Distance Racers Battle the Wind and the Clock

With the distance racers battling shifts and holes offshore, the buoy racing action continued on the second day of the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series in Chicago.

Final Results

Four minutes. For Daniel Koules’ team on the Beneteau First 40 Badge, that was difference between finishing and not finishing after navigating a patience-testing 30-mile distance race on the second day of the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series in Chicago. Earlier this morning 35 teams set off from a starting line near the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse with one hard deadline: finish by 1600. Only 13 boats managed to do so and Badge was almost another casualty to the time limit.

“We knew that when we made the turn at Montrose [the final mark of the course near Montrose Harbor] we had to get to the finish, and somehow we were able to make up some time,” Koules says. “It was a good point of sail for us and we were comfortable with what we were doing, and the crew made every effort to get us across the line.

2023 Sailing World Regatta Series – Chicago
Daniel Koules’ Beneteau First 40 Badge gets underway at the start of the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series Chicago Distance Race. Nearly five hours later, Badge would be one of a handful to finish before the time limit expired.

What exactly transpired over the nearly 30 miles, five hours, 10 sail changes and nine-mark roundings was a blur for helmsman Koules, but his navigator, Jim Gignac, plotted the course says the key to both finishing within the time limit and winning the ORC1 division was one easily identifiable point in the race. “The forecast called for the thermal to build in the afternoon, but it came early and that was where things changed. There was a battle between the thermal and the southeasterly and you had to find your way through. It was a matter of understanding where the thermal was and where it wasn’t and not going to where it was dying…you could see the light spots creeping across the course.”

At one point, Gignac says, they were making their way north under jib on port tack, and 100 yards east of them was a boat with flying a spinnaker. “We elected to just live with jib, fight through it, and wait for the shift. When it finally came, we popped the spinnaker and got away from rest of the fleet.”

Jeff and Jane Hoswell’s Nelson Marek 46 Skye was the only other boat in the 10-boat ORC1 division to finishing within the time limit, but in the ORC2 division, which sailed a shorter course, all but one completed the course on time, but even then, they were cutting it close.

2023 Sailing World Regatta Series – Chicago
Luke Wolbrink’s C&C35-3 Zella, winner of the Distance Race’s ORC2 division. Walter Cooper

“There was a huge park-up at the southern end of the course,” says Luke Wolbrink, who’s C&C35-3 Zella topped its fleet of seven. “We were stuck there for about 30 minutes trying to make any headway—1 knot at times,” Wolbrink says. “We were fortunate enough to get just enough separation from our fleet and get our kite up first.”

As the slowest boat in its fleet, a heavy-displacement classic of the 1980s, Zella not only won its fleet but won boat-for-boat, which Wolbrink says, is “miraculous.” “Our boat is terrible in those conditions, but we sail in this area lot and we knew what the wind would likely do.”

The two PHRF Distance Race classes were not so fortunate: none of the PHRF 1 or 2 entrants finished in time, but the smallest boats of PHRF 3 did all managed to finish behind Bill Bartz’s Hunter 355 Ranger. For these unfortunate teams, redemption should come on Sunday for the final day of the regatta where the wind forecast is promising fresher breezes and a much rougher sea state from the north.

2023 Sailing World Regatta Series – Chicago
The Beneteau 36.7 fleet starts its first race of the day on Saturday at the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series Walter Cooper

While the Distance Racers were battling farther out on the lake, the regatta’s one-design classes were enjoying shifty, but moderate conditions closer to shore once the sea breeze established itself later in the afternoon, allowing race committees on those circles to complete three more races to bring the series for most fleets to six races to date. Here, Gary Powell and Scott and Yvonne Rhulander’s Mojo continue to shine in the Beneteau First 40 fleet with a second and a pair of firsts to pad their lead to an impressive 8 points. Jeffrey Davis’ J/111 Shamrock went on a winning streak as well and now sits 5 points atop its three-boat fleet.

In the J/109 division, Team Northstar won two of three races to move into the overall lead by a single point over George Miz’s Smee Again.

Shawn O’Neill’s Eagle, with a four-legged crew onboard to sniff out the windshifts, padded its lead in the ORC division to 3 points with a run of seconds in the three races and in the PHRF 1 fleet, Tod Patten’s J/112e ran the table with three wins to put them solidly at the standings with one more race day to go.

2023 Sailing World Regatta Series – Chicago
Shawn and Jerry O’Neill’s Eagle goes upwind on Saturday at the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series in Chicago. Walter Cooper

Richard Witzel’s Rowdy, with tactician Carlos Robles calling the shots, remains the top J/70 with top-5 consistency in what is a fleet stacked with pro talent. Rowdy goes into the final day of racing with a 14-point lead over Fernando Perez Ontiveros’s Black Mamba, from Mexico. Bob Willis’ Rip Rullah is the top Corinthian, currently sitting seventh overall in the 24-boat fleet. William Howard and his junior sailing teammates on the Grom Squad are the top junior team, in 14th overall after six races.

The standings tightened in the 18-boat Tartan 10 fleet with Timothy Rathbun’s team on Winnebago winning back-to-back races after posting a sixth in the morning’s first race.

Brian Kaczor’s Erica is sitting on 3-point overall lead after putting up a pair of top-five finishes, setting up what will surely be a final-day battle for T10 bragging rights.

The Battle for the Beneteau 36.7 title a now a 4-point affair between helmsman Jim Clouser and his team on Joie de Vie, yesterday’s leader and Jarrett Altmin’s Soulshine, the defending champion. Clouser did himself no favors with a terrible start in the day’s first race in which he was “absolutely buried,” but they came back from the depths of the 12-boat fleet to salvage a sixth. After another bad start in the next race, they once again clawed back to finish third. At that point, frustrated with his performance, Clouser committed to winning the final race of the day. “I said we were going to win it, and I know I’m not supposed to because we’d jinx ourselves,” Clouser said. “But we able to get off the start, get right and a get a jump and do all we could to stay in front of Soulshine. They’re the team to beat and that’s not easy.”

With Sunday’s wind forecast to be a strong northerly with high seas and heavy rain, there’s a strong probability today’s results might stand, which would be fine for Clouser and Roman Plutanko who’s running away the regatta in the ILCA fleet. But for the top two teams in the J/88 and J/105s fleets, tied respectively, there’s hope for at least one race to shake out the standings without having to resort to a tie-break finale.