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Melges 20 Gold Cup: Fuzzy Italians and a Good Poker Face »

December 7, 2011

Just 2 years ago the Melges 20 was a brand new, fresh class and for the first winter series event 10 boats were in attendance, and of those 10, at least 4 of them were basically handed out to get on the starting line.  Fast forward to today as we sit on the eve the of the 2nd Melges 20 Gold Cup, there are 40 boats registered spanning 3 countries and some of the top names in sailing are here to compete on Biscayne Bay.  Growth like this does not happen in most classes, but with a formula of providing a simple boat with great racing at awesome venues, people just want to be a part of it.

There are several noticeable changes from last year’s winter circuit outside of the increase in boats.  First is the strong presence of cigarettes and fast talking fuzzy Italians in the boat yard who have come over to claim the Gold Cup title.  The Melges 20 has exploded in Italy, and there are at least 10 teams here who are enjoying the Miami sun and looking to show the American teams what sailing a Melges 20 is all about.  Secondly is the sharing of information as the tuning of the Melges 20 has seen dramatic changes over the past year.  Just like NASCAR when a driver says he has a good or bad car during the race, new tuning and set-ups have been experimented with since early this summer and the results have been dramatic with teams like Michael Kiss’ Bacio being noticeable faster, while others are left to scratch their heads and attempt to glean as much info from the quick boats as possible.

Call it getting complacent, but after having decent results last winter on M and M and feeling good about our ability to hang with the top group, I was confident we had a good handle on our rig-tune settings and it was just a matter of execution to do well in an event.  After the Nationals a few weeks ago, it did not take long to figure out we were well off the pace from the front group, and we needed to do some serious research on how to fix the problem.  The best way to try to get up to speed with your competitors is to simply ask, and the main topic of discussion was the disparity in the mast rake measurement as the top boats are raking much further aft which we were clearly not doing.

When asking around, some teams are very forthcoming with information knowing that if they give your their tuning numbers, they are still confident in their ability to execute better.  Others teams however are a bit more hesitant to reveal their settings often triggering a conversation that goes something like this over a few post race beers:

Me: “You were going pretty fast today, what are you setting your mast rake at these days?”

Fast guys: “Well, we try to keep our rake right around 30 ft, zzzzzggnnnzz inches.”

Me:  “I’m sorry, you trailed off at the end there, I didn’t catch that…”

Fast guys: “Yeah, we are running our rake at 30 ft, ahhhuhhh inches…”

Me:  “I didn’t hear that, you coughed at the end there, can you repeat it one more time?”

Fast guys: “I need to grab another beer, you need one?”

It sometimes takes a good poker face to try and understand if someone is giving you accurate information, if they are in the ballpark, or if they are totally bs’ing you.  Other than asking people is to experiment with speed testing prior to the event.  We feel we have done a good job of getting a handle on some new numbers and feel good about our speed heading into the first day of racing on Thursday.  Of course, you never really know until the starting gun goes off.

4 days of racing are scheduled.  Crew lists and up to date results here.



Open and Shut »

December 5, 2011

Having the opportunity to battle it out in conditions that we experienced over the past 3 days is what makes people forget about all the regattas of no wind, rain, fog, cold or any undesirable conditions.  It seemed like each morning as we made our way to the racecourse, the breeze was fresher than the day before and the waves bigger, triggering a private conversation of, “this is going to be fun….I hope this goes well….Is my lifejacket zipped….Are there great whites in Ft. Lauderdale…is this what a 20ft wave looks like…lets get racing.”  The 2011 Gold Cup will go down as one of truly great Melges 32 events, and just like the conditions over the weekend, I’m sure its legend will grow bigger.

