Courageous owners Ray Douglas and Kris Maybach jumped the gun in the opening race of the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta Chicago series, drawing an over-early penalty and forcing them to re-start behind the rest of their eight-boat J/109 fleet. They recovered quick enough to catch the fleet right before the end of the race. “Six or seven boats converged right at the finish line,” says Courageous’s spinnaker trimmer Aldo Caronia. “It was so close that the race committee declared a first-place tie between us and Slapshot II (a J/109 owned and driven by Scott Sims).
“From dead last at the start of the race to finishing with a split-first place—it’s a big win for our team,” Caronia says.
Courageous is currently in second place overall behind Smee Again, owned by George Miz, Peter Dreher and David Neenan, of Chicago. “Smee Again is definitely fast and very strong,” says Caronia, “But everything is up for grabs and it’s going to be a nice fight for tomorrow.”
Nearly 150 competitors enjoyed the first of three days of the Chicago NOOD, which is taking place across four racing circles set within sight of the Chicago skyline. Racing will continue throughout the weekend with winds expected to be light and challenging for the sailors.
According to Richard Stearns, who is leading the J/105 fleet on Glider with a first- and second-place finish, even though conditions were lighter than he prefers, he was excited to be sailing and racing again with friends.
“I’ve sailed with everyone on board before, but it’s the first time they’ve all sailed together. We have a great mix on board,” says Stearns. “Today the breeze wasn’t that shifty; just suddenly you had some wind, or you didn’t. It’s wonderful to get back on the water with friends.”
For a team that hasn’t raced in two years, it only took a couple of practice jibes on the way out to the racecourse for the Beneteau 40.7 La Tempete to fall right back into step according to owner/driver Thomas Weber. “Our crew has been together for so long, everybody just knows what to do,” says Weber.
Weber, a previous overall Chicago NOOD winner, says the Chicago fleet of Beneteau 40.7s is more than a fleet, it’s a sailing family both literally and figuratively. “We’ve all been together for so many years, it’s like a family of sailors. Many of us have family members on board like me.”
La Tempete is leading the seven-boat fleet with a third, first and second today, and Weber says their racing strategy is usually more about sailing in clear air than playing the wind shifts. “But we learned in the first race about the persistent right shift, and then played the right side the rest of the day.”
In the J/88 fleet, the top-four boats are only separated by 3 points, with Dave Tufts and Mike Wilde’s Gaucho leading. The team, from Rochester, New York, posted two first places and a fifth place today.
Wilde attributes much of their performance to great boatspeed. “We had three solid starts today and worked the slow but persistent right shift in the first race,” Wilde says. “In the second race, we felt like there was more pressure on the left and split from the fleet on the first leg, but it just didn’t pay off and we ended in fifth. It was nice to come back and finish the last race with a win.”
In recent years, the J/88 fleet has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity spurred by former dinghy sailors, especially here in Chicago where at least three younger sailors now own J/88s. “Five years ago we were struggling to even have a J/88 fleet at the NOOD,” says Andy Graff, the Chicago J/88 fleet captain and owner/driver of the second-place boat Exile. “Now we are one of the most competitive fleets.”
Wilde compares the J/88 to an oversized dinghy, saying, “It’s a blast to sail. A high-performance sportboat, but it’s still dinghy-like enough where you need to roll tack and jibe, and you don’t need to have professionals on board to do well.”
Racing continues tomorrow morning and continues through Sunday, when an overall winner will be decided and advance to the NOOD’s season championship in the British Virgin Islands in October.