Monday, August 29, 2016

Everett Crowned J/70 Women’s Worlds Champion!

J/70 Women's Keelboat Championship (Rye, New York)- Communal experience as a team and college sailing experience in shifty winds paid dividends for Clemmie Everett (Rye, N.Y.) and her crew, who took home the Bengt Julin Trophy for winning the 2016 International Women’s Keelboat Championship at American Yacht Club on Friday.

“Wednesday’s racing was coming right off the shore so it was very shifty,” said Everett. “Alix sailed at Tufts. Tufts sails at Mystic Lake. I sailed in the Charles River in college. We both do a lot of frostbiting. We were totally comfortable with puffy and shifty conditions.”  The team made a conscious effort to avoid penalties that would have cost valuable standings points.

“The biggest thing was sailