N2E 75: Light Winds Make for Competitive Sailing

N2E 75: Light Winds Make for Competitive Sailing

N2E 75: Light Winds Make for Competitive Sailing


01/05/2023 - 22:20

It wasn't Groundhog Day, but then it was. Rich Festas' 46-foot Rogers Groundhog Day won the top three trophies at the 75th Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race in closing ceremonies here at the Hotel Coral and Marina yesterday.

One of seven in the competitive Ultra-Light A-Class, Groundhog Day, crossed the finish line at 17hr 36mn 13s, more than 2 hours and 34 minutes faster than class competitors ITS OK and Staghound that finished just one minute and eight seconds apart.

Festas would take the Governor of California Trophy for Best Overall PHRF-UL-A, the President of USA Trophy for Best Corrected Time – All PHRF, and the Tommy Bahama – Best Corrected – Overall Trophy back to California Yacht Club.

Earlier in the week, marine weather forecasts called for winds of only 1 to 3 knots at the start of the race. With the course known for lighter winds after sundown, early predictions and pre-race chatter projected that racers were in for longer transit times, and that speed seekers would head farther offshore to find wind.

When nearly 140 boats crossed the start line on Friday, they found better-than-expected but not record-setting winds. Lighter winds put sailors to the test and make every decision and problem-solving measure meaningful. Those choices resulted in some super close racing. On corrected finish time, the difference between winning or not was a matter of minutes – and in some cases - seconds.

Groundhog Day, an anomaly by having a wide lead, maximized offshore winds without straying too far west. Prior to the race, they ran different models in case of more or less wind. Festas' navigator, Jay Davis of Waypoint Racing, opted to protect the inside line on the first leg and maximize VMG from the Coronados down.

"The goal all along was to sail less distance," said Festa. That plan was highly effective. Splitting the difference between inside and outside; finding the midpoint band of pressure enabled Groundhog Day to cross the finish line before the last Maxi Class boats and having sailing only 135 nm. On just its second try with Festa at the helm.

It was a nice easygoing race, with the crew of 10, including his son, staying positive and motivated, said Festas. Positivity and expectations for things getting better are what the boat's name and mantra are all about. Taken from the movie, the spirit of Groundhog Day is not only being the best possible person every day, but the best possible sailors trying to do better every time they go out.

And they did. Groundhog Day placed second in the Cabo Race this March despite losing all their instruments for the last two days of that race. In fact, the boat was delivered back from Cabo just one week ago after having repaired, replaced, and installed equipment needed for this race, and Transpac in July.

A few other N2E competitors had their own Groundhog Day moments – same course - different conditions – with similar but different results.

Jerry Fiat's 2021 multiple trophy-winning Taniwha took a quick lead after its start in the ORCA class and steadily pulled ahead of the fleet as it made its way down the coast.

The lightweight 32-foot trimaran strayed farthest offshore in hopes of better wind, or enough to sustain its momentum. But the move left the boat west of the encroaching Maxi and UL-A classes.

At 1 a.m., Saturday, Taniwha had cut due east and across the bow of Artemis only to face Tom Holthus' BadPak in what appeared to be a battle for first to finish while still 28 nm miles from the mark. The scene was similar to Taniwha's 2021 race when they were chasing the Volvo 70, Pyewacket, but veered too far west.

This year, BadPak, a Botin56, tacked earlier in their sail and had a better line on its approach to Bahía de Todos los Santos; finishing first with the best elapsed time of 15h 40m 42s.

Despite sailing 101 nm farther than the fastest Maxis, Taniwha, the 32-foot New Zealand-built Ferrier, clocked a time of 17h 36m 13s and finished 10 minutes and 36 seconds behind Groundhog Day.

The time was good enough for Fiat and his 21-year-old helmsman Peter Sangmeister to take home four trophies: The ORCA A Trophy for best in the ORCA A-Class, the President of NOSA Trophy for Best Corrected – ORCA, the Alice Pursell Trophy for the Best Elapsed Time – ORCA, and the Stein-Cross Trophy – for the first trimaran.

