Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bacardi Miami Sailing Week Debrief

Bacardi Miami Sailing Week 2014, marked the 5th anniversary of this one design regatta which offers one-design teams from around the world a chance to warm up (for Northern Hemisphere teams) and a chance to indulge in the big breeze and flat water of Winter on Biscayne Bay.

I was lucky enough to spend the regatta with J/70 #169 and really enjoy what these boats can do in the breeze.

Day 1 greeted us with 10-15kts of breeze from the SE and great racing conditions. Though we were disadvantaged due to the fact that our driver was unable to arrive until day 2, we all shifted aft one position and got out there. As with every yacht race, getting off the starting line bow ahead or at least bow even was key. We didn't nail the starts, but we managed to get up to speed quickly and find clear air. Roundings were a little rough with a guest working up forward, but in such a forgiving boat, these didn't result in anything catastrophic.

I should clarify that though the boat is forgiving, the fleet is not. These are fast boats and the speed differences between one that is completely dialed in and one that is getting there can be 2-3kts. An error that might cost you a quarter boatlength in a J/24 will cost you 10 in a J/70.
Despite the excellent race committee work, the weather decided not to cooperate. Day 1 of racing was cut short after two races when a violent storm came through, threatening the fleet with sustained high breeze, sheets of rain and a risk of tornadoes. Thankfully the RC got all the boats in and rafted before the storm arrived and the only casualty on day 1 was the rum tent.

Day 2 arrived like a lion. The wind didn't lay down much overnight so we hit the racecourse in a sustained 18-22kt breeze. After 3 general recalls, we finally got going for the long uphill slog to the top mark. It was wet and there was some pounding, but with the rig set up properly, the boat seemed to stay on her feet more often than not and even for the forward crew it wasn't uncomfortable.
At the top mark the afterburners came on. At this point the breeze was up to about 24-25kts, certainly not unmanageable but very lively. The boat submarined through waves when we were less aggressive than we should have been with weight placement and the kite really loaded up when the hull slowed down. It was imperative to keep the boat planing as much as possible, to gybe in the flat spots and to always have a hold of the vang. As soon as the boat began to heel and load, the vang had to be eased or else she went over on her side.

Many of you have broached sailboats before and probably many of you have capsized in dinghies. Let me tell you that a broach in a J/70 is about the nicest, easiest broach you can imagine. Unless the kite is shrimped, the boat only seems to heel to about 60 degrees and just holds there. No worrying about water filling through the companionway or climbing down a vertical deck to get to a halyard. She just stays there, sails flogging, crew laughing, and waits for you to sort it out. Only one broach required the spinnaker halyard to come off and even then only about 10 feet had to be eased to bring the boat back up. After that a hard turn down on the tiller and a few hard pulls on the spinnaker and we were back to speed in no time.

While we had it easy, the Melges 20 class certainly didn't. Five masts broke during racing and there is quite a gallery of wipeout photos from Boatyard Photography

Unfortunately after the breeze blew through on day 2, day 3 was a bust. We tried and tried to get a race off, but the sea breeze was fighting with some high pressure and sailable wind never materialized. Such is the nature of yacht racing, I suppose.

At the end of the event, I can say that we learned a lot, gained a lot of comfort with the boat and had a really nice time getting warm and wet for a few days.

We can't wait to have the fleet of J/70s on the water for our 2nd Annual J/Day Regatta

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