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the message

The afternoon before racing at the 2013 Etchells Florida State Championships, a few class officers clustered in a corner of the yacht club brainstorming. Like any class, the Etchells group wants more boats on the racecourse and more sailors in the boats.

The eternal question is, “How can we convince someone to make the investment and the commitment to this one-design program?”
“We need better branding.”
“We should advertise.”
“We need to figure out our demographic.”

Anyone who was on the Jaguar Series racecourse in Miami’s Biscayne Bay already understands why an Etchells is the ideal class boat. With almost 60 boats on the water for the third event of the annual four-event series, the Florida State Championship drew some top sailors internationally. Not many boats could attract such a diverse a crowd of pros and amateurs for two days of racing over Superbowl weekend.

Of course, not everyone on the racecourse was interested in America’s Superbowl festivities. The Jaguar Series sailors hail from around the world. The parade of sails to the starting line included sail numbers from eight countries across four continents. The sailors endured some squirrely conditions Saturday and Sunday, February 2-3. The first day brought a shifty breeze that could vary 20 degrees in only a handful of boat-lengths. Etchells are such technical boats that the conditions create controversy among even the best sailors. Change out the jib? Move the mast butt? Lengthen the forestay? Looking outside the boat, there were even more variables. Play the shifts and risk losing pressure? Commit to one side and play on? There’s no right answer, and that’s what makes it frustrating and fun.

The second day was a crapshoot — or was it? The breeze was light and growing lighter. Rounding the windward mark at the head of the pack didn’t guarantee a top spot at the finish line. The downwind leg was a chess match against the breeze: where would its next move be? The one and only race ended up as a shortened course that seemed never-ending.

In the end, BER 1394 sailed by Dirk Kneulman and Mark Watson took number one overall, with USA 1378 sailed by Marvin Beckman and USA 1300 sailed by Ernie Pomerleau and Mike Dressell rounding out the top three.

As sailors stepped off their boats and started the inevitable conversations about strategy, tuning, and conditions, the frustration dissolved into near-scientific discussions about the many variables. Even the top boats were divulging very different strategies, since the winning combinations of those variables are never alike.

Beer in hand, the same officers who brainstormed before the event resumed their dialogue. The real selling point of the boat seemed to be just that: the boat. Few other one-design boats draw the variety, caliber and brains that the Etchells fleet does. The design may be well over a half-century old, but in all those years, no one has perfected its performance yet. So the class continues to look for the brave, bold sailors out there who are up for a real challenge. Come show us how it’s done. Full results for the event are online. – Anarchist Nicole.

Title theft thanks to Grandmaster Flash.