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the blink from the sink

race report

the blink from the sink

Collin Leon sailed with John Mollicone’s 11th Hour Racing (USA 5235) during last week’s 2012 J/24 Worlds at Rochester Yacht Club.  Finishing second overall in the largest J/24 Worlds fleet in the Class’s history, Colin gives us his perspective from his position on the starboard sink…errr, mast.  

The Crew: John Mollicone (Skipper), Geoff Becker (Trimmer), Tim Healy (Tactician), Collin Leon (Mast), and Gordon Borges (Foredeck).

Responsibilities: Count down the start, hike your ass off, live in the starboard sink when it gets light, get yelled at about the vang, run the tapes, make sure the jib halyard isn’t knotted or kinked, call puffs and waves, pre-feed the guy, roll gybe the boat off twings, human pole, drink as many free drinks as possible before you’re too exhausted to stand (30 minutes after starting) and go swimming really early to clean the hull (yes, I swam a total of 6 days in the Rochester yacht club harbor… may or may not have mercury poisoning, MRSA infection, or something more exotic?).

Report, Day 1: Started out light at 4-8 knots out of the south/southeast, with a confused sea state and a race committee that was set on three races for the day, it was sure to be a mentally and physically draining day. After a mediocre start and good boat speed in both races, we didn’t seem to have a leg up as we did on previous regattas this season, as the conditions were so tricky. Conditions ranged from me spending half my time on deck and half down below (aka, in the starboard sink, or its counterpart on port, the battery box).  With 1.8nm upwind legs, the race came down to small gains or huge losses. On the downwind legs it was key to not only position yourself for the pressure, but with 96 boats in the race it was even more important to make sure you had enough space to pass boats to leeward. Although it was extremely hard to make perfect tactical calls as everyone was in different pressure and headings, we seemed to find a “safe” mode where we could finish around the top 15 in both races for the day. I couldn’t tell you much about the upwind beats as I was mostly down below, however downwind we had a speed edge playing angles and flawless gybes that didn’t slow us down at all. So although it’s impossible to win the regatta the first day of racing, we certainly didn’t lose it. Sitting in 10th after the first day we were determined to up our performance, keep consistent results, and press forward. As the last race ended at 4:45, we were sent in.

Day 2:  The first race started with a puffy southwest breeze and a race committee that was once again determined for three races. We started a few up from the pin after seeing consistent left shifts coming down before the start and battled it out with Travis Odenbach, holding our lane until a nice lefty came down the course. We tacked in the 15-degree shift and looked LAUNCHED on the fleet, finally a good shift going our way. Well it wasn’t to be!   A massive righty came down a couple of minutes later, and we rounded high 20’s. With impressive downwind boat speed and a solid tactical plan by Tim, we finished 18. Not a great race, but not a bad one. On race two we all decided that the left looked better and would work this time again so back to the pin it was. After one general recall, the I and Z flags went up. With the Argentinian defending world champion “Luca” below us as well as two others, we were sure to be careful not to be pushed over the line. Luckily the Argies couldn’t keep their speed back and were over early. Immediately as we heard general recall on the radio after the start gun and saw a recall flag go up, we dropped our genoa and headed back below the line to listen for numbers. Hearing we weren’t called over and Luca was, we were ecstatic as it was a very stressful start where we came away unscathed. The only problem was that the fleet was still racing… the other two RC boats had X flags up and we began to lose our cool a little. GENOA UP! WE’RE RACING. Tim hailed on the radio that the general flag was up on the pin boat and after holding Gordy back from verbally abusing the flag guy on the pin boat (and what seemed like potentially boarding their boat) for switching the flag from a general flag back to an X after we “informed them”, the RC called the fleet back. Phew, that could have been an ugly race. With a solid pin start on the next start, a great left shift, we rounded top 5 (Finally!) after narrowly missing a hole at the layline for first. A great run had us move up 2 positions and we held our position until the last run. Looking behind a curious black cloud was coming down the course. We decided to set ourselves up for the storm by putting ourselves in the best position to get the maximum anticipated left shift from the storm (that was moving left to right). Well, welcome to Rochester. Storms moving from left to right have a 30-degree right shift to them. In 25 knots, pouring rain, and a 30-degree right shift had us finishing in 4th. A top 5 race, finally. The best part, no 3rd race today and not one moment spent in the sink. A miracle.

Day 3: Day 3 had us motoring out in 15+ knots, our rig set at two settings above base, and a crew ready to post some top results and bounce into a better position. Race one started with us starting towards the pin end of the line with a good line going out left. However, after working the left hard, the right dominated, and we rounded in the top 25.  Working downwind and the rest of the race hard, we finished up 15th (at this stage we determined we’re VERY good at mid teen results). Needless to say, other top ten competitors were not as consistent, and we kept pushing for consistency, which we’ve been working for all year to win regattas. The following race, with similar conditions and a little sharper boat handling and tactics had us pass a bunch of boats and finish 9th in a dying SW’ly breeze. After finishing, the very determined race committee – at 4 PM – decided we needed a third race.

Exhausted more mentally than physically from the two previous races, we knew if we could out sail our competition in this race we would have a good chance in advancing on the leader board.  With the breeze dying, we dropped our rig settings to base and started with a clear lane above the midline boat after a general recall. We had great speed and after seeing Darby Smith roll top contenders of the fleet in what seemed like her own private lefty, we tried to make the left shift work and like everyone else, failed. She was launched. At this point the breeze dropped off to 5-6 knots and I found myself in a familiar place down below. Moving my body weight in and out to keep the boats heel consistent, we finally made it to the mark in the mid 20’s. After a great set, we went to work downwind, and once the kite was down I was back down below. Gaining another boat or two upwind (or so I was informed), we had an intensely slow battle downwind, passing another two boats, and were moving at a snail’s pace toward the upwind finish.  Halfway up the final leg, Gordy came down below to sit in front of the bulkhead.  No words were needed:  We’d hit a massive hole, 200 yards from the finish, and were parked.  