Headed into Sunday, our team on Volpe had small window to catch Warpath who had suffered an OCS the previous day.  Shortly after our first start, Warpath stumbled off the line and had to spin a circle placing them squarely in last place.  With a good combination of feeling no pain from the night before and staying cool under pressure, they did a great job of putting themselves in a position to catch boats as we raced around the track to finish 3rd.  Shortly before their finish, Warpath was able to pass 4 boats on their last gybe and instead of being tied with us going into the last race, they now had a 5 pt lead.

We both had average starts in the last race and it looked like we were even headed up the beat, but as we approached the top mark we got hung up in traffic and Warpath was able to get around clean, set their kite and establish themselves in the front group while we couldn’t escape the grasp of the mid-fleeters. Our small window of opportunity was quickly shut after it was opened as Warpath took 2nd in the race and we battled hard for 8th.

There are tons of great photos on the Melges 32 website and be sure to check out some onboard footage from our team on the last day…keep an eye on our pit-man Adam Burns who snags his foot in the spin sheet and tries to free himself during a hectic douse.  Big thanks to the DeVos family for an awesome weekend of sailing, and to the team on Volpe that is always fun to sail with.  Full results.  Off to Miami for the 40 boat Melges 20 Gold Cup…


Glimmer of Hope »

December 3, 2011

There was a buzz around the Bahia Mar Hotel and Marina as the forecast that was calling for 20-25 and gusts higher had clearly arrived judging by the bent over palm trees and flags standing vertical.  The annual tradition of take a junior sailing on the Saturday of the Gold Cup was ditched out of concern for the juniors…not a bad idea considering we talked about implementing the buddy system on our boat.   Most boats pushed back their dock-off time back 45 minutes to save the sails and limit damage to the boats in the 6-8 ft pounding waves, and as we made our way to the race course the boats that decided to try practicing with their spinnakers quickly ended up on their sides.  Our team on Volpe knew we needed to sharpen up our program if we were going to sail clean and hang with a red hot team on Warpath.

The RC set the starting/finish line a few hundred yards off the beach just south of Ft. Lauderdale, so if you had an issue getting the kite down at the leeward mark or finish, you would need to sort it out quickly or it wouldn’t be long before you were watching the races from a nice spot on the sand.  After the conclusion of the first race and a hard fought battle with Warpath and Samba, we watched as the talented group on Samba had a drop go bad, shrimped their kite and did some damage to their mainsail and wind instruments at the top of the mast.  After a few close calls ourselves yesterday, we knew the dangers well of putting the kite in the water.  Samba had to retire for the day, and we would later learn that Warpath was OCS and did not return to clear themselves turning our 3rd into a 2nd.

The remainder of the day, we stuck to our gameplan of starting in a clear area at the boat end of the line, sailing fast upwind and down, and getting the kite back into the boat without error to round out the day with a 2, 4, 4.  When we dropped the kite for the final time and headed in for the day, there was a sense of relief as our white knuckled downwind rides were finished without any majors, and the only concern for the remainder of the day was navigating the hotel lobby through a sea of excited people who looked like they had just been let out of a Bernie Mac show.  The forecast is for the same breeze as today and our hope headed into the final day with 2 races remaining is that Warpath will falter, and we will be able to continue our trend of solid finishes.  Full results.

Passing Grade »

December 2, 2011

With breeze hovering in the 15-21 kt range on day 1 of the 2011 Melges 32 Gold Cup, our team on Volpe did well enough to stay in the hunt for the regatta sitting in 2nd place, but the feeling onboard as we returned to safe harbor at Bahia Mar was that we got away with one, and that we’ll need to be much cleaner on Day 2 with a forecast that is just as fresh, if not more.

While every team had their own issues that were topics of post-race debriefs, the rust that gathered from our team not sailing together since July was shown most at leeward marks where we needed to pull off a stellar spinnaker takedown at a high rate of speed.  On the last take-down of the day, the call was made for a leeward drop as we smoked into the gates on starboard gybe.  With a miscommunication on what type of drop we were doing from the team on the front of the boat to the back resulted in the spin sheet, tack line, and halyard getting blown at the same time, and instead of the kite collapsing and getting pulled into the boat, it filled a good 30-40 ft away and a moment or two of silence fell over the boat as we all knew this was not a good look.  Soon after we were on our side with the kite falling into the water and turning into shrimp net Forrest Gump would have been proud of.  Amazingly, we were able to get the kite back into the boat with some quickness, swap it out for our smaller backup kite before the top mark, and salvage a 6th place.  We got away with one.

