Gusty Conditions Test Racers on St. Petersburg Regatta’s Opening Day
St. Petersburg, Fla., April 2, 2021 — While a late-season cold front passed over Tampa Bay for an unexpectedly chilly start for the 120 teams competing on the first day of the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta St. Petersburg, the sailors competing in the national regatta series happily bundled up to tackle the brisk breeze and soak up the sunshine. Many of the smaller boat classes delayed racing until the strong 20-knot breeze settled down in the afternoon, but the Melges 24, J/70s and J/24s, and PHRF fleets charged ahead to start on time and capitalize on what proved to be ideal racing conditions.
Eamonn Delisser and his team on the J/24 Main Squeeze started off strong with four first-place finishes. This is Delisser’s first time competing at the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta in the J/24 class (he’s sailed many NOODs on a different boat), and he pragmatically summed up today’s conditions as shifty. “The breeze would go left, but you could still get out of a right shift. It didn’t matter where you went because it [the breeze] was going to come back,” Delisser says. “While we don’t normally have the boat speed, we certainly had it today so I can’t argue.”
Tomorrow, says Delisser, will be a different day, however. “Truth be told,” he says, “as the day got lighter, our competition got faster….I was better in the heavy stuff; they were better in the lighter stuff.”
For John Bauman and his team on the Lightning, Raging Bull, boatspeed and conservative tactics paid dividends. “I would rather sail conservatively than pull a high-risk move,” Bauman says. “Given there are no throwouts for this event, I’m glad we played it the way we did because we ended the day with three second places. My crew [Fred Strammer and Monica Morgan], who are much better than me, wanted to be more aggressive, but I tried to hold them back a little bit.
“When it comes to sailing, I’m an idiot savant. Because I have such a great crew, it allows me to ignore everybody and just focus on the telltales and going fast. The more I can trust the crew and drive the boat, the better we are.”
While many of the teams lamented about the light-wind spots that peppered the racecourses in between much larger puffs, one team quickly adapted to capitalize on the changeable conditions.
Paul Perry, who’s calling tactics for Kevin Holmberg on board the Tampa-based Sonar Fawkes, says he noticed early on that every time there was a puff, there was a wind shift to the east. “We started scanning to see also where the holes [light spots] were that we could use strategically,” Perry says. “Since we had more than enough power, we would find the lulls in the course and use them to get back across the fleet.”
The strategy and execution is working, as the team leads PHRF 3 with three first-place finishes today. The duo have sailed together for two years and Perry says he and Kevin have established great communication between them. “Today we decided to sail our own race. Playing the fleet was secondary,” Perry says. “The majority of our success was keeping our heads out of the boat, sailing fast and not missing shifts. And it seemed to work out OK for us.”
For Gary Schwarting and his Obsession team, currently leading the Melges 24 fleet, today was about much more than racing sailboats, as he and fellow sailors paid tribute to their friend and fellow Melges 24 sailor, George Haynie, who passed away earlier this week.
“Many of the Davis Island [Florida] sailors gathered together on the water and organized a toast to George,” Schwarting says. “George was one of my best friends and he’s done more for the sport of sailing in this area than anyone I know. We sailed against each other and with each other for over 20 years in Melges 24s; he is already so missed.”
Racing resumes for the fleets at 10 a.m. tomorrow, with the addition of the North Sails Doublehanded Distance Race and the Cruising World Rally fleets.