Now, if you’ve never sailed a J/24 before, you probably don’t know that there’s only one thing worse than contorting your body down below.  That’s having two people down there.  Because that only happens when there’s nothing to do but wait for breeze as you boil and marinate in your gear.  At the tune-up regatta in Oswego a few weeks back we practiced this situation:  Tiptoe up on deck to roll-tack the boat, stay on deck to leeward until the sails are full, then slither back downstairs.  We knew the drill…

We dinally saw breeze coming down the lake, coming right toward us in fact!  But being in Rochester (and remembering George Costanza’s ‘Opposite’ episode) one must remember the mantra, “Right is wrong and wrong is right, down is up and up is down.”  Left side puff, righty shift, and we finished in 14th.  We survived, and continued keeping to our plan for consistency over all else.  Meanwhile, 3-time J/24 Worlds winner Mauricio Santa Cruz was putting on a clinic in his ancient chartered boat, taking his second bullet of the event.  

Day 4: Day 4 showed us some great breeze, starting out with a 15-knot southerly building throughout the day to 25 knots, then settling in the mid teens. With three races left, we needed to post two top scores to be in contention for the title.  Okay, maybe not in contention, but at least close.  Since the event started, for the most part you had either be in the pressure, have a shift go your way, or just win your side no matter what happened on the other. With 1.8nm legs, a 5 degree shift could be the difference between first and 50th. We decided that the right looked pretty good at the start of the race and set off to win our side. Will Welles, Matias Pereira, Rossi Milev and Travis Odenbach had the same thought, and when the massive righty came down, it was a pack of old friends at the top mark, with 11th Hour Racing in the lead!  We held everyone off until the last quarter of the final leg, when Will and Matias split sides. This forced us to pick a shift, as we couldn’t cover both boats. As luck would have it, a righty came in when we were on the left. We lost Will but still beat Matias to take second:  A solid race in the end. With one race left we were postponed for half an hour until the wind became steady enough to start a race. The left kept filling in stronger and stronger and shifting towards more of a left number throughout the sequence. We had a little starting issue where the breeze shifted so hard left we couldn’t quite reach the line at go. The boats that had good starts immediately tacked in the large left shift and we had to continue further left before getting a lane. Once we tacked we looked way behind the fleet, however the breeze went harder left as the breeze increased. As we were the first to get the new higher velocity breeze being the most left boat, our deficit wasn’t as bad as it could have been. We rounded top 20 and went to work passing boats all over the course to finish 9th, a great comeback. However as great of a comeback as it may have been, Mauricio and team Bruschetta finished 3rd, winning the regatta without having to sail the last race.  Even better for those guys, they could sit out the entire final day.  It was an “ass caning” as John put it at the awards dinner…but we knew Day 5 would be intense for us regardless of the outcome, so we headed back to the hotel early after a few drinks.  And by ‘drinks’ I mean rocky mountain water, which was all we could handle.  

Day 5:  With a light but building Southerly of around 5 knots at dockout, I was pretty sure I’d be finishing yet another 2012 regatta – the fourth of the year — sitting in the sink. Imagine my surprise when enough breeze came in to pull me into the cockpit! We saw that the right had better pressure and we won the boat end of the line convincingly. Being 1 point out of third and 2 out of second, we determined our strategy would be to sail fast and leave the points to be determined by how well our competitors sailed. After being headed within 25 seconds of the start, we tacked and headed towards the right hoping the breeze would turn around during the 1.8nm leg. About half way up the beat we realized that the right wasn’t to be, but like the rest of the week we still had to win our side to have a chance. We pressed the right hard, but the harder we pressed the more left the breeze shifted. The bad news was there was no way we were going to break into the top pack, the good news was our closest competitors were right there with us (in the mid 50’s). Rounding around 50th, we had an issue with two slow boats on the first downwind where they were literally stuck to the water, but after rolling one to leeward and the other to windward, we set on pressing for the rest of the race. After a VERY few tense if not comical legs, we finished 37th, however our closest competition finished just far enough behind in the race to push us into second overall. Dropping the 37th and having our next worse race an 18th, we went on to finish 7 points ahead of third overall.  We felt the satisfaction of a hard-fought 2nd place at the 2012 J/24 Worlds.

While motoring in, we tried to pass as many boats as possible for the first-come, first-served haulout. On the way in, it came clear that, although we had little luck on our side for the event, having consistent results (averaging a little over an 11) was really the name of the game in such a large fleet on a huge course. On top of a great result, we also got to save a life and win some karma from nature after Tim noticed a duck with its leg stuck between two jagged edges of an old piling from one of the docks. It was one last swim for me to save the little quacker, and she was transported to the animal hospital to assess the injured leg. Volunteer quacks Sarah Enwright and her mom reported from the vet that the duck would make it…

Overall, we were pretty stoked with the result as the race was really for second after the second day. Mauricio was in a world of his own, and really showed how to win the event (for a fourth time).  A big congrats to the organizers at RYC who put on a wonderful regatta.  The 11th Hour Racing Team of USA 5235 will be racing ECC’s in a few weeks and then down to Florida for NA’s in mid November.

You can find full results here, a video playlist from the event here, and please be sure to check out 11th Hour Racing to learn more about how you can help the environment, and for more about what Sailors for the Sea does.