An 1800-mile (one way) road trip to Louisiana and a fantastic weekend of racing is a great way to really start out the 2012 racing season (even though most of us in California have been in full swing since Jan 1). Once again team “FNG” was on our way to another destination regatta… New Orleans! I have never been to New Orleans and neither had boat owner Jim Sears, nor our third person Evan Hoffman from ODU. This was going to be a new experience for all of us.
I left Laguna Beach Monday Morning with the Viper 640 in tow. After a pit stop in Houston I pulled into NOLA (New Orleans Louisiana) on Wednesday afternoon with plenty of time to prep and practice. Jim flew in Wed. night and we prepped the boat all Thursday morning with the intent of practicing in the afternoon. With the wind at 30kts and huge chop in the bay we decided to hold off. Some people went out on the VX’s to have some “fun” but I elected to relax at the hotel.
Friday came and the weather was the same! No racing Friday after a lot of waiting around. New Orleans Yacht Club did a great job hosting a fun party (so I heard) but I went on walkabout around the town to see some of the “sights.”
Saturday arrived and we had still not stepped in the boat. Needless to say I was very anxious as we traveled a long way to match up against some seasoned pro’s and really see where we stood in the fleet. A lot of talk has been going on about which coast is faster (West, East or Gulf) and we just wanted to prove ourselves. Only two sets of Ullman’s on the course, Team FNG and Last Call. Team Last Call were competing in their first regatta on the Viper and just got delivery of their sails. I found them pondering the tuning guide I have written and helped them get dialed in.
The wind had filled in so the racing was on (finally) and we were off. The first start we were conservative and got a nice spot in clear air closer to the pin. First reaction… wow we are looking fast. The only boat that had speed on us was Last Call as they were 100lbs heavier. Last Call are a local group and they hit a nice shift on the left side of the course to get to the mark first. We struggled in the middle and rounded fifth. After hoisting the new spinnaker we quickly realized we were the fastest boat downwind, by a lot! On the last leg of the race we rounded the final windward mark fourth, only to pass everyone on the final leg and win. Huge relief all around as we realized we were quick. Day one finished with a 1,2,4 and Last Call was one point ahead with a 1,2,3.
Sunday was just as exciting. Between the race committee, and 180 degree wind shifts we all had our hands full. We did not start out so well as we sagged back to a sixth in the first race of the day. A little adjustment in the rig and some different main trim in the next race and we were launched. That’s more like it! More of the same in the next race as we found ourselves launched around the racecourse. Coming into the last mark we have a pretty good lead and just need to finish… then the spinnaker halyard breaks! The spinnaker is now in the water and around the keel. It takes me a second to react as we all look in horror and disbelief at what was transpiring. We pull the sail in the boat, Evan takes the jib down and we go up on the jib halyard with the spinnaker. We are now over the layline to the finish and screaming in at 13+ knots. Two boats managed to get past us but we edge out the rest to take third in the race (not bad considering).
A DNS in the last race (we figured getting better than a sixth was not in the cards with one halyard) cost us the regatta and took second. A little bit… I mean a HUGE disappointment after traveling so far. The important factor was we lost to a great group of guys and fantastic sailors (one was Snipe National Champion). Tom Peterson and his crew from Milwaukee sailed a great regatta and in the end both teams became friends… that’s what it is all about! You have to finish the regatta to win and we did not do that so that so the better boat won.
Our new Main and spinnaker were key to our speed. We have been working hard developing sails for the class and I have to give credit to One Design Coordinator, Erik Shampain, for his meticulous work in accommodating my requests on what we want the sails to do. Everything pays off when you work with a close-knit team like we have at Ullman and I thank the entire group from the designers to handworkers for contributing.
Time to head out on the San Diego to Puerto-Vallarta Race on a big Viper… The J-125.