By Oivind Lorentzen
When we decided to compete in the J/70 NA’s in Cleveland, it made sense to us to first sail the Verve Regatta (Great Lakes Championship) in Chicago to tune up in shifty, choppy, big sea inland conditions. We had a rude awakening the first day of practice: no speed; couldn’t hold a lane. If this were to continue, I might as well pack up, go home, and save the embarrassment.
Fortunately, the others onboard were more resourceful. We changed out the sail plan from a development mainsail that just didn't work with our mast in these conditions, and reverted to a set of older sails that gave us the confidence to adapt technique with a known quantity. There was a lesson here: limit the number of changes at the same time. We ended up winning that regatta, but more importantly, learned some technique that must have translated well to Lake Erie a month later.
Edgewater Yacht Club in Cleveland put everything into making the NA’s a successful event: organization, expertise, enthusiasm and charm. And the weather cooperated with 80 plus air temperatures, 71 degree water (not bad for late September) and 0 to high 20’s wind speeds and flat to 10 foot sea states. Unlike Chicago, which was thermal, Cleveland’s weather was dominated by consistent frontal activity. So we went around the clock in wind directions, once in the same day.
It goes without saying that the right crew makes all the difference in putting a race program together. I was unbelievably fortunate with Lucas Calabrese, Ian Coleman and Will Felder in this regatta. In my thinking, you start with a tactician with whom you work cooperatively, someone who gets the big picture on the course and has capacity for some “head time in the boat” as well. He then needs the support of a trimmer and bow man to reduce that “time in the boat.” The more the boat runs on its own, the more capacity for figuring out the race course.
For the NA’s, we also shared a coach, Ed Adams, with another team, John Brim on Rimette. (Zeke Horowitz of IHYC fame was on Rimette). The two boats sailed out to races together in line-ups, split tacks before each start to check the sides of the course, and compared notes between races. Working with good tuning partners in all conditions also contributed to getting sail, rig and boat trim, kinetics, and sailing angles right. We ended up sailing the regatta loosely as a team. Not only did this add to the fun, but with a tuning partner, feedback is immediate. (Rimette came in third.)
Building confidence in the straight line speed of the boat was a priority, particularly coming out of the starts and turning marks... knowing when the boat is going well or not in various conditions, both upwind and down wind. The goal was to set standard speed expectations that we could predictably dial into for each condition.
A comment on managing the tension of a long regatta. One pointer: stop looking at the score. We led this regatta every day from the beginning with our margin declining to a mere 0.7 difference between us and a former World Champion, Catapult. (We were dealing in decimal points because we received redress for picking a skipper out of the water which gives some indication of conditions... another story).
The fourth and final day started with two abandoned races, one with too unwieldy conditions to hold the starting line and the other with wind dropping below sailable conditions. We were ahead of Catapult in the first abandoned race, they ahead in the second. The RC was keen to sail a final race given the “tightness at the top,” but imagine my ambivalence: hoping that the clock would run out, and I could win by a “default” versus having to get out there and “do it again.”
The wind then started to fill, and it was clear we were to have a final race. Our key competitor Catapult pulled out all the stops at the start with an arsenal of match racing moves. We just wanted a clean start, a chance for clear win, and no more decimal points. Our hard work paid off as we finished first overall, winning the championship.