Tight win at Etchells Biscayne Bay Series
Published on December 10th, 2017
The first of four events that comprise the 2017-18 Etchells Biscayne Bay Series got underway with 42 teams competing in the Louis Piana Cup Regatta on December 9-10 in Miami, FL. After a lengthy delay on day one, two races were completed with three more on the second day, it was a who-beat-who in the final race to determine the winner. Jim Cunningham sailing with Jeff Madrigali, Mark Ivey, and Serena Vilage took care of business for a one point win over Lawrie Smith’s team of Richard Parslow, Goncalo Ribeiro, and Graham Sunderland.
Overall results (Top 10 of 42; 5 races, 1 discard)
1. USA, Jim Cunningham / Jeff Madrigali / Mark Ivey / Serena Vilage – 2 -1 -11 - -2 ; 16
2. GBR, Lawrie Smith / Richard Parslow / Goncalo Ribeiro / Graham Sunderland – 1 -5 -8 - -3 ; 17
3. USA, Jose Fuentes / Luke Lawrence / Ian Coleman – 5 - -15 -1 -1 ; 22
4. USA, Peter Vessella / Tracy Usher / John Callahan – 3 -15 - -5 -6 ; 29
5. USA, Adrian Owles / Steve Girling / Taylor Walker – 15 -2 -5 -10 - ; 32
6. USA, Steve Benjamin / Michael Menninger / Ian Liberty / Evan Aras – 19 -12 -1 -2 - ; 34
7. USA, Shannon W Bush / Brad Boston / Dave Hein / Craig Noakes – 6 -6 -4 -20 - ; 36
8. CAN, Andrew Cumming / Brian Kamilar / William Felder / Nikki Medley – 21 -3 - -8 -7 ; 39
9. USA, Craig Mense / John Harford / Fred Strammer / Emily Dellenbaugh – 16 -8 -6 -9 - ; 39
10. USA, Scott Kaufman / Alex Curtiss / Austen Anderson / Jesse Kirkland –  -10 -12 -7 -10 ; 39
Photos and report by John Payne:
Saturday began with a postponement on shore. PRO Stuart Childerley decided that discretion was the better part of valor, as a nasty cloud front was about to blow through South Florida. Once the worst of the squalls and thunderstorms had passed through, Childerley sent the fleet out at noon. Setting a race course proved difficult as the occasional showers trailing the front had sucked most of the wind out of the bay.
After a couple of general recalls, race one finally got under way a little after 2:00 under a “U” flag. The fleet headed up the course into a variable 8-10 knot breeze. First to the top mark was Scott Young on American Baby. Unfortunately, he was over early and would be scored UFD. He was followed by Lawrie Smith, Jim Cunningham, Ante Razmilovic (who also was scored UFD), and reigning world champion Steve Benjamin.
The race committee decided to try a new weather mark configuration this year. In Etchells racing, with a large fleet, one of the primary concerns is safety. Fifteen or twenty very pointy bowed boats converging on the weather mark all together has led to multiple serious collisions over the years.
This year the weather mark was an orange cylinder. Set about six boat lengths straight up wind was a yellow ball which served as the first weather offset. Both were required to be left to port. This layout eliminated the old danger of boats coming right into the weather mark on the port tack lay line, trying to crash through the parade of starboard tack boats approaching the mark. A second, more traditional, offset mark was placed six boat lengths away from the first, at which point boats could begin their runs.
By the second weather mark rounding, Benjamin had dropped back considerably, and Shannon Bush had moved into third, with Peter Vessela in fourth.
By the finish it was Smith, Cunningham, Vessela; one, two, three; with John Podmajersky and Jose Fuentes fourth and fifth respectively.
After re-setting the course PRO Childerley was able to start a second race in what turned out to be a freshening breeze. Jim Cunningham set the pace for the first leg, followed closely by Adrian Owles, Shannon Bush, Jay Cross, and Andrew Cumming.
By the second weather mark rounding, Adrian Oates and Jim Cunningham had swapped places as had Andrew Cumming and Jay Cross. Lawrie Smith had eased into fifth as Shannon Bush dropped to sixth. Cunningham passed Owles on the last downwind to take the horn, completing a nice score line of 2-1. The rest of the top six remained unchanged.
Leading after the first day was Jim Cunningham, followed by Lawrie Smith, Shannon Bush, Adrian Owles and Peter Vessella.
The fleet managed to get back to shore just before dark where they were treated to a fabulous Taco Bar washed down with plenty of Heineken.
Sunday dawned clear, cold and breezy. With the first start moved up one hour in an effort to get in all three of the remaining scheduled races, the crews donned all of the gear they possessed and headed out. Temperatures were around fifty degrees, and the Northwest wind was around twenty knots with higher gusts.
