan,” says Soltys.
I beg to differ, Mr. Soltys. Your loyalty to Vytis just earned you a trip to the Caribbean.
Overall Winner Crowned
Tom Petkus and the crew of the J/105 Vytis are the overall champions of the 2009 Sperry Top-Sider Chicago NOOD. Stay tuned for an interview with the winning team; for final results, click here.
Just got off the water. The wind was light, but steady enough to get off a handful of races for each fleet. The boats are headed in now, and we’ll have final results and an overall winner soon. In the meantime, check out these photos from the weekend.
On the Racecourse and in the Regatta Tent, To Each His Own
Sailboat racing means different things to different people. Some come to the Sperry-Top Sider Chicago NOOD for the chance at victory, others come just for a shot at improving their scoreline, if only by a place or two. Some appreciate the camaraderie, the comfort of being part of a team. Some come for the Mt. Gay hats. For Joe Triggs, on a day when variable winds caused lengthy postponements in between races, it was all about naptime.
Tim Wilkes| |With only nine points separating the top six boats in the J/105 class, it’s still anybody’s game. For more photos, click here| “Today, my most memorable moment was the nap that I took down below for the four hours in between races,” says Triggs, who is crewing on Dan Griggs’ Regardless, currently in third place in the 12-boat PHRF 3 division. “If you don’t move, it’s not too hot. You can settle in pretty nicely.”
In terms of actual racing, Triggs points to the first beat of today’s first race as a high point. “We saw pressure on the right and wanted to go that way, but we had a lousy start,” says Triggs, who has been racing with the Regardless program for the past three summers while he attends medical school in Chicago. “We tacked out to the right, and it paid off big. We went in to the windward mark near the top of the pack.”
Triggs’ pal Patrich Loughren, with whom he taught sailing in New Jersey a few years back, was also savoring a moment of glory on the racecourse. Loughren is crewing aboard Dave Radtke and Steve Laughlin’s Mosquito in the PHRF 2 division. “On our second downwind leg, we picked off probably five boats,” says Loughren. “We split to the opposite side of the course, sailed low and fast, and came out ahead.”
It’s these minor victories that make sailboat racing so addictive; in the Tartan Ten class, Bernie Soyz and the crew of Timothy Rathbun’s Winnebago are in the throes of a serious relapse. The team started racing T-10s in the 1990s and won a national championship before ultimately burning out on the competitiveness. “We got to the point where we were yelling at each other and forgetting to have fun,” says Soyz. “Now we’re back at it, giving it another shot, just trying to have fun, and having a grand old time.”
Winnebago trails Donald Wilson’s first-place Convergence by only four points in the the 32-boat fleet. “We’re just a bunch of old friends who came together from all over to sail the Chicago NOOD,” says Soyz. “For us to be right up there with somebody like Don Wilson, a top-notch racer who has professionals on board, we’re just happy to be in the running.”
In line for a rum drink, Soyz seemed to have rediscovered his raison d’etre. “Now I remember why I love sailing. It’s because it’s fun,” he says. “It was hot out there on the water, and we almost ran out of beer. We were down to the Milwaukee’s Best, if that tells you anything, but we made it through. Man, what a blast!”
In the J/105 class, where a mere three points separate second through sixth place, teams will do anything to gain a competitive advantage. Aboard Tomas Petkus’s fifth-place Vytis, the partly Lithuanian crew has been known to resort to subterfuge. “Sometimes just to mess with our competitors,” says Keith Krause, Petkus’ nephew, “we’ll start talking to each other in Lithuanian and pointing at the other guy’s mast.”
Between them, the five members of the Vytis team– Petkus, Krause, Steven Druzbicki, Andrew Soltys, and Michael Collins– have completed more than 100 Chicago to Mackinac races, and they’ll add five more to that number later this summer. The crew takes great pride in its (mostly) Lithuanian heritage. “See this?” says Krause, pointing to the red shield emblazoned on his and his cohorts’ shirts. “Vytis is a Lithuanian coat of arms. It means a lot to us, to celebrate our heritage and to race together. We’re not all related, but we’re a family boat.”
Vytis sits eight points out of first place, held by Dorin Candea’s Messy Jessy, and has high hopes for Sunday’s racing. “We’re still in the hunt,” says Krause. “That’s all that matters.”
For results from Day 2, click here.
I’ve just seen preliminary scores for Course B. Peter and Dan Wright’s Maggie Mae posted two bullets today and leads the Beneteau 36.7 class, while Jim McDonnell’s Spanker is leading the Beneteau 40.7 class with a scoreline of 3 -1 -1 -1. Scores for the other circles are trickling in now, and we’ll have complete results later in the day.
Light wind today has limited racing, as of about 4:00 p.m., to one race for Courses B and D, one race in progress for Course C, and one race about to start for Course A. We’ll have results as soon as they’re available…
In Stormy Weather, NOOD Comes Together
During the last deluge of a day that saw dramatic thunderstorms dampen the racing and turn the post-race party into a mad dash for shelter, I found myself standing next to the crew of Frank Giampoli’s J/120 Jahazi. “Great, we’re stuck in the merchandise tent,” said Steve Smullin, Jahazi’s skipper, looking across the stretch of rainy parking lot that stood between his team and the Mount Gay rum tent. Soon, the conversation turned to the day’s racing in the 12-boat PHRF 3 class, in which Jahazi experienced its ups and downs on the way to a 10-8 scoreline.