The good news is that our upwinds were solid with good speed and tactics.  Ed Baird did a good job hitting some nice shifts and keeping us in clean areas and letting our boat speed go to work.  Warpath was on fire today posting 3 bullets and our hope is that we step up our game while the leaders shown a sign or two of faltering.  It was a great day of Melges 32 racing with boats blasting around, surfing waves downwind, and if the forecast holds for tomorrow, it will be even more of a handful than today. Full results.  Some great photos capturing the speed of the day from Joy Dunigan, and John Payne.



Gold Rush »

November 30, 2011

Once again, the turkey, gravy, cheesy mashed potatoes and other Thanksgiving delights were limited to a single fist-sized helping at this years holiday, and as we departed the in-laws, saying “no” to the bounty of leftovers was not an easy task; like we actually wanted yogurt and granola instead of the above listed items for breakfast the next morning.   Just like previous T-days since 2007, a weigh-in has loomed for the Melges 32 Gold Cup, and while Melges 32 sailors watch their family members ravish stuffing and pumpkin pie like hungry Pilgrims, we are left to put our heads down and mutter the words, “no thanks, I’ll pass. I’ll try your home-made pie next year Grandma.”

Prior to gaining official ISAF status in 2008, the Melges 32 class began hosting the Gold Cup which often serves as an unofficial World Championship until a class can gain status by having a presence on 3 or more continents.  Despite having an official Worlds in 2009, the Gold Cup is still an annual event, has remained as a top draw and continues to attract the best Melges 32 teams from around the globe.  This event also serves as the kick-off to the 2012 racing season, with many teams pinning this as the start of their 2012 Worlds campaign coming to Newport, RI in September.  Its hard to imagine that another Worlds is just around the corner, and the full effort of practicing, sail selection, rig tuning and staying on top of the latest gear and hardware changes to the boats is about to begin anew.

I typically sound like a broken record when talking about the high level of talent that participates in these events, and this years Gold Cup is no different.  Each event it seems like more of the common names from the world of sailing trickle into the class and most are able to make the transition into smaller boat racing, succeed like they have in most classes and instantly make the fleet tougher.   With a crew list that does not have any signs of a weak team, winning this years Gold Cup will require sailing clean, taking care of all the basics, and having a bit of luck.

Volpe races upwind at the 2011 North Americans. The same team is back for this year's Gold Cup.

After suffering a black flag in the final race of the 2010 edition of this event and taking third overall, our team on Volpe is looking to have a stronger finish.  There will be a bit of rust to shake off, and the well-seasoned teams who are fresh off this years Worlds in Palma will be ready to rock and roll.   The big plus of this event is that the regatta is hosted out of the Bahia Mar hotel and Marina, and while the hotel is used mainly by touristos departing on cruises the next day and the rooms could use a bit of updating, nothing beats being able to hop out of bed and basically have an elevator ride down to the boat.   The parking between the dock and the hotel is also a great aspect as a few teams get into full tail gate mode with BBQ’s and music while John Taylor and his Ninkasi team annually supply an endless amount of cold Heinekens to all of the competitors.  Stay tuned…racing begins Friday…up to date results can be found here.


Melges 20 Nationals – Days 1 + 2 »

November 12, 2011

With two days of the Melges 20 Nationals in the books, our team in M and M racing has had the satisfaction of piecing together what it takes to win a regatta…just not all at the same time. On day 1, we fought hard with decent boathandling and tactics, but with boatspeed that was slightly off the pace, we found ourselves just back of the front group.  On Day 2, we fixed our boatspeed problems, but struggled tactically and had more difficulty getting of the starting line.  The fleet is much tougher than last year, and if our goal is to get into the top 5 in future events, we need to put all of the pieces together all at once.

