“Challenging, puffy conditions” is how J/111 skipper Peter Wagner described conditions on the second day of the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta Annapolis. “We had to keep our eyes out of the boat and change gears frequently, but it was really good racing.”
With three races in winds that started near 20 knots and faded and shifted through the day, Wagner and his crew on Skeleton Key, emerged as the top boat in the seven-boat J/111 fleet, winning the first two races and finishing fourth in the third. The outcome, he says, was better than he expected having not raced the boat since August 2019.
“It’s been a long time,” Wagner says. “We got out to do some boathandling work in San Francisco before we brought the boat here, but no racing, it was just putting ourselves through our paces and making sure the boat was still functional.”
For the day’s first two races, Wagner says, they were able to get off the starting line clean and control their own race, sailing the course as efficiently as possible. “That was pretty important because things were changing quickly and we had to be able to react to the changes as they happened. In the third race, we ended up on the wrong side of one windshift and the result showed, but that will happen sometimes. In that race, you had to be on the right [side of the course]. We got stuck a little too far left and couldn’t quite find a shift to come back. We almost did, but our friends on [Rob Ruhlman’s] Spaceman Spiff faceplanted us at a critical moment, bouncing us back left and sealing our doom. That was a good move by them.”
Wagner says his team did a great job settling into their roles after a long absence and their boathandling and speedwork were as good as could be expected. For tomorrow, the third and final day of racing, Wagner’s goal is to continue sailing well and not worry about the rest of the fleet, which are not far behind on the scoreboard. “It’s about incremental improvements,” he says, “and for me, I guess the one area to improve getting back in sync with my mainsail trimmer, so we’ll continue to focus on that.”
While Wagner and the regatta’s 10 other classes were doing laps around buoys on three individual racecourses, the North Sails Doublehanded Distance Race fleet—nine boats with two-person crews—were laying tracks around Chesapeake Bay in one fast and physical test of teamwork. Race winners Mike Beasely and Chris Coleman, in their lightweight 26-footer, had their hands full, but made quick work of the 20-mile course.
“We knew we had to make our gains downwind so we pushed pretty hard,” Beasley says. “We had two jibes into the bottom mark and there was a bit of indecision on my part on what sails to use on the reach down the Eastern Shore, but we eventually got it all sorted and played the windshifts aggressively on the beat back toward Thomas Point Light. We knew the 40-footers were coming at us pretty hard but were able to get the right sail combination up for the reach. Full credit to Chris, my bowman.”
Beasely had never raced the boat doublehanded in strong breeze—he normally races with five or six crew—so the experience was useful for future shorthanded races he plans to do. It was a day of learning, he says. “We had some systems sorted out,” he says, “but this is a new level of sailing the boat. Today, it was about the old saying—to finish first, first we have to finish—so that was the primary goal.”
The North Sails Doublehanded Distance Race course started with a downwind leg that required carefully orchestrated jibes, and then on the next leg Beasely “put up every sail that we own.” They started with only a furling jib set on the end of the sprit, which Beasley says wasn’t enough sail area, so they put up the bigger spinnaker.
“We had a bit on at times, and I’m sure everyone did as well, but it was fun,” Beasley says.
The most challenging part of the day? The two jibes: “I’ve got the tiller between my legs and Chris is on the spinnaker sheets. We basically pre-set the main with the traveler in the middle. With this boat we have to put the runners on, so we don’t pull the sheet on until the runners are made. The spinnaker is just flagging for a portion of the jibe, but once the runners are made and the main is across, we can get back to planing.”
There was plenty of planing in the early races of the morning for the regatta’s J/70 sailors, using the event as warm up for their upcoming North American Championship, and these conditions suited the day’s overall leader, Travis Odenbach and his crew on Honeybadger. Odenbach and crew won the first two races, finished fourth in the next and now sit atop the standings with a 2-point lead.
“The course today was right favored, but then left toward the top of the beat,” Odenbach says. “We said we had to get on port as soon as possible. In the first race, we had a terrible start, ducked a few boats right away and popped out. No one tacked on us so we were pretty much clear up the rest of the course.”
That was kind of the story for the second race as well; but this time we actually got a good start and were able to tack 3 minutes after the start on the port. Those two first races were kind of easier for us because it was windy enough we could just plane. Toward the end of the second race it started to be more about switching between modes. We were leading the third race, but at the bottom of the course it got light and we got passed by three boats that did a great job getting downwind. It got tricky in the end.”
Odenbach and his team— Orrin Star, Ian Coleman, Andy Horton—have raced plenty this winter in Miami, but the waters off Annapolis are far trickier. Odenbach says that played a factor in his starts today. “It was me getting used to starting in current again. I struggle with that sometime, being a lake sailor, and that’s why the first start was not great, the second was OK and the third was good, so I guess I got used to it.”
With racing cancelled on Friday because of strong winds, the three-day regatta has been compressed into two race-packed days, so the regatta’s race committee were keen to get maximum races today across all circles. Races will start early again on Sunday, after which one overall winner will be selected to compete in the Helly Hansen NOOD Caribbean Championship in October.