Though the storms postponed racing until late in the day, sailors experienced the full, wild range of Chicago weather while making their way to and from the racecourse in the morning. “The way those warm blasts were coming down and hitting the water was just crazy,” said Tom Kane, another Jahazi crewmember. “We always seem to get the strangest weather racing off Chicago.”
Michael Lovett| |Aboard the Great Lakes 70 Windancer, Rob Canis (foreground) and John “Boz” Bousfield track an approaching storm. For more photos, click here.| I took in the spectacle from the deck of the Great Lakes 70 Windancer, which, like several hulls in this 6-boat fleet, is a Bill Lee-designed Santa Cruz 70. Skipper Sam Nedeau had invited me along as a dedicated media crewmember. Lucky for me, the racing crew came up one short this morning, so I received a promotion to actual crewmember and helped– or at least tried to help– with the runners. As the storm approached from the northwest, the sky turned a pale yellow and the clouds swirled overhead in ominous fashion, sending down blasts of warm, then cold, air. The waves never built, but we saw a few microbursts on the water and heard tornado warnings over the radio. I was foolish enough to stay on deck during the hardest downpour, putting my faith in an inadequate foul-weather jacket. As my reward, I got to spend the remainder of the day squirming around in wet clothing.
When I did retreat down below on Windancer, I entered the thick of crew bonding time, where the discussion ranged from reasons why it’s never a good idea to get in an argument with one’s waitress to postulations on the secret to crewman Carl Peterson’s well-received sandwiches. With a dozen people crammed in the cabin, there was no shortage of theories.
After a postponement and a return to shore, we were able to complete one race this afternoon on the A course. It was a thrill to be a part of a 14-person team pushing a 70-foot boat around the cans. Before the race began, I was impressed with the way Sam, the helmsman and de facto crew boss, helped his team get on the same page by holding a meeting in the cockpit, where he specified jobs, outlined some of his goals for the day, and congratulated the delivery crew on getting the boat to the regatta after a transmission catastrophe delayed departure from Muskegon, Mich. Getting 14 people to show up in one place seems like a tremendous feat to me; getting them to work as one unit is nothing short of a miracle. Because the team’s practice day had turned into transmission-repair day, there was some rust to shake off in the first race, but the experienced crew didn’t take long to acclimate. When the spinnaker ripped on the first hoist, bowman Thomas Beebe had a new kite flying in less than a minute. When Sam called for a headsail change, the team had the No. 1 bagged and the No. 3 rigged in no time flat. To execute these maneuvers within the confines of a windward-leeward course takes a great deal of coordination and shared knowledge; watching it all take place gave me a new respect for the rigors of big-boat racing.
Later, standing in the merchandise tent during the evening downpour, I gained a newfound respect for Dorothy Mietz, owner of the J/105 Latis. As the sole female on her crew, she tolerates a good deal of potty talk emanating from the mouths of her male counterparts Craig Griffith, Paul Lotz, Andy Hopkins, and Brian Kuptz. “I love sailing with this group and just getting to be one of the guys,” said Mietz. “Plus, it helps me understand the things my 13-year-old nieces are saying.” Somehow, the scatalogical humor volleyed about during the postponement must have brought this team together– Latis finished second in today’s only race. Dorin Candea’s Messy Jessy finished first.
Elsewhere around the regatta’s 17 divisions, Don Wilson’s Convergence leads the 32-boat Tartan Ten class, the event’s largest, and Jim Bradley’s Surprise won both races in the J/109 class. For Day 1 results, click here.
www.gl36.com| |The Great Lakes 36 class comprises Mumm 36s (above) and Nelson/Marek 36s, boats that require a large, well-trained crew to race competitively.| Gearing Up for the Great Lakes
I’ll be covering the Sperry Top-Sider Chicago NOOD, which takes place June 19 to 21. To get some story ideas, I emailed the class coordinators for the 16 fleets competing in the regatta.
I heard from Sam Nedeau, skipper of the Great Lakes 70 Windancer. He invited me to join his crew for a day’s racing and a keg party afterwards. Now that’s the kind of story idea I love to hear!
Bill Fanizzo suggested I keep an eye on the Great Lakes 36 class, which is a new class made up of Mumm 36s and Nelson/Marek 36s. He even sent me a copy of the latest GL 36 newsletter, which encourages racers to give these technically demanding boats a try. Here’s an excerpt:
“Why, would I want a boat like this?” The reason is because it is very challenging. It will take everything you have to sail it up to its potential. It will take all you have to pull together a crew of good sailors, not pros, to get everything out of it. But if you can do that, you will get a reward out of sailing not available in the modern thinking about raceboats– “easy to sail,” “minimal crew,” “simple sail handling.” This boat will teach you more about sailing in one summer than possible on most other boats.
To learn more about the class, go to www.gl36.com