The current was swift and swirling-the wind even more so-as Dan Kaseler and his crew short-tacked their 39-foot Sunsail charter boat through Great Thatch Cut, a narrow and notoriously fickle passage at the western end of Tortola, British Virgin Islands. They were protecting a comfortable lead, aggressively hugging the eastern shore of Little Thatch Island for current relief and tacking on the capricious windshifts fanning out from Soper’s Hole. Their nearest rivals had split, choosing instead to sail around the other side Little Thatch and beeline for St. Johns in search of better wind. It was impossible for Kaseler to cover.
Dave Reed| |From Top: Team Seattle crewmember Josh Larsen adjusts the leech line as they exit Virgin Gorda Sound in the lead of Leg 2; at the awards ceremony; and underway after the start from The Baths for Leg 1.|
Such conditions would drive most teams to redline stress levels, but the Melges 24 sailors from Port Angeles, Wash., coolly navigated their way through the Cut with ease.
“This is just like sailing in Seattle,” said Kaseler as he gingerly shifted between the wheels for a better view of his roller-furling genoa’s tell-tales.
Once clear of Tortola’s broad wind shadow, Kaseler and crew cruised to a commanding win in the final race of the 2009 Sperry Top-Sider Caribbean NOOD Championship, and in doing so pocketed the overall title. It was an impressive performance from a team that had never raced a wheel-steered boat, or a heavily laden charter boat, for that matter. Helping eek out every bit of boatspeed (no easy task) from their craft were Kaseler’s wife Jacqueline (tasked with tacking their two-year-old son), Sean Halberg, Josh Larsen, and Mike Montagne.
“That was a lot fun,” said Kaseler, a high-performance windsurfing sail designer, as he capped his team’s victory with a swim at The Indians, a popular snorkeling stop in the British Virgin Islands.
Kaseler and eight other teams had earned invitations to the Caribbean NOOD Championship by winning their individual NOOD Regattas. As a longtime sponsor of the NOOD series, Sunsail provided each competitor a Beneteau 393, allowing for as much of a one-design fleet as could be had from its bustling new charter base in Road Town, Tortola.
From their mooring at The Indians, Kaseler and his teammates then sat back, relaxed, and watched the remaining teams finish one-by-one: Rick Lyall’s Larchmont NOOD-winning squad (J/109); Geoff Atkins and his Canadian C&C 115 entourage (winners from Annapolis, or rather, “eh-Annapolis”); Ted Pinkerton, the top T-10 skipper from the Detroit NOOD; Marblehead (Sonar) winner Sam Altreuter and crew; Eric Nelson and his posse (Houston NOOD J/24 class winners); Fellow Texans and J/80 sailor Ed Dodds, representing the St. Petersburg NOOD; Dennis and Sharon Case’s J/105 entourage from San Diego; and Tomas Petkus’ J/105 ensemble from Chicago.
The results of this final leg from Jost Van Dyke to Norman Island closely mirrored the overall standings after seven races. Team Seattle had persevered in the challengin buoy-racing portion (with 2-2 finishes) on the opening day, were second again in the first leg from The Baths to Virgin Gorda Sound, where they placed third in the afternoon Laser-racing series at the Bitter End YC (won by Marblehead’s Sam Altreuter).
With a fifth for Team Seattle on the long reach leg from Gorda Sound to Guana Island, the standings compressed, but after winning Leg 3 to Jost Van Dyke, Kaseler and team were sitting pretty-and marked their arrival into Great Harbour with Jacqueline Kaseler wakeboarding (on a kiteboard) behind the boat. A win in the final leg was all Kaseler needed in order to finish off the regatta, and after a clean getaway from Jost Van Dyke, the final standings were cemented: 1. Seattle 2. Larchmont 3. Annapolis 4. Detroit 5. Marblehead 6. Houston 7. San Diego 8. St. Petersburg 9. Chicago
The awards ceremony on Norman Island was a raucous affair of rum drinks and supersized Jenga matches (a block-stacking game) where the winners collected their booty before parting ways into the night. The Spirit Award (a.k.a. “I Get It Award”)-given to the team that best embraces the laid-back element of the championship-and two teams were in the running: Team Houston, which missed two races because of a broken mainsail and somehow managed to get to the Sunsail base, have it fixed, and return in time for the final race, and Ed Dodds and his St. Pete-winning crew. When they hoisted their mainsail before the first race they thought it odd that it was a little “short” on the hoist (by six feet or so). Somehow their charter boat had come with a J/80-sized main, and they assumed everyone else would have the same, but that turned out not to be the case.
They soldiered on with what they were given, never once complained, quickly slipped into a competitive cruising mode, and savored the good life that is racing in the Caribbean. And somehow they couldn’t have been happier.
With the conclusion of the 2009 Sperry Top-Sider NOOD Series, planning is now on for 2010, including the addition of San Francisco to the series in June. Look for this space for more announcements on this event and others. And in the meantime, gather the crew and do what it takes to get your team to the Caribbean NOOD. Ask any of this year’s teams, and I guarantee they’ll tell you it’s an overall prize like no other.
2009 Caribbean NOOD Championship
Overall Results and Crews
1. Team Seattle
2. Team Larchmont
3. Team Annapolis
4. Team Detroit
5. Team Marblehead
6. Team Houston
7. Team San Diego
8. Team St. Petersburg
9. Team Chicago