ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.-The wind was expected to go right, but the left paid. The breeze was rarely above 8 knots and often at zero. Sounds like a day when you had to roll the dice and take your chances?
Not so, said Mike Hoey, the tactician on Paul Hulsey’s Melges 24 Hoodlum, which won the only race for its class on the first day of the 2008 Sperry Top-Sider St. Petersburg NOOD Regatta.
“We got out at 7:30 a.m. and that was the key,” he said. “Even though we knew the wind was forecast to go right, every one of the puffs was from the left and it was a lift (on port tack).”
When the race started, a majority of the 49-boat fleet, the largest at the regatta, crossed the line near the boat end and tacked toward the right side. Hoey, Hulsey, and the crew of Hoodlum made a beeline for the left corner and while they were often sailing a knock to get there, the added pressure made all the difference in the world.
“We were fourth-fifths of the way up the course before we took our crew off the rail,” Hoey said, noting that most crews were sitting in the boat or to leeward for much of the leg.
They rounded second, just behind the lead boat, and headed downwind, trying to stay in what little pressure remained on Tampa Bay. With the finish line in sight, and Hoodlum in the lead, the wind completely died. Spinnakers hung limp, crews dipped their toes in the water off the leeward rail. The lead wasn’t large, in distance, but with everyone moving so slowly, it was plenty of cushion. “Three boatlengths may as well have been a mile,” said Hoey. “What we were doing was covering the guys behind. We stayed between our competition and the finish. We sailed extra distance, but we knew they couldn’t get by us. It was a fun race.”
It took Hoodlum and the rest of the top portion of the fleet 10 minutes to cover the last quarter mile to the finish, and they crossed the line with the jib up and going upwind-though the wind filled back in from the east for the bulk of the fleet. But for Hulsey, Hoey and the rest of the Detroit-based crew, the finish was worth the wait. They duplicated their performance from 2006, when they also won the first race. That year, they finished the regatta sixth. This year, they’ll be aiming a little higher.
Saturday’s forecast is light as well and Hoey said the team plans to stick to what worked for them on Friday, getting out early and doing their homework. They sailed both sides of the course before the start knew what to expect on the first beat.
Crack PRO Pat Seidenspinner tried to get a second race off for her circle, which included the Melges 32s, J/24s, J/105s, and Melges 24s, but the wind didn’t cooperate. Things went slightly better for the other two circles where the other 12 classes each got in a pair of races.
It wasn’t easy, said Sonar competitor Paul Callahan, and the wind was quite light, but it was great to go sailing. “The race committee did a great job,” he said.
Callahan, a veteran Paralympic competitor, won one race and finished second in the other. The Sonar fleet in St. Pete is a mixture of some of the world’s best Paralympic sailors and some able-bodied boats.
While both races were sailed in quite light conditions, Callahan and his team changed their rig set up during the long delay on CVS Pharmacy. “The first race, it was very light, but very choppy,” said Callahan. “We had to really power the rig up, especially on port tack. The second race was very steady breeze, so we bladed out the sails.”
Like on the Melges 24 racecourse, staying in the pressure was important. Callahan said they tried to connect the dots of pressure. “It was like dancing on lily pads,” he said.
Of the 12 classes that sailed two races, three are led by a boat that won both. Edward Dixon’s Tri Power has a 3-point advantage in the Cosair 24 class, as does Brad Boston in the 10-boat Ultimate 20 division. In the Wavelength 24 class, St. Pete sailor Christophe Woodle won both races, but Jim Kalahar was right on his tail in each one and trails Woodle by just two points.
The wind looks better for tomorrow and then a solid breeze is predicted for Sunday, when the first event in the 9-regatta Sperry Top-Sider NOOD Regatta series will come to a close.