blond brawler

A few years ago I wrote my first piece for Sailing Anarchy.  It was about sailing and being deployed in Iraq, and was entitled“The Suck”.

Well, guys … I found The Suck again. It was here in Annapolis on Saturday, during the J70 Fall Brawl – the first-ever J/70 one design regatta. There’s something about torturing my body that really warms my soul, so I have to share the story of this event.

It was freezing, we were soaked, and I am so sore today that I could hardly shift the gears in my Saab this morning. But the downhills on that Saturday were worth all of that, and we got a beautiful, sunny, flat-water Sunday on the Bay as a reward for the torture. Maybe what I love the most about The Suck is how relieved I feel when it ends?

Leading up to the regatta, I was still coming down from my adrenaline high after the Harvest Moon Regatta on the Peerless, so I was amped to get back out on the water and try something new. Heather Earl and Joe Bardenheier of Boston recruited me to sail with them and J/Boat guru Will Welles. I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into – I had never properly sailed a J70 before, and one-design buoy racing is totally not my forte (someone get me back offshore, stat!), but the J70 has become all the rage here in Annapolis, so I really wanted to give it a try.

Waking up on Saturday morning and stepping out on my balcony (super gorgeous view of the Bay, if you’re curious), I knew I was in for a really, really cold day. I got all of the gear I could find together, and headed down to EYC to help put the boat in the water. Within minutes of being outside, my hands were numb from the frigid cold. I could already tell I’d be hating life for the rest of the day, but something about hating life really makes me happy, so we shoved off the docks and began mentally preparing ourselves for what was in store.

It turns out that Heather, the tiniest woman I have ever sailed with in my life, is a beast at the tiller! The breeze was way up, more than the forecast called for, the waves were getting more and more choppy, and Heather was back there all day, driving and pumping the main. I’m sure she must have struggled, but she didn’t give it away and she just kept hammering away at it. Joe trimmed jib and kite, calling puffs and waves when he could. Will called tactics in the mayhem. I pulled strings, handled the vang and jib downwind, and doused the kite, or at least, I tried to. Like I said, I’m not really that great. I am in need of some major small keelboat training…anyone?

Despite the conditions, we had a great first day. There’s something to be said about scoring the first-ever bullet in the first-ever J/70 regatta against 23 other keen teams. I can’t wait until I’m an 80-year old hag, just so I can sit at the yacht club and brag to the young whippersnappers that, 50 years ago, I nailed the bullet in the first-ever race in the J/70 Class. Such is my vision, anyways; that the Fall Brawl, like the J/24 Easter Regatta, will still be a really fun annual event in 2060.

We followed the first race with a 6 and a 3, to come out in a 3-way tie for 2nd place. We were behind Richard Stearns (Tylishan), and tied with my fellow local sailors Henry Filter (Wild Child) and Tate Russack (Diesel). Personally, I was really feeling some competition with Diesel because my co-worker Mike Lindsley, was on board trimming the headsail. I just had to beat him!

Coming in off the water on Saturday, we were definitely licking some wounds. It’s really hard to put a boat away when you’ve lost all grip in your fingers because you’re so cold. Soaking wet from taking waves to the face (TO DA FACE!) all day, I just couldn’t stop shivering, but somehow I managed to limp home. My roommate, longtime Annapolis sailor Gretchen Esbensen, came home to find me sitting on the couch, still in most of my gear with a bucket of fried chicken in my lap, watching a crappy Amanda Bynes movie. I remember her asking me if I was hypothermic because my face was purple. I just stared at the wall. Sometime after that, I managed to pull myself together and get in the shower. EYC had a nice set-up for us at the club, so I wanted to get back and talk shop with the other J70 racers. Plus, my team was pretty awesome and I wanted to recap the day we had and prepare for Sunday.

One thing is for sure – I wasn’t playing games with the cold on Sunday. I dug up even more gear, I rocked a skiff suit under my bibs, I layered some waterproof gloves under some arctic gloves, and I wore earwarmers. Of course, all of this was a little unnecessary, as Sunday turned out to be gorgeous. The sun was out, the water was flat, and our course gave us a great view of Annapolis, the town that I have grown to love so much.

Unfortunately, the warmer conditions didn’t mean the breeze was doing anything promising. It was pretty fluky, up/down/left/right – a typically uncertain warm and clear day in Annapolis.  The wind might not have known what it wanted to do, but it knew it didn’t like us! We went right and the breeze went left, we went left, the breeze went right. It left us wondering what we had done to piss off the wind gods, and we scored a 10 and a 3 in the first 2 races. The third race was a 5-legger, and we knew we had to gun it to move up in the scores. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite get there, finding ourselves on the complete wrong side of the course during the first leg. But, after rounding the top mark at the back of the fleet, Heather started to pick ‘em off, one by one.  And then I stepped in…A really bad douse and then a near swim during a roll tack (I won’t be a SEAL anytime soon – thanks for pulling me back in, Joe!)

In shock, I rolled back up to the high side and started hiking again. It sucked so bad … I was SO warm and dry up until then, until the point I decided to see if I was indeed a witch. How embarrassing…but at least I know what NOT to do now.

We ended up picking up enough boats by the end of the race to score a 9, which put us in 4th overall. Tate Russack’s Diesel (with my nemesis Mike on board) had a great Sunday to move into 1st. Henry Filter’s Wild Child scored a bullet to put them in 2nd, and Richard Stearns moved into 3rd. And my fellow Hampton, VA natives, Ron Thompson and crew, had a great Sunday, scoring 5th overall.

All in all, it was a great first event for the J70. Everyone was out there learning the boat, learning their crews, and learning the conditions. Saturday was a prime day to learn what the J70 is really capable of. We were a little overpowered upwind until we found the groove (after racing, of course), and the downwinds were really fun. We had a decent wipeout after rounding a top mark, and we definitely weren’t the only ones to lay the boat down. Going out on Saturday, Will mentioned training wheels … there were no training wheels on Saturday, not even a chance for them. The breeze and the chop did not let up for even a second, so it was full on all day long. It was awesome!

As for the boat itself … get your upper body strength up, ladies. This boat definitely tested me. There are a few awkward things about it that I’d like to see changed, but for the most part, it was a really great ride. It wasn’t uncomfortable at all, even legs out hiking wasn’t painful. It’s definitely in its own class. Coming into this weekend, I have heard a lot of comparisons to other boats, but I no longer think of it that way. It’s very well-suited to a lot of different racers, and it’s gaining popularity fast. Our fleet in Annapolis is already well on its way, with boats still in production to add to the list, while Charleston and Key West should provide quite a good showing for the new sporty. Imagining sailing in warm weather again is like a dream. Can’t wait!

Congratulations to all of the racers! Photos by one of my favorite US photographers, Sara Proctor/Sailfastphoto.com. Results are here. – Katie Burns.