Cunningham sweeps Etchells circuit

Published on May 21st, 2023

Twenty-two teams came out for the 2023 Etchells US National Championship on May 19-21 in San Diego, CA. Team Lifted (Jim Cunningham/ Steve Hunt/ Erik Shampain/ Serena Vilage) led from day one, but needed the final race to confirm the title. Their win also earned them the Etchells West Coast Spring Series victory, a four-event circuit from March to May.

Report from San Diego Yacht Club:
The final of four events in the 2023 Etchells West Coast Spring Series was the US Nationals/Orca Bowl, held May 19-21, at the San Diego Yacht Club. Twenty-two boats, including several teams back from the World Championship, competed over three days. Jim Cunningham’s Lifted finished the regatta with another win under their belt – securing them the overall winners of the West Coast Spring Series.

“The regatta was really fun with a lot of close racing, as the results showed. It was mostly a light air event with constant sail adjustments and moving in and out of the boat as the wind oscillated, and the pressure went up and down. It was very hard to be consistent throughout the whole regatta, and the boats that managed to keep their boats going throughout did well. In the end, it all came down to the last race and I believe four of the top six boats were within two points of each other. It doesn’t get much more competitive than that,” said Cunningham.

Lifted Crew Steve Hunt commented on the final race. “Our goal was to have a clean start in the middle, sail fast, and be in the top five on the beat. Fortunately, we were ahead of second and third overall on the first beat and tacked on them a few times to push them back. We then released forward, trying to pass as many boats as possible on the five-leg course. It was a tough event with many top sailors, and we feel fortunate and grateful to have come out with less points. We’d like to thank our tuning partners on Happy Ending for helping us get up to speed. Congratulations to them on their second place finish.”

Lifted is no stranger to good boat speed and even better tactics in changing conditions. The team went into the last day with a sizeable lead, while the next six teams fought it out for second place. Only two races were scheduled on May 21, and with Lifted in the top three at the first weather mark, it seems like a foregone conclusion that they would win with a race to spare. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy. After several circles to clear fouls, they finished the race in 13th – leaving the US National Championship anybody’s win.

Side Piece, skipped by Greg Reynolds, and Rhino, skippered by Bruce Nelson, were within five points of Lifted going into the final race, Race 8, of the regatta. Race 8 was a five-leg W/L course out of 260 degrees in 8 knots of breeze. With the line square and both sides of the course showing potential throughout the day, it was unclear which side of the beat was going to be favored.

It was a close race between the Lifted, Side Piece, and Rhino for the series win with no tacks being wasted. A long starboard gybe was favored with better pressure and current, and by the first bottom mark, none of the top three boats were in the top ten in this race. They were, however, still having their own battle in the middle of the fleet.

By the final leeward mark, Capricorn, skippered by Ethan Doyle, was leading by a small margin and split gates with Here We Go Again skippered by Rick Merriman, and Happy Ending, skippered by Chris Busch, who were overlapped making a right turn.

Busch explained, “All three boats found their own water. It was all about boat speed and the lane you picked. In the end, it came down to all three coming into the finish and shooting line with Happy Ending getting the win by a few feet. With that result, we ended up second in the regatta by one point.”

Side Piece Crew Chuck Eaton said, “Our strategy in the last race was difficult. We were tied with Rhino for second and knew we needed to get five points on Lifted to win. We kept our plan simple — to focus on staying close to both boats and sail a good race. We ended up starting between both boats and rounded the top mark just behind Lifted, with Rhino a few boats behind.

“We were slow at the rounding and got rolled by two boats, which was where we called for a Hail Mary jibe. After settling in, we realized we were racing for second and shifted focus to Rhino. We didn’t do a good job keeping track of everyone’s drop. That’s where we lost sight of the big picture and sailed our own drop. We were stoked to be battling with the top teams and very proud of our finish.”

Lifted sailed back up to seventh place and with Side Piece and Rhino both sailing their drop, the National Championship was theirs winning by six points. Only five points separated second and eighth place in the open class. Congratulations to Team Lifted – Jim Cunningham, Steve Hunt, Serena Village and Erik Shampain. Second place was Happy Ending – Chris Busch, Ben Mitchell, and Patrick Powell. In third place was Capricorn, and also winners of the Corinthian division, with Ethan Doyle and ten-year-old son Harrison, along with Brad Rodi and Matt Hecht.

Doyle said, “I was fortunate to be joined by a highly talented team anchored by my ten-year-old son Harrison and supported by Matt Hecht and Brad Rodi. Brad’s tactics were spot on all weekend, Matt was precise on the bow, and Harrison kept the wheels turning everywhere else on the boat. It was incredibly special to compete at that level with my son 30+ years after I was first introduced to Etchells racing by my father when I was ten.

“The event captured the spirit of the class wonderfully with sharp competition amongst many former world champions on the water and friendly chatter off the water. Hats off to Jim Cunningham and the Lifted team for taking home the championship.”

Rounding out the Corinthian division and winning the last day is Team Second Wind in second with Will LaDow, Andy LaDow, and Randall House. In third Place, Team Chomp with David Janinis, Eric Tecza, and KT Cornetta.

After each day of racing this weekend, competitors and guests were invited to post-race socials, including a special evening hosted at the home of Chair Melanie Aalbers and Ivan Batanov.

Aalbers commented, “Fleet 13 and the Etchells sailors are a special community and it was an honor to chair the US National Championship/Orca Bowl and the West Coast Spring Series. We were fortunate to have a wide mix of sailors and a great time on and off the water. The debriefs by Steve Hunt, Jim Cunningham, Erik Shampain, and Dave Ullman were tremendous in elevating all of the sailors throughout the series. It was a pleasure seeing camaraderie, friendships, and skills grow throughout the Series.”

Cunningham said, “The San Diego Yacht Club threw a great event both in and off the water with nightly events for the sailors and their friends and families.”

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