For day one of the J/24 Worlds, the RC sent us outside on the ocean for some seriously epic conditions. Some of the biggest ocean swells we’ve ever seen on a J/24, well over 6 feet (2m) with much bigger mountains rolling through from time to time. Winds out of the W/NW at 15 gusting 20, and the waves were so big and so strong on starboard tack that if your crew missed a puff call, you wiped out upwind. And on port, you were surfing down waves upwind.
No question that many locals did great in these conditions while lake sailors like me struggled. I was so worried about the boat not behaving as I’m used to in the pre-start tune up that I talked my crew into a late headsail change, switching to the jib with less than a minute to the first gun. Definitely not a great start and had to tack soon after the gun, but the boat behaved well with the jib and our boat speed was great! We tacked in a few small shifts – more than anything to move the jib car positions – and by the time we looked around, we were in good shape. We rounded in fourth and for us at least, the jib was the way to go. The big boys all had the genoa up, and somehow, made it work. Local sailmaker Will Welles led from the start and never looked back, leading solidly over John Mollicone and the HH boys. Chilean Vern Robert and the Team Gringa DC took third. Mark Hillman, filling in for his boat owner (after a car vs. man incident in the parking lot), fought all the way round to finish fourth. As for Team Clear Air/Lavalife/Sailing Anarchy, we lost a few boats on the second upwind, finishing eight. Not a bad start, considering!
In Race Two, the waves shrank quite a bit and half the fleet switched to the jib. We decided to emulate the top boats and go for the genoa. It was a horrible start for many top boats, with a huge pack fighting for the favored pin…and many of them failing to make it. We were one of the first to bail on port, and we took about 20 transoms before the first tiny lane opened up. The good news is that the lane was just below Mollicone – someone you never want to be to windward of – and we were able to hang in there just to leeward. Things were looking grim for both of us, but we headed to the far left where boats were looking solid again. The left led again, with Uruguay leading around the mark and the on-fire Will Welles in second, with Odenbach’s Honey Badger in third. I lost track of the rest to double focis on just getting around the mark; we got there in tenth place. Not bad for taking two dozen transoms at the start!
The first downwind saw some really big puffs roll through the fleet – the boats that gybed early made it to the bottom without another gybe. We got pinned and lost a few boats, taking the right hand turn to head back to what we thought would be the favored side again. This time? Not so much. The wind went right 30 degrees and stayed there, allowing about 30 boats to pass us without anything we could do. We took our medicine and headed back over the right, rounding mid fleet, and heading down the no-gybe run, there were no passing lanes. Hillman’s team saw the shift before out happened and came from way behind to take the win in the race, while the Chilenos aboard Team Gringa took second again, tying Hillman for the lead after day one. Welles showed great speed and smarts to own third. 4-time World Champ Santa Cruz somehow turned a dismal position (around us) into a fourth place at the finish of that race; that’s a regatta-winning performance and I would love to know how they do it!
After the first day, a lot of the players are the usual suspects, but there are obviously the South Americans and Germany who are right in the mix. For us, we looked and felt great in our new Pro-Tech gear & Henry Lloyd shorts, and we hope on day 2 to sail as good as we have looked! With a two-hour postponement for no breeze and a wonky northerly-turning-thermal morning, it might be a tough day.
We had to take a reality check to remind us this is the J24 Worlds and will be tough to win. As it almost always does, the Worlds will come down to the last race. Stay tuned: The marathon has just begun.
-Rossi Milev, CAN 5441 – Team Clear Air/Lavalife/Sailing Anarchy.