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The Magic Dragon

Andrew and Linda Weiss have had a long list of boats named Christopher Dragon, and the newest is the Italia 11.98, ready for a full season of ORC racing.

Andrew Weiss and his team
Andrew Weiss and his team on Christopher Dragon make the most of the early morning light winds at the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series St. Petersburg. Paul Todd/Outside Images

They tried their best with the Ker 40 for a while, but getting nowhere closer to the podium, they started looking elsewhere. The action was in ORC, so that’s they looked, and their search led them to Italia’s curvy ORC slayers. What fit the bill best was the 39-foot 11.98—just under their 40-foot limit.

Andrew and Linda Weiss have always enjoyed the variety of their sailing lives. The keen husband-wife team from Hartsville, South Carolina, have campaigned a slew of boats under the Christopher Dragon banner—a J/122, a Sydney 43, and most recently, a tricked-out Ker 40 that was fun to sail but a bit of a one-trick IRC pony. And IRC ponies are unicorns in the U.S these days.

Before buying the boat, however, their longtime sailmaker, Pat Considine, head sail designer at UK Sailmakers, jokingly asked: “Do you really want to go this slow?”

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Slow is relative of course and when Christopher Dragon rolled into Key West earlier this year with a win in the Key West to Lauderdale Race—less than a week after coming off a SevenStar ship from Italy—none of the crew were necessarily complaining. Except for maybe the foredeck team more used to Ker’s asymmetric spinnakers. They finished six hours ahead of their routing, so, not too bad for the boat’s first competitive showing.

“It is a simpler boat [than the Ker 40],” Weiss says. “It’s a lot like the J/122. It’s not super-fast, but it’s also not that hard to get going. After the Key West Race, everyone was surprised how well the deck layout worked and how well it sails.”

With a win in the Lauderdale Race, Weiss’s boat captain Ed Bahen, had himself a quite a worklist to get the boat out of its offshore clothing and into buoy racing dress for the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series in St. Petersburg a month later. There’s plenty to do to optimize it for a summer full of ORC racing in the Northeast.

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The Weiss family maintains a deep and experienced sailing bench—friends and amateurs, regulars from more than 25 years of racing different big boats. As big-time players in the hotel and hospitality business, they also don’t have time nor a desire to fight and chase a handicap rule. “We wanted to get a boat that we’re not going to be complaining about the rating and have fun with it,” Weiss says. And he expects the Italia should give them just that. So far, so good. “Plus, Linda wasn’t happy that the old boat didn’t have a head.”

Weiss had done his research before committing to the Italia, built in Italy by Italia Yachts. “I could see that ORC was what was growing in the US and I thought that ORC is a lot further ahead in Europe, so I started looking at results for the last three years.”

The Italias, he says, always seemed to be in the top 10. The boat he really wanted was the JPK 1180 Sunrise [Rolex Fastnet Race Winner], which is “the best IRC boat in the world in the 40-foot range.” But ORC is now a thing in the States, so “the best ORC boat in the world is probably the Italia.”

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Rather than wait a year or more, he found a used one in Italy and purchased it sight unseen. It came fully loaded. “The first owner bought every cruising and every racing option possible: swim platform, extra anchor sprit, the extra seat in the cockpit,” he says. From the day it arrived in Fort Lauderdale, Behan has had his hands full managing the boat’s weight-loss program.

They’ve also ramped up the boat’s horsepower. Early discussions with the boat’s designer Matteo Polli in which they compared scratch sheets from U.S. regattas to those in Europe. “The boat is meant to be just at the top of Class C in Europe,” Weiss says. “So, I asked what he would do to optimize the boat for rating speed.”

The solution, of course, was bigger spinnakers and a bigger main. The old mainsail was about a foot-and-half short of the end of the boom, and had little to no roach. “It was slowed down to be at the top of the class before,” Weiss says, “so now it will rate a little bit faster, but we’re bringing it back to where it should be.”

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All the symmetric spinnaker gear that came with the boat and came in handy in the Key West Race, is coming off as well, which you can be sure is good news to Christopher Dragon’s bow team in St. Pete, keen to simplify their lives and get around the corners quicker.

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