BadPak not only claimed Best Elapsed Time but received top honors in the PHRF-UL-Maxi Fleet.

Anticipating lighter winds, Skipper Tom Holthus said, "We had to make some tough choices at the dock, and had to leave some things behind." Those included a couple of sails they would usually take and one less crewmember.

Off the start line, the boat headed nearly straight south; finding a better breeze slightly west of the fleet behind, and staying offshore beyond the Coronados before making a sweeping turn toward shore, Holthus reported. In the better-than-expected winds, he said they used every sail they brought.

"We were luckier than boats behind us," said Holthus. "We were happy with the breeze he had."

The win was Holthus' first on the Botin. However, the race was Holthus' 13th N2E, having competed in four other BadPaks, (the boat's name is an acronym for the name of his children). Admittedly, it has been a while since he took a trophy back to San Diego Yacht Club. Now he's contributing four; the President of Mexico Trophy for best in UL MAXI Class, the Lahaina Yacht Club Trophy for Best Elapsed Time – All PHRF, and the NOSA Trophy for Best Elapsed Overall.

BadPak, along with Andrew Constantine's Minotaur in UL-C and Joe Markee's Ohana in Race-B also won the Storm Trysail Club Team Trophy.

2023 is the third time the Storm Trysail Club has gifted this team trophy which encourages fun and camaraderie among competitors. A record 9 teams entered this year.

The Trysail trophy was icing on the cake for Markee, whose Ohana found itself in near-optimal conditions. The long and lean 1982 Swede 55, previously claimed the President of the USA Trophy for Best Corrected Time, all PHRF boats in 2018. This year, he was awarded the Cliff Chapman Trophy for Best in Class, PHRF Race B.

"This was our kind of wind," he said. Despite a big hole in the middle of the night that stopped them for a while, it was the right race for his boat. However, "the goal is to win the whole thing," he said.

Speaking of winning again, and again, Andy Horning's Day Tripper II, a 1990 Hunter 40, returned to the podium this year – for the 16th time. - having missed it last year after suffering damage in blustery winds. Horning called this race a nail-biter for good reason. Day Tripper II with its regular crew, won PHRF C Class by a margin of four minutes and 52 seconds and reclaimed the Converse Wurdemann Trophy, for SLBYC.

The difference between the second and third-place competitors was 40 seconds.

"There's no gimme in this class," said Horning. "We super knuckled down for the last 20 miles knowing how good both Rascal and Blind Squirrel have been."

Another tight class was the UL-C which included five J111s.

With a best corrected time of 19hrs 53mn 09s, John Staff's Obsidian topped the class and took two more trophies back to CYC: For the top UL-C win, Staff won the Secretary of Navy – USA Trophy and the Carlos Avila Escoto Trophy for First Place in the J111 One Design Class.

Although Staff had a 40+ minute lead, the difference between second and third-place finishers in the 15-boat class, was eleven and a half minutes

With the light wind forecast, talk before the race led to the decision to run a more conservative race, meaning, not heading too far offshore and turning in early. Like others who chose that route – it paid off.

Staff, who has skippered N2Es for 17 years (including two on this boat) said that the growing number of J111s makes racing more exciting, and more competitive. The performance boats appear to be attracting some new sailors which is good for the sport.

BCYC's Dan Rossen ended his 10-year streak as the perpetual winner of the Double Handed category by adding a third person to his crew. But Problem Child, a B32, had a good race and did not leave N2E empty-handed; taking home the Secretary of State Trophy – USA for topping the UL D Class.

Race organizers, the Newport Ocean Sailing Association, with the help of its nearly 40-person volunteer force, presented more than 30 trophies to competitors and brought another of the running of the iconic race to a close.

"You are part of history just by being here," said Commodore Mary Bacon to the crowd about the long-running, iconic race.


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