John Schellenbach, a Tartan 10 skipper and longtime Chicago NOOD competitor had enough of his Windy City winter, never mind having survived a brutal polar vortex. He and about 20 other Chicago area sailors were itching to get south and get some sailboat racing in. They’d take anything, he says, and their search ultimately led the to a for-charter Beneteau 345 named Lunaly.

Schellenbach has no idea what shape it’s in, what makes it goes fast, or whether it’s fast at all. All he knows is he’s skippering a ship of hometown fools in the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta St. Petersburg Regatta’s five-boat PHRF 3 division. “I’ll be honest. We’re coming down for the warmth,” Schellenbach says. “I don’t know anything about the boat, and in fact, I’ve never raced PHRF before.”

Thursday will be the team’s first practice in the boat, if all goes to plan, and then it’s right into the racing for the weekend, which early forecasts promise to be both windy and light, and possibly somewhere in between.

PHRF 3 is one of the regatta’s smaller fleets, but the total PHRF assemblage will feature an eclectic mix of modern and classic designs in PHRF 2 and PHRF 1 as well. With full attendance, PHRF will be the St. Petersburg NOOD’s busiest circle. The timers and scorers will certainly have their work cut out for them.

Mike Kayusa’s perennial PHRF 1 winner, the Farr 30, Raven, is absent from the entry list, opening the door for 2018’s runner up, Warrior, the Tripp 38 helmed by local PHRF stalwart Grant Dumas. He’s typically in the hunt, but there’s a tinge of uncertainty in his prediction: “As our local group evolves and boats come and go, things change,” Dumas says. “There are a few boats that are on the rise, and some with their game on, this year. While we’re usually strong, it’s been a learning year so far. We’ve had a couple of setbacks, and I will fess up to having some mental lapses, like not leaving the dock on time and missing starting sequences.”

Dumas is also without his long-term tactician, which is critical on a complicated boat like Warrior. “When there’s a strong personality in the tactical role, things tend to go well, when there’s a weakness in that role, there’s a lot of second guessing throughout the boat.”

There is the potential for chaos, he says, but when there is respect, “there is a calmness.”

To hopefully bring organization to the 12-man dance required during maneuvers, he’s recruited snowbird John Osborne, of Canada, an Olympic Tornado gold medalist from Montreal (1976) who sailed for England. “He was in town asking around and looking for a boat to sail on,” Dumas says. “We had a good time, he’s a super nice guy and has a low-key method about him.” Between Osborne, and friends flying in from out of town, Dumas hopes he can be pulled from him slump and regain Warrior’s winning form. “It will be nice to get a fresh perspective on stuff,” he says, “to have a new set of eyes.”

Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta
The S2 7.9 consists primarily of boats traveling from out of state. The racing is always close, which is what attracts newcomers to the classic class.Paul Todd/Outside Images

Another notable absence on the St. Petersburg NOOD scratch sheet is that of Al Minella’s J/111 Albondigas, which won five of seven races to snatch fleet honors in 2018. Opportunity is knocking for newcomer Ian Hill, from the Chesapeake Bay, whose team on Sitella had a stellar performance in the fleet at its midwinters in January. For the past few years, Hill has been successfully campaigning a much larger and more complex X-Yachts Xp44 in PHRF regattas along the East Coast, and is finding the lighter J/111 far easier to get around the course.

Finishing second at midwinters — in his first ever one-design regatta with the 111 — is a testament to Sitella’s crew’s ability to switch platforms. His crew list is half of what it used to be, he says, and his core crew stepped up to be part of the program. Conditions were perfect, mid-range, which helped, but he has no illusions of grandeur. “We had the most bullets, but we also had the most last places,” he says. “We have a lot to learn on the boat, but there is a lot of information out there, so we were able to get up to speed quickly.”

Also warming up at January’s J/Fest in St. Petersburg were the J/88s, including Andy and Sarah Graff’s Exile, from Chicago, who return to Tampa Bay for the NOOD this weekend to improve on their fifth-place midwinter finish. “The fleet was really tight and we were only was 8 points out of second,” Andy says. “We sailed well, but we made a lot of mistakes downwind.”

A torn spinnaker and mis-timing of their sets are problems Graff says they can rectify easily. That, and not being over early.

Warrior sails the NOOD
Warrior sails the NOOD
Warrior emerged as the top finisher in its PHRF 1 division and overall winner at the 2015 St. Pete NOOD Regatta, one in a string of many top finishes over the years.PAUL TODD/OUTSIDEIMAGES.COM

If Graff were to name a few of his competitors to keep tabs on, he says it would certainly be Mike Bruno’s Wings, second overall at the NOOD in 2018. “He’s shown to be one of the few boats that can come back well after being behind,” Graff says, “and that’s something we need to be good at, too.”

While the A Class Catamarans will be out in force, both traditional and foiling, and combine to make it the regatta’s largest one-design class in advance of their world championships in 2020, there continues to be strong turnouts in the St. Petersburg NOOD’s classic plastics like the traveling S27.9s and Lightnings, the later of which kicks off its winter circuit in Miami soon after the NOOD. Arriving among the Lightning caravan will be familiar faces, such as Ched Proctor, Tom Allen, Steven Davis, and Betsy Alison.

Betsy Alison? Five-time Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year and coach to Paralympic greats? Yes. That’s right. Alison is finally ditching her coaching RIB and jumping back into the boat in which she honed her skills as a teenager in New Jersey. “I’m back…in a boat,” Alison says. “It’s exciting.”

Alison, of Newport, Rhode Island, was eager to rejoin the Lightning fleet in 2018, but ankle surgery dashed those hopes. The St. Petersburg NOOD will be first time she’s raced one in years. She’ll be driving, with her friend and crew, Will Jeffers, bringing her back up to speed. “I’m lucky that Will loves to crew and he’s so good at it,” Alison says. “I think it will be fairly seamless, but who knows? It’s been a couple of years, so it may not be pretty, but it will be nice to get out of the cold and reconnect with friends I sailed with a long time ago.”

Racing for at the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta in St. Petersburg kicks off on Friday, February 15th and continues through the weekend, with DragonForce remote control sailboat racing scheduled on Saturday night at the St. Petersburg YC’s Tiki Bar Pool.

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