J.R. Maxwell and the crew of the Annapolis-based J/22 Scooby were happy with their results after the windy opening day of the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta Annapolis—consistency being the key in the highly tightly competitive 15-boat fleet. And after winning today’s first two races, they were well on their way to winning the regatta. Until the final race. With an over-early start, they were recalled to the line, restarted and looked up the course to see the work ahead.
“We had to grind back from being second-to-last and finished fifth in that race,” Maxwell says. “Today was all about the puffy conditions so you had to stay in the puffs and that wasn’t always intuitive of where that was going to happen. We figured that over time.”
Like most sailors Maxwell and his team have had limited time sailing over the duration of the pandemic, but were happy to back on the water and racing again together.
“We’re super happy with the win this year,” Maxwell says. “We’ve been sailing this regatta for the better part of a decade and we were ready to get this one this time. We had a regatta last weekend that we won so we were feeling good coming into this weekend.”
With Maxwell on Scooby was crew Jim Schmicker and Matt Spencer (with Bryan Pryor sailing on Saturday only) and as winner of the J/22 class they were also selected as the overall winner, earning a berth to compete in the Helly Hansen Caribbean NOOD Championship in October.
The J/35s are one of the few legacy classes of the Annapolis NOOD, which has been hosted for more than 30 years by the Annapolis YC—with race committee support by Eastport YC and the Severn Sailing Association—and while the J/35s were smaller in numbers, the battle of the top of the fleet was a big one, with Roger Lant’s Abientot winning the tiebreaker over the perennial champions on James Sagerholm’s Aunt Jean.
They are very, very fast upwind so if you let them get away it’s a tough battle after that, so we worked on a strategy to deal with them on the starting line. We carried out our plan and it went well.”
What was that plan?
“The boat that won the start won the race,” Lant says. “They were looking for space on the starting line and we were looking to engage, so yesterday we engaged them fairly hard.”
But after Aunt Jean won the day’s first two races, Lant had only option: to win the final race.
“We knew we had to control him at the start, but we also had to win the start, get ahead and get clear. They are such a fast boat upwind, especially in conditions where the racecourse is even like it was today.”
But still, to win also requires good crew work under pressure.
“As skipper, I’m the most fortunate skipper on the course,” Lant says. “I have a core crew that has been sailing together for three year and the skills keep building and today we had some of the most fabulous crew work I’ve ever seen on the boat. Exceptional.”
Conor Hayes and Jeff Kirchhoff’s J/80 More Gostosa, also contributed their win to the flawless crew work of their team, which has had limited sailing over the past years. More than once, says Hayes, it helped them get back places that ultimately impacted the final outcome—they won by a single point.
“The wind was pretty spotty so it was about finding the pressure and staying in it on the runs,” Hayes says. “It was surprising the current w
as flooding all day and that was a big factor.”
After the winning the second to last race of the day, Hayes knew the points were extremely close between his team and runner-up Daniel Wittig’s Turbo Sloth, but he had no idea how close. All he could do for the last race was keep Turbo Sloth in his wake. That didn’t happen, and it almost went worse.
“We had a t
ough start in that last race,” Hayes says. “We wanted to start at the pin but got shut out. We were able to tack out immediately onto port and were in phase [with the windshifts] and from there it was a matter of just staying in more wind. It helps to have boatspeed and good crew to be able to get out of bad situations like that.”
Terry Hutchinson, skipper of the winning J/70, had a similar starting experience in the first race of the day and he too almost lost the regatta. They were buried in the start and immediately found an escape route.
“We didn’t trust the Velocitek [a GPS-based starting device],” Hutchinson says. “We were poked [close to the line] and I didn’t pull the trigger. The boat on our leebow was about a boatlength ahead of us at the start, unfortunately. It was a rookie mistake. When we set up at 40 seconds we were in a good spot, but I felt exposed.”
With the focus of his crew, Scott Nixon, Dan Morris, Gil Hackel and Jennifer Wulf, they clawed their way back to an eight-place finish in the 40-boat fleet—no small feat—which Hutchinson says ultimately won the regatta for them. Although, they did win the next race and finished second in the last to secure the win by 7 points over John Heaton’s Emperia.
“Yesterday was a lot of fun because it was breezy,” Hutchinson says. “We weren’t fast in the first race and then when it lightened up, our limited time in the boat didn’t bite us as hard and we were more competitive.
“We were much better today and it’s amazing how hard this racecourse is in Annapolis. The course location was hard because the current was good on the right, but there was pressure [more wind] and shift on the left so you had to balance the two. You did not want to be in the middle. In the first race the leader came out of the right, and in the second, the leader came out of the left. Each leg was unique to itself, which kept us on our toes.”
With as many six races in some of the regatta’s 11 classes, the weather cooperated throughout the weekend, giving all sailors experience they were craving after a year of COVID lockdowns. With the completion of races in Annapolis, the NOOD Regatta has wrapped up its third regatta of the national series. The next stop is Chicago in June and Marblehead in July. The Caribbean NOOD Championship completes the series in October.