Michael Kiss’ team on Bacio has put on a clinic and clearly have wheels that no one else in the fleet does. This was best shown when they were over early in race 5, well back of the fleet and clawed back to 4th place…at the first top mark!  With the RC setting the windward the mark about 8:1 on port tack vs starboard, the majority of the racing thus far has been full drag racing conditions where if you can’t put the bow down and let er rumble, you often end up getting rolled and have to accept being relegated to the B fleet.

We have done a good job of fighting through some really hard spots on the race course and battling to the end of each race, and while we have been average upwind, our downwinds have generally been very good.  Our squad took a punch to the gut in what was the first race of day 2 when we had carved out a nice 2nd place behind the Bacio team after 1 lap, only to have the race abandoned at the bottom mark for what they deemed was too big of a shift. Mother F’er. It would have been nice to start the day with a nice finish and get off on the right foot.

Two more races are scheduled on the final day, and with a few boats in front of us within reach, we can still nab a top ten overall finish.  The racing has been some of the best we have had in the 20 thus far with the boats ripping downwind, an hopefully we get one more day of big breeze to cap off a fun weekend.


Back At It »

November 10, 2011

After a solid month at home and unsuccesfully attempting to potty train a 2 yr old while I was given solo parenting duty for 12 days, it is time to get back at it and prepare for a busy winter of sailing.  The Melges 20 winter circuit has started sooner than scheduled with the US Nationals that were previously cancelled by Hurricane Irene this past summer, now taking place this coming weekend with over 36 boats looking to grab the title.  This will be the largest fleet of Melges 20s to date, and there are at least a dozen new teams with proven sailors that have won National and World titles in other fleets.  Several Italian teams are in attendance to take part in the winter series as well as many familiar faces from the Melges 24 and 32 regattas.

Our squad on M and M Racing came down a few days early to shake the rust off and get into the groove with our speed and boathandling.  One factor that has helped us have decent results in previous events is a structured training schedule with the Red Sky team.  Sticking to a firm dock off time, having an organized objective for the day, and pushing each other as much as possible has helped get both of our teams to a place where we know our speed is going to at least be average, and allows us to tick off the variables heading into race day.  Come 11 am on Friday, the only question marks will be how we best want to get off the starting line and where the best breeze is….and whether to have eggs benedict or pancakes for breakfast.

Stay tuned from what looks to be a breezy day 1 at the Melges 20 Nationals.

Finish in Sight »

October 6, 2011

It has been a long, busy summer full of up and down results, and the final event for the unofficial end of the 2011 season has arrived and it would be great to end with a win.  The Chicago Match Race Center is hosting the 72nd Richardson Trophy which will anoint the winning team as the top match racing team in the great lakes region.  While all of the worlds top match racers are duking it out at the World Match Race Tour’s Bermuda Gold Cup, there will still be plenty of tough teams at this Grade 3 event and we are looking to give our best effort to keep the trophy on the CMRC houseboat for the next year.

Our team with Don Wilson will be looking to keep momentum after our decent showing at the Grade 1 just last weekend when were shown the door by the top ranked French team in the quarter-finals.  One thing I have learned about match racing is that it takes an immense amount of concentration to stay focused for every race.  With 10 races taking place in a day in some events, it is very easy to miss a flag indicating which windward mark to round, or have a lapse on how to execute winning a pin favored start and the teams that can wipe the slate clean after every race and start fresh are the ones who advance.  With several regattas under our belt as a team, our goal is to take care of business on our end and if someone out-sails us, there is not much we can do, but losing a race on an unforced error or stupid penalty will not cut it this weekend.

