Etchells Florida State Championship 2015

Etchells Florida State Championship 2015

Published on February 9th, 2015


Report by John Payne. Photos by John Payne (where marked) and Scott Giering.

The 2014-15 Etchells Midwinter Series continued in Miami the weekend of February 7th and 8th. The Jag, as the series has become better known, attracted 50 boats for the Tom Piper Memorial Florida State Championships, the third event of the four regatta series.

Miami is famous for its great winter climate, and Saturday did not disappoint. PRO Dave Brennan sent the fleet out into a forecast 16-20 knot easterly under mostly sunny skies, with temperatures in the high 60s. Those forecast conditions greeted the sailors when they reached the racing area on Biscayne Bay. It was crowded Saturday, with 50 Etchells, 37 Melges 20’s and 22 Stars all sharing the bay. The Coconut Grove skyline with the twisted condos of the Terra group and the turquoise hats of the Ritz Carlton made a dramatic backdrop to the simplicity, and classic design of the Etchells fleet.

For race one, PRO Dave Brennan set a course at 070° with a first beat of 1.6 miles in breeze ranging from 12-17 knots. It appeared that nobody wanted to push the line and race one started “all clear”.

Argyle Campbell led the fleet up the middle right, to round mark one just ahead of Ante Razmilovic on Swedish Blue and Jim Cunningham on Lifted.

Dave Brennan likes to start each Etchells race with a long first beat and first downwind, in an attempt to spread out the fleet. Fifty sharp pointed keel boats arriving in a leeward gate together can be rather dicey. Once the fleet has spread out some, Dave will then shorten the last two legs to keep the race to a decent length of time. Today’s races were no exception.
For the second upwind, the course was shortened to 1.3 miles at a bearing of 075° Ante reached the top in first, followed by Argyle in second, with Steve Benjamin easing into third. That order held on the second downwind to the finish.

By the start of race two the wind was backing a bit so the course was set at a bearing of 065°, with a first beat of 1.7 miles. That was shortened to 1.6 miles to avoid conflict with the Stars, racing close by.

First to the top was Phil Lotz on Arethusa. He was closely followed by Stephan Benjamin on Scimitar and Marvin Beckmann on The Martian in second and third, respectively. That order held for the downwind.

On the second upwind, the breeze got tremendously puffy and shifty. At one point, looking up the course, it appeared one group of boats on the left were in a wind with a 055° bearing while a bigger group on the right were seeing closer to 070°. As they neared the top mark the oscillations grew smaller and Phil Lotz was again first to round. By now, Barry Allardice had pulled into second with Stephan Benjamin holding onto third. That order held to the finish.

By the start of the third race, the Stars had left the bay, leaving PRO Brennan more space to set his course. The 16 knot wind had continued to back so the course was set at 055° with a length of 1.6 miles.

First to the top mark was Shannon Bush on La Tormenta. She was closely followed by Ernie Pomerleau and Jim Cunningham on Lifted, in second and third respectively. On the downwind Peter Duncan on Raging Rooster eased into second between Bush and Cunningham. By the time the fleet got to the second weather mark rounding, La Tormenta had dropped back to second, trailing Lifted, with Raging Rooster rounding out the top three. Those three boats led the rest of the race with Cunningham holding onto the lead for the win. He was flowed closely by Peter Duncan and Shannon Bush in second and third, respectively.

Jim Cunningham remarked, “We just try to make up boats on each leg and today were able to do so on all but the second upwind of the first race.” He continued, “On the second upwind of race three we followed the boat ahead of us up the left middle. When we got to the top of the course, that turned out to be the favored side and we passed the boat ahead of us (La Tormenta) to take the win”.

Back on shore, the crews were treated to another great party by Biscayne Bay Yacht Club. The conditions were perfect under the sea grape trees for an exchange of war stories from the day, and any talk of tactics soon turned to where to enjoy dinner in Coconut Grove.

Sunday dawned with similar conditions, albeit with lighter breeze. The regatta would be decided on the water as no fewer than ten boats had a legitimate shot at the podium.

Race four got underway on time with a bearing of 115° and a distance of 1.6 miles, in 11 knots.

First to the top, coming in from the left side, were Skip Dieball and Jon McClean with a very slim lead over John Podmajersky who came up the right side. Rounding out the top three was Jim Cunningham who continued his hot hand from the day before.

