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CHICAGO, IL – Chicago… Chicago.. you’re my kind of town…   Zephyr smoked em’ this past weekend at Chicago Yacht Club’s very prestigious “VERVE CUP”.  This regatta had over 203 boats which included  Great Lake 70’s (has-been west coast Trans-Pac boats),  Farr 40’s, OD 35’s, Mumm 30’s, J-125’s, J-145’s, Tartan 10’s etc.  As far as I can tell, it’s a condensed three-day Yankee version of Key West race week.   Zephyr raced in PHRF  CLASS 8 which was made up of six J-30’s,  three S2 9.1’s, a Soveral 27, a Pearson 36, Olson 911s and a Beneteaue 381.    The J-30’s included past North American Champion Dorsey Owens sailing Sea Biscuit.  The J-30’s were the most affordable and slowest rated boats on the entire race course!  The one thing I noticed is that this town has money!

In Race One, the breeze was blowing 8-12 knots out the West and the weather mark was set about a mile off the mouth of the Chicago River in the lee of the city. Zephyr had a great start but missed the first shift as we had some major troubles with the leech line in the genoa.  Missing the first shift forced us to play the not-so-favored left side of the course as we rounded the weather mark a distant fourth.  After setting, jibing and playing the waves we quickly ground our way back to third.    At the leeward mark we tacked to clear our air, and found our selves back in fourth and going to the not-so favored left side once again.  We could see the right paying with more breeze and lift, but just couldn’t get there as the five classes that started ahead of us gave us no lanes for clear air on that side of the course.  Here comes the “ESPN PLAY OF THE DAY”:  we got a 10 degree throw and started to tack, half way into the tack our skipper noticed the jib was not back winding, he pulled the helm back to stop the tack and faked out his entire crew.  We were now lifted forty degrees on the same tack.  About 150 yards later we got thrown forty degrees and tacked.  We were now on port lay line, we went from fourth to first in two shifts.  We had also just past 11 boats with lower ratings that started five minutes ahead of us.  We got the gun and won class by over three minutes.   Our new J-30 friends were quick to congratulate us after the finish with “Nice race guys… the left never pays here when it’s blowing out the south east….you lucky bastards”.   We’ll take luck over skill any time especially when we had no local knowledge on the boat.

In Race Two, the breeze started out in the same direction as the previous race.  We had a good start but the breeze started to crump.  We went from first to last place four different times on the first beat.  We rounded the weather mark a very distant third and remained there the entire race.  The breeze velocity and direction changed constantly.   The beat became a run and the run became a beat, the RC did the best they could do without abandoning the race.  This race was a real “crap shoot”, all to similar to a typical day on Lake Pontchartrain.    Local J-30 sailor, Dennis Bartley sailing Planxty won this race by nailing every shift on the first leg.  The Soverel 27 finished ahead of us in second (the Soverel 27 is a light air machine, it would be a perfect racer for Lake Pontchartrain).

In Race Three, Zephyr won the start and caused havoc at that committee boat end by forcing two of our competitors to the windward side of the boat.  The two boats that we “squeezed out” jibed out and were forced to the right.  They went from last to first with one lucky shift,  boy oh boy, we know that feeling!  We worked the left side of the course again and stayed bow out.  We could see a big lefty up the course and figured it would pay if we could just be patient.  We had to sail through to lifts to get there, but it worked out. We finally got the header that we were looking for and rounded the weather mark in second place behind a S2 9.1.  We jibed inside of the S2 soon after rounding and lead the next two legs with a very comfortable margin.  With about a ¼ of mile to the finish, the breeze began to build from behind which pushed the entire fleet up to us.   A squaw/front/lowpressurefeederband was approaching and we had about fifty yards to finish with two other J-30’s on our breeze.  About five boat lengths before we finished, lightning struck close, very close, all over us as matter of fact, it knocked the numbers off the sail comp, made the hair on arms stand up and tingled everyone’s fingers that were holding onto wet lines.  Even with the lightning strike, we protected our lead and finished first.  We reset the instruments and sail comp came back on, so it must have just been a near strike!