Win or lose, At the vary least we will get to watch the participants in the Chicago Marathon run by and take comfort knowing we are riding on a sailboat, and not running more miles than what my Chappy can do on a gallon of gas.

Racing begins on Friday morning and live results can be found here.

Friends and Enemies »

September 30, 2011

Entering day 2 of the Chicago Cup we needed to win out our final 3 races of the round robin to have a chance at moving onto the elimination round. After losing the first race of the day to Bill Hardesty and his team, we were a bit dark but did a good job of regrouping and fighting hard to grab wins from a red hot Taylor Canfield, and rules guru and US Womens Match Racing Coach Dave Perry.  After the round robin, the top 6 teams were given the afternoon off, and the bottom 6 were sent back onto the water to battle it out for the two final spots in the quarters, and standing at 5-6 our hopes were still very alive to move onto the next round.

Hardesty led the bottom 6 with a record of 6-5, and us and the Italians were tied at 5-6 and it was assumed that two of the three would move on.  We won our first race against the Italians, but after dropping the next race to Sally Barkow, we were now watching the other teams and rooting for them to beat either Hardesty or the Italians, and then having to turn around and race those same teams and do our best to beat them.  Wins against Hardesty, the Italians and Tulloch gave us a record of 3-2 in the bottom 6 and 8-8 total pushing us through to the quarters along with Hardesty.

The elimination round begins on Friday with big breeze forecast and we are feeling good about our chances to pull some upsets as our team has experience sailing these Tom 28 in breeze.   At the VIP party in the Navy Pier ballroom, the selection process where the top ranked team picks their opponents for the quarters took place and when the #1 seeded French team lead by world ranked #5 Pierre-Antoine Morvan selected our team without any hesitation, some oohs and ahhs fell over the crowd as the motivation to beat someone who thinks you are the easiest team to beat is not hard to find.  We will have to be on our game to advance in the best of 5 series, but if we sail well there is no reason why we can’t defeat Pierre-Antoine and send his team poodle shopping in Chicago.

Another cool video recap of day 2 from the CMRC media team.  Assuming the breeze isn’t blowing too hard, the quarter-finals should begin around 10am and the live feed will be up and running.

Give Me a 6er »

September 29, 2011

Fall ushered its way into the Midwest as the first day of the Grade 1 Chicago Cup took place under cool, cloudy skies, rain squalls and 7-13 kts of wind.  The bleachers set up off the end of Navy Pier were empty most of the day as the cold weather even kept the touristos away, but that was no indication of the racing as there were several close matches that were decided on a photo finish.

During the morning session, the left 1/3 of the race course was actually on the pavement of Navy Pier,  and getting off the starboard end of the line and being able to lay the end of the pier was the gameplan.  This was great for spectating as several of the boats came within feet of the seawall, but it was a challenge for the competitors to not get trapped to leeward and be forced to tack in a vaccuum of breeze underneath the pier.  With color commentary booming over the ap system and airwaves provided by Jordie Shaeffer, Dobbs Davis, Nathan Hollerbach and Scott Dixon, the set up here in Chicago is teed up for prime time.

One trademark of a match race event is extremely long days.  We were up at 645am to be on time for a 730 skippers meeting, and 9 am first start.  With a few short breaks scattered through the day, the boats are finally packed up at 530 and back to the hotel around 8.   On team Don Wilson, we started off the morning well going 3-2 and our two losses were by inches against two very good teams.  The afternoon was not as kind to us as the breeze clocked left and the pin end was very favored which requires much more exactitude when it comes to time and distance to the line.  Leading back to early and you are over early, pushing back too late and you are already behind in a weak position. We have three races reaming in the round robin and will need to win all three to have a shot at qualifying for the top 6 when the round robin concludes early this afternoon.

CMRC has set up a quality live feed, and if you are tired of surfing the internet at work, tune in and take a look, the racing is great and the commentary is very entertaining. Racing begins at 9 am…Live feed here.  Day 1 video recap.