Pacific Yankee leads fleet at 167th Annual Regatta
Published on June 13th, 2021
Newport, RI (June 13, 2021) – For the skipper of an amateur sailing team, there are few things more comforting that getting on the boat for the first big regatta of the summer and looking at all same faces from the previous season. If that previous season also happened to end with a win in the biggest regatta, well, then it’s probably going to be a long regatta for the competition.
Such was the case for the Melges IC37 fleet at 167th edition of the New York Yacht Club’s Annual Regatta. Pacific Yankee, co-owned by Drew Freides and Bill Ruh and sailing with the same crew that won the class’s North American Championship last October, was nearly untouchable June 12-13, winning two of four races and taking first overall by seven points. Das Blau Max, co-skippered by Nick and Cory Sertl, finished second, with Jim Wilson’s Midnight Blue in third.
“It was just a fantastic team effort,” says Ruh, of Fort Lauderdale, FL, who helmed the boat for this regatta. “And that what was this regatta was all about, to get the team sailing well again after so much time away, and to see if we could continue to get faster in all conditions.”
After a long offseason, which followed the COVID-shortened 2020 sailing season, it’s no surprise there was a lot of enthusiasm on the water for the Annual Regatta. Boats were crowding the starting line in all classes, and no where was the intensity as high as the Melges IC37 class, with 16 teams of talented amateurs, plus a handful of top professionals, all hoping to get the season started right.
“It was really about being conservative,” says Ruh, when asked about his starting strategy. “The last thing we wanted to be was over early. We tried to find some holes where we could build some speed.
“In one start, we got stuck between five boats, so we just sort of let the fleet pass ahead of us and took everybody’s transom and went out on port and caught some clear air. It was just getting out to the edges of the course and not in the middle where you’re sailing through chopped up air from the other classes.”
Clear air is important, but the ability to recover from a bad start is usually an indication of better than average boat speed. Ruh says the credit for that goes largely to the crew, led by main trimmer Rick Merriman and jib trimmer Charlie Smythe.
Roger Lowlicht didn’t have the advantage of a well-oiled crew. In fact, he threw his team together at the last minute. But he did have something else, a deep understanding of his boat, the Evelyn 32 Dark Star. Nearly 40 years ago, Lowlicht and his brother-in-law Ben Hall built one of the first Evelyn 32s at yacht designer Bob Evelyn’s shop in Connecticut. Hall bought another one many years later, did a few modifications to the boat, and then sold it Lowlicht three years ago.
The Evelyn 32 has always been a strong light-air boat, which was apparent yesterday as Dark Star racked up a pair of victories in PHRF 3 Spinnaker. Today, in the building breeze and chop, it was a different story.
“Somebody fouled us in the first race, which is why we wound up out of phase with the fleet,” says Lowlicht, of Branford, CT. “Once we cleared the foul, we were set back a bit.”
In the second race, the damage was self-inflicted.
“Today we got a little trapped at the second mark on the second race where it was blowing pretty hard,” he says. “We jib-reached most of the way [on the second leg], then decided to put the chute up a little early because we had to jibe at the leeward mark. That wrong decision cost us two or three places. But in terms of the performance, it was enough to get the job done. A lot of credit goes to the crew, I think we sailed very smart and we had a great time.”
The fifth in the second race was just enough to keep Dark Star ahead of the competition. When the dust settled, the top six boats in PHRF 3 were within 5 points of one another.
With four races in four different conditions, Paul Zabetakis (Jamestown, RI) and his team in Impetuous relied on their 15 years of experience sailing their Swan 42 to give them the edge in ORC C. In addition to the Division win, Impetuous was also named the ORC Overall Winner, which is based on a corrected-seconds-per-mile calculation across all 48 boats sailing under the ORC rating rule.
“I”m really glad, because we worked really hard for it,” says Zabetakis, the Vice Commodore of the New York Yacht Club. “One of the things we’ve learned over the years is that the Swan 42 is a heavy boat, you can’t throw it around like a dinghy, you have to keep the boat moving.
“The key was getting a good start and then being about go four of five minutes without having to do anything, really focusing on straight-line speed. There were times it wasn’t easy because it got kind of choppy., We missed a couple of shifts and boats got ahead of us, but we were always in close contact with the other Swan 42s so that became critical.”
With four other Swan 42s doing well in ORC C, Zabetakis and his team, including tactician John Mollicone and longtime main trimmer Todd McGuire, always had a reference for their performance during any race; they could almost sail like it was a one-design class. The other teams were all new to the Swan 42, so Zabetakis said his familiarity with the boat and the complex tuning matrix for the mast was an advantage. But that is likely to shrink as the summer progresses.
“If all those [Swan 42] teams continue to sail together, it’s just going to get tighter and tighter,” he says. “We had some fairly close mark roundings, where all the 42s were right there. So it was really fun.”
One final performance to call attention to was the picket fence of first-place finishes put up by John Cooper’s Cool Breeze in ORC B. Cool Breeze is a Mills 43, hailing from Cane Hill, Mo., but a familiar sight at Newport regattas. In the past, Cool Breeze raced in the same division as the Swan 42s. This year, Cooper and his crew were put into ORC B, where they sailed against a fleet of quicker boats.
“It definitely spread things out a little bit,” says Cooper. “We always in the past have been sailing against the Swan 42s, and we’re really close with those. [Being in ORC B] gave us a few more lanes, and the bigger boats at the top of the fleet were beating on each other. Our starts were really consistent.
“Out of five starts, we probably won the pin on four of them, if not all. That was key, getting the left side and holding a clean lane as long a possible seemed to pay off all weekend.”
Racing in the 167th edition of the Annual Regatta started with the traditional lap of Conanicut Island on June 11. That race is scored separately from the series on June 12-13 which featured buoy or point-to-point racing for boats racing in one-design classes and under ORC, PHRF and classic-yacht rating formulas.