In Race Four, the squaw/front/lowpressurefeederband was about two miles to windward and just sitting there.  So that is where the RC decided to drop the weather mark.  We were thinking, we came here to race….but these guys are nuts if they are going to race us into this damn front!  They started the sequence and the breeze was howling!  It was blowing at least 30 knots.  We even saw a few well sailed J-30’s take a reef (very rare occurrence).  We went with the #3 a full main and mega back stay!  We won the start, but the brain trust was a little weary of whether or not we were over the line or not!  Our foredeck lost site of the pin end in the waves as they were rolling about 6- 8 feet.   The breeze was on, blowing stink as they say in da big easy.  The only lulls were at the bottom of the wave troughs.  The rail meat convinced the brain trust not to go back and restart, so we kept racing with a bit of doubt!    Soon after the start, a J-30 on our windward hip blew the clew and foot out of his main,  another J-30 bow out and leeward broke his main halyard, and the Soverel 27 was going up one wave and sideways two!    We were smokin, our class was going out the back door.  We got to the weather mark with about 100 yard lead.  We did a very conservative chute set with tweakers, backstay and vang whaled on.  It was all white knuckles, we were blowing off these cliff like waves with no problems.  Our speed was in the 12-15 knot range the entire leg.  The Chicago Air Show was going on all weekend at the lake front also, so we weren’t the only ones breaking the sound barrier. The only relief in sight was that we were about 4 degrees above the leeward mark and might not have to jibe (YIKES!).  Stephen Murray’s Andrews  70 Decision racing on course “A” opted to not put their chute up on this leg, they achieved speeds in the mid-teens and opted to do a 360 degree turn and tack down wind instead of jibing so that they could keep the rig in the boat.  It ended up being a good call for them, as they kept their rig up (at least two-three boats lost their masts in this race).  Zephyr stayed on its feet and extended its lead, we caught a few waves right and didn’t have to jibe.  We had a great take down and the breeze  settled down to the upper twenties.  We had passed all of the J-29’s that started five minutes ahead of us and could keep a very comfortable lead as long as we didn’t break anything.  We reached the weather mark a good ½ mile ahead of everyone in our class, so no need to put up the chute on the last leg right!…. wrong… chute goes up perfect and we blast off again!  Now we are really cocky…..but this time we have to jibe for the finish!  No problem, you know the old saying about heavy air sailing down wind in waves…. as long as you are on a full plane….. all the loads are off and the jibe is easy! Wrong!  We flubbed the jibe bad, couldn’t get the main over, couldn’t get the pole made and tripped over keel on a huge wave.  The J-29’s that we passed, said that it didn’t look too bad.  We recovered and finished first with a four minute lead on a 5.25 mile course in thirty knots of breeze.  Not to bad for some dumb southerners.

In Race Five, Zephyr blows it!  The breeze is blowing any where from 8-25 but shows signs of building as there was another storm lurking.  We opted for the # 3 and the breeze crumped shortly after the start.  Our competitors went with #2’s and left us in their wakes.  We switched to the #1 and rounded the weather mark fifth.  The breeze swung 40 degrees and filled in at about 20-25 knots.  We caught the front pack on this reach, but could only grind down one more boat upwind.  We finished this race fourth but still won our class overall.

It was an awesome weekend, the race committee work on Course C was done by Columbia Yacht Club and was damn near perfect considering the trying conditions.  The RC announced the course, direction, distance to mark and welcomed the sailors prior to every race on the VHF radio.  The parties were great, the Zephyr team of Scott, Dale, Dave Erwin, Chris Wientjes, Steve Klyce, Riccardo, & New Zealander Terry Kay two fisted free rum drinks on Saturday night in a typical NOYC fashion.  The Band “Common Grounds” played great hits of Van Halen, Violent Femmes & the Clash which helped get the party cranked up.   The three boats that had mostly GYA talent all won their classes.   Hunter Riddle from Pensacola on Fin-esse won class in PHRF 6 and Stephen  Murray’s Andrews 70 Turbo Sled with a –99 rating won class in PHRF 1.  The regatta was also a trip down memory lane, as the last time I saw Gauntlet, Saga & Zephyr at the same dock was in 1993.  Here they were in Chicago all at the same dock, Saga has been renamed Wind Dancer, but Gauntlet is still Gauntlet.  We will report again via live web-cast from down town Chicago next week at the J-30 North Americans.  Hopefully, we can produce the same results.  Stay tuned.