July 20, 2012: NEWPORT, RI - What began as a fast start to the day turned into a slow slug to the finish at the New York Yacht Club Race Week at Newport presented by Rolex, which started its second half yesterday with an Around the Island Race and began its final four-day buoy racing session today. Seven classes--four for IRC and one each for Swan 42, J/109 and Beneteau 36.7--set out for Rhode Island Sound this morning, expecting a forecasted 5-7 knots but were pleasantly surprised when a 12 knot east-northeasterly breeze greeted them for their first race. The good luck didn’t last, however, as the wind first shifted to the southeast then died altogether, keeping all but two classes from enjoying a second race.
It was close racing in all classes on the white course, which hosted the non-IRC boats, but the Swan 42s, in particular, were bone-in-teeth as they worked to get low points in the bank early. With 15 boats competing, the class is sailing its 2012 National Championship, and it was defending national champion Ken Colburn (Dover, Mass.), helming Apparition, that wound up getting the definitive jump on the fleet in the single race today. By the first mark he was leading, and on the second downwind leg of a four-lap windward-leeward course he had established a one-minute lead over Jon Halbert’s (Dallas, Texas) Vitesse, with Paul Zabetakis’s (Jamestown, R.I.) Impetuous and Phil Lotz’s (Newport) Arethusa making strong comebacks from the left side of the course and battling for third with John Hele’s (Toronto, CAN/Newport) Daring. At the finish, Vitesse ended up a full 15 boat lengths behind Apparition, with six boats going to the line for third place. Daring broke ahead by a boat length for the third, while places 4-6 and 7-9 all finished in overlapping groups.
"Gut Feeling and Storm battle it out downwind in the J-109 Class" - photo credit Rolex / Daniel Forster
The Swan 42s were postponed for 1 ½ hours before the Race Committee dared try a second start, but soon after the boats were in starting sequence, it was clear the plan was not going to work, and the race committee postponed it, never to start again.
“The Apparition team did a great job delivering on what we needed throughout the race," said Colburn (Dover, Mass.), explaining that after the start, they found a good shift with enough wind in it to put the boat ahead, and then, at the second windward mark, they jibed immediately for the breeze, which paid off again. "The 15 boats out here are pretty much the same as last year's Nationals. All are very competitive, any one of whom, frankly, can win a race or win this regatta. We got off to a good start today, but it’s the first race of many, and the first day of many, so we'll see how it goes."
In the single race for J/109s, which are sailing their North Americans, Ted Herlihy’s (S. Dartmouth, Mass.) Gut Feeling won the pin end, but a number of boats were close to weather, and Bill Sweetser’s Rush looked to be an early leader. That changed, however, when Gut Feeling stayed with the left side where the Swan 42s were showing the most pressure and clearly showed his upper hand. Later, Gut Feeling’s closest competitor, Rick Lyall’s (Wilton, Conn.) Storm, trailed by four boat lengths, then wound up rounding the leeward mark just behind, after taking advantage of a 20-degree wind shift. The pair had a nice five boat-length cushion on the fleet, but Storm made moves to take an impressive lead by race’s end, while Matthew Baker’s (Skillman, N.J.) Reliant took the favored left side downwind to pick off Gut Feeling at the finish. The results showed Storm, Reliant and Gut Feeling finishing 1-2-3, respectivley.
John Hammel’s (Arlington, Mass.) Elan came out on top today after one race in the Beneteau 36.7 Class, which is hosting its Northeast Championship here. "The key to winning the day was shifting gears and calling the oscillations,” said Hammel, who topped this class in the 2010 edition of Race Week at Newport, winning all but one of six races. “Ten minutes before our start, the average wind velocity was 18 knots, which is exactly our break point for the number one versus the number three jib, so we decided to go with the number three to take it easy, because we have a few new crew members onboard. When we started, the breeze dropped down to 12 knots, and now we had the wrong headsail for the conditions, so we toughed it out; then the wind continued to drop until we finished in six knots of breeze. We only got one race, but the race we did get in was terrifically challenging.”
On the IRC course, Classes 1 and 2 completed two races, while Class four completed one race and Class 3 abandoned its second race.
In IRC 2, Jim Swartz's (Park City, Utah) IRC 52 Vesper is leading with two victories and two points overall, while David and Sandra Askew's (Annapolis, Md.) IRC 52 Flying Jenny 7 is in second with four points. "The race committee did a good job on our course in very challenging conditions," said Flying Jenny’s tactician Gary Jobson (Annapolis, Md.), who last was in Newport for the America’s Cup World Series as the commentator for NBC’s coverage. "It is pretty clear that in our class, Vesper is a step above the rest, so it will be fun to see if we can improve and get to their level within the next few days."
Jobson, a veteran of both America’s Cup racing here in Newport and the biennial New York Yacht Club Race Week at Newport presented by Rolex, which is in its eighth running, added: "You can't go wrong with Newport in the summer, and every year more top sailors are showing up because you can expect great racing. The nice thing about sailing in Newport is that you normally have good reliable winds, so we are hoping for that for the rest of the week."
Winners in IRC Class 1, 3 and 4, respectively, were George David’s (Hartford, Conn.) Reichel/Pugh 90 Rambler, John Cooper’s (Cane Hill, Mo.) Mills 43 Cool Breeze, and Craig Albrecht’s (Sea Cliff, N.Y.) Farr 395 Avalanche.
J/111s will join in when racing resumes tomorrow, while PHRF classes and J/105s will be added for weekend-only racing.
For complete results, daily video and blog for the 2012 New York Yacht Club Race Week at Newport presented by Rolex, visit www.nyyc.org