By the time the fleet reached the gate, Jim had solidified his hold on first with Skip and Tony Rey in second and third. That order held for the last two legs of race four, setting the stage for an exciting finish.

After four races, Jim Cunningham had already won the regatta so he headed back to the dock to beat the boat hauling rush. But, the race for second through fifth was as tight as could be. Three boats were tied on points and four more were within eight points. Considering the drop would figure in after the fifth race, it was all on the line for race five.

By now the breeze was beginning to fade a bit, although it was still in the eight to ten knot range. Course five (five legs) was posted by PRO Brennan with a first leg at a bearing of 120° and a distance of 1.5 miles.

With so much riding on this last race, there were a few boats called over early, but all made it back to clear. Several of those were the aforementioned top seven, who all effectively lost their shots at the podium.

First to the top was Steve Benjamin on Scimitar. He was closely followed by Jamie Hilton in second and Michael Gavin on Clean Execution in third. Those three boats stayed in the top three for the entire race, with Benjamin ultimately settling into third behind Hilton and Gavin.

Winning the regatta was Jim Cunningham on Lifted with his crew of Jeff Madrigali, Mark Ivey and Bryn Bachman. Commenting on his success, he said, “Our story was preparation. We ended last year with some success but this year we couldn’t find the boat speed.” Cunningham continued, “We came down two days early and worked on rig tune and boat speed with our coach Ed Adams. Essentially we put in the time and determined the proper boat set-up for different conditions, and we got the boat speed back up.”

He went on to explain, “In this series consistency is at a premium. If you can put together a consistent series, you can do well. One key is to get off the line cleanly. We didn’t fight for either end [of the line], but we used our boat speed to get out into a clean lane for the first four or five minutes. That allowed us to execute our game plan for each race.”

Finishing second was Argyle Campbell on USA 1375 with his crew of Michael Menninger, Nick Martin and Victor Diaz de Leon.

Steve Benjamin on Scimitar finished tied for second but lost the tiebreaker to wind up third. He sailed with Luke Lawrence, George Peet, and 12-year-old Opti sailor Manteo Farina. By virtue of being the top Florida boat, Benjamin also wins the Florida State Championship. Asked about the regatta Steve opined, “Well we had a new crew once again, but they came together nicely. Luke Lawrence joined us along with 12-year-old Manteo Farina. Manteo gets us up to the weight limit, but he stepped up and proved to be a very valuable asset on our team.” Continuing, he said, “There were a fantastic variety of conditions. With things varying quickly it forced us to react. We needed to work leg by leg because of the big shifts. Our success came by sticking to the middle and avoiding the edges.”

Three points back, in fourth place, was Ante Razmilovic on Swedish Blue sailing with his crew of Chris Larson and Stu Flinn.

Rounding out the top five, just one point out of fourth, was Skip Dieball driving Jon McClean’s Aretas. Joining them on the crew was Jeff Eiber.

The Florida State Championship Regatta is now dedicated to the memory of Tom Piper, former captain of Etchells Fleet 20. Tom facilitated the growth of the local fleet by finding crew, hosting visiting sailors, and generally being the kind, thoughtful charming man that he was. He then was named the International Fleet Captain for the whole class during the World Championships in Ireland. Tom was one of the men responsible for creating the Jag Series. As a result of his efforts, we regularly have 50+ boats sailing on Biscayne Bay for four weekends during the season.

Next up, the Mid-Winter’s East Regatta for the Schoonmaker Cup.

Complete resultsEvent details

The 2015 Jaguar Series regatta dates:
Dec. 6-7: Louis Piana Cup Regatta
Jan. 10-11: Sidney Doren Memorial Regatta
Feb. 7-8: Florida State Championship Regatta
Feb. 27-Mar. 1: Mid-Winter’s East Regatta for the Schoonmaker Cup

To qualify for the JAGUAR CUP SERIES, boats must count their place in the Mid-Winters Regatta, and any two of the other three individual regattas (Piana Cup, Sidney Doren Memorial, Florida State Championship). Place scores from each individual regatta of the series will be used with a Low Point Scoring System (1st Place = 1 point, 2nd Place = 2 points, 3rd Place = 3 points, etc.). The boat with the lowest score will be declared the winner of the 2014 JAGUAR CUP SERIES.

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