Race three went off right on schedule with a Course 4, at a bearing of 340 degrees and a distance of 1.6 nautical miles to the weather mark. First to the top was Ernie Pomerleau. He was followed by Robert Allardice, Shannon Bush, Adrian Owles and Steve Benjamin.
After shortening the second upwind leg to 1.2 nautical miles, the first to the mark was Robert Allardice. He was followed by Ernie Pomerleau, Steve Benjamin, Adrian Owles, and Shannon Bush.
Benjamin passed Alderdice and Pomerleau on the last downwind to take the gun. They were followed by Bush and Owles.
Race four was a wire to wire victory for Jose Fuentes. Second at the first mark, and in the race, was Steve Benjamin. Third to the first mark both times around was Bruce Burton. Peter Vessella was fourth the first time around with the Etchells youth team led by Conner Needham in fifth. Needham moved up to third on the last downwind with Vessella edging Burton for fourth.
The Etchells Youth Team consists of skipper Conner Needham along with Jimmy Kennedy, Bram Brackman and Hannah Polster. It was conceived as a vehicle to get younger sailors interested in competing in the Etchells. Run through the Oyster Bay Sailing Foundation, the team was loaned one of Steve Benjamin’s boats for the Biscayne Bay Winter Series. Their funding comes from tax deductible donations that can be sent to Oyster Bay Sailing Foundation Inc. PO Box 720 Oyster Bay NY 11771-0720. Include notation for 2017 US Etchells Youth Challenge.
Needham said sailing in Biscayne Bay was great. He said the 42-boat starting line kind of awed his crew, who are relatively new to the class. He stressed, “You had to do your homework. The shifts were a bit unpredictable, though Sunday’s were easier to read.” He continued, “In our best race [race three] we were right with the leaders starting the last downwind but we split from them, and couldn’t get back. We were still really happy with a third.”
Needham’s team wasn’t the only youth team in the regatta. David Frank’s injury kept him from competing so he sent over a group of young British sailors who have been sailing Etchells on the other side of the pond. Shabazz Patterson, Montel Fagen-Jordon and Camillo Orobio joined Matt Reid to race Frank’s boat. They finished a respectable twelfth with no finish worse than thirteenth. The lads reported they had a great time sailing in Miami, especially their sixth in race four, but wished it had been a bit warmer.
Race five was course 5 at a bearing of 345 degrees and 1.5 nautical miles. By now the winds had dropped to the mid to lower teens. As so often happens in sailboat racing, the cream rises to the top. Of the first five to the first weather mark, four were the boats who would finish the regatta in first through fourth. Lawrie Smith was closely followed by Michael Goldfarb, Jose Fuentes, Jim Cunningham and Peter Vessella.
Fuentes ultimately won the race with Cunningham second, Smith third, Robert Alderdice fourth and Goldfarb fifth.
Steve Benjamin finished the race a disappointing 23rd. When asked what happened he responded, “The conditions today were challenging to say the least. On that last race we got caught out on the wrong side of a shift and couldn’t get back. We had a bunch of what we called auto tacks.” He went on to say, “It was still an amazing weekend. It just confirms what I already felt, that the Etchells class sailing here is the best racing in a very competitive fleet, in a beautiful location.”
Winning the 2017 Louis Piana Cup was Jim Cunningham with his crew of Jeff Madrigali, Mark Ivey and Serena Village. Jim had an early flight and missed the awards however he graciously agreed to carry on the brilliant Biscayne Bay Series tradition of opening up the bar for everyone to enjoy a free libation.
Speaking to Jeff after the awards, he opined, “It was a very tactical regatta because of the shifts. Good positioning at the start was important.” He stated, “We had Lawrie with us the whole last race and just nosed him out at the finish for the win.”
Finishing second was Lawrie Smith with Richard Parslow, Goncalo Ribeiro, and Graham Sunderland. Third went to Jose Fuentes, sailing with Luke Lawrence and Ian Coleman.
Jose said, “This was the first time we had sailed together so it took a bit of time to develop our communication. Once we settled down we got the boat moving.” Luke Lawrence added, “We just tried to keep it simple and catch the shifts.”
Fourth place went to Peter Vessella with his crew of Tracy Usher and John Callahan. Rounding out the podium were Adrian Owles and his crew of Steve Girling and Taylor Walker.
Next up in the Series is the Sidney Doren Memorial in January.
2017-18 Etchells Biscayne Bay Series:
Louis Piana Cup Regatta – December 9-10, 2017
Sidney Doren Memorial Regatta – January 6-7, 2018
Florida State Championship – February 3-4, 2018
Mid-Winter’s East Regatta – March 2-4, 2018