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A Class Legend Wins His Caribbean Championship Berth

Three days of races in St. Pete continued a winning streak for the regatta and produced an overall champion with a winning streak of his own.

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The ace of the go-fast singlehanded catamaran class won his Classic Division and gets an invite to the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series championship in the British Virgin Islands.

Ben Hall
A Class fleet champion Ben Hall, cruising to a win and a berth at the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series Caribbean Championship Paul Todd/Outside Images

Final Results

Singlehanded A-Class Catamaran sailor Ben Hall will have his hands full in the British Virgin Islands this fall once he recruits fellow A-cat skippers to help him compete in the Helly Hansen <i>Sailing World</i> Regatta Series Championship. Hall won the A-Class Catamaran Classics division in St. Petersburg, and in doing so earned the regatta’s Caribbean Challenger berth.

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The A-catters as they are called, race the highly technical and physical 18-foot multihulls. It’s a feat even impressive given many of the fleet are card-carrying members of AARP. Hall, at 76 years old, demonstrates age is but a number. 

Perhaps Hall could invite young Olympic hopeful, Ravi Parent, who won the A-Class Catamaran Foiling Division. At times, Parent nearly lapped the entire A-cat fleet he was so far ahead. Parent says he’s been working on his upwind foiling technique, which when successful provides an unmatchable advantage on the fleet. 

“Yesterday’s 10- to 12-knot breeze and flat water was perfect for me to work on upwind,” Parent says. “I could just put the bow down and let the boat go, hitting 18-19 knots of boatspeed upwind.”

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A former A-catter, St. Petersburg-local Pete Merrifield transferred over to the Weta trimaran about four months ago, in part for the 14-foot boat’s ability to be easily rigged. Merrifield won the class by a commanding 15 points.

The Hobie 33 and S2 7.9 classes also contested their respective Midwinter championships. Steven Attard’s Rhumbline captured the Hobie 33 crown, and Tom Bryant’s Matros won the S2 7.9 title. 

It’s Bryant and his crew’s 11th time racing at the St. Pete event and each year they welcome the chance to escape winter’s chill in Holland, Mich. Bryant races with his wife, Mary, son Tanner, sailmaker Perry Lewis and their friend Tracy Brand. 

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“This has been one of the best years yet,” Bryant says. “We had wonderful breeze all three days; pretty much always full on and hiking, and we didn’t have to do any light-air work. Over the series we managed to recover from two over-early starts where we finished fifth in each, so the first-place finishes saved our you- know-whats.”

Class winners who cemented victories today were the J/24 Bogus, owned by George Braddon; the J/88 Team Exile, skippered by Andy Graff; the Lightning Class’s David Starck; Melges 15’s Mike Schroff on Electric Pickle; and Chuck Ullman in the L30 class. Kevin Holmberg repeated as winner in the Level class, which combined Sonars and J/22s.

The J/70 and the Lightning fleets also featured the Mixed-Plus trophy divisions that requires teams to be at least 50-percent female. The Lightning class had three of 17 teams qualify, with Debbie Probst’s Infinity winning the new trophy.

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J/70s make their way to the finish at the Helly Hansen Sailing World St. Petersburg Regatta Paul Todd/Outside Images

Seventeen of 31 J/70 entries qualified, and the Power Play team skippered by Beccy Anderson, of San Diego, not only won the Mixed-plus division, but the class overall. J/70 owner Peter Cunningham generously provided his boat for Anderson, Stephanie Roble, Hannah Lee Noll, Beth Whitener and Willem van Waay to race.

“Our team came together from all different sailing backgrounds so we initially focused on communication and making sure everyone knew their job on the boat,” Roble says. “We improved with every race, and had a great time in the process.”

Racing in the J/70 fleet this weekend was a fun change of pace for Roble and her Tokyo Olympics 49er FX teammate Maggie Shea. Shea raced on board another J/70 in the Mixed-Plus division.

“Maggie and I started as pro sailors and came together with the Olympics,” says Roble. “It’s a goal for us to help promote and encourage women sailors, whether professional or the weekend racer. It’s an important mission that we are passionate to help champion.” 

Selects from the third and final day of the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta in St. Petersburg, Florida. Paul Todd/Outside Images

The Helly Hansen Junior J/70 team, skippered by Ethan Danielson, won the all-amateur Corinthian division, and finished seventh overall in the competitive fleet. 

Steven Boho and his Midwest-based Melges 24 team handily won the seven-boat Melges 24 division. “We came two days early and did a lot of practice. This weekend we had some real opportunities to put into racing all that we’ve been practicing with transitions.” 

Two ORC fleets encompassed 21 larger keelboats spread across two divisions, and the use of the handicap rule produced close racing in both ORC A and ORC B. The J/111 Fireball, campaigned by Bill and Jackie Baxter won six of seven races, however, the moderate winds suited their well-sailed boat. Peacemaker, a Nelson Marek 30 owned by Jeff Sampson, won four races to top the Express 27, Eagle One, sailed by Timothy LaRiviere and his crew. 

The next stop on the national regatta series is in San Diego, March 25 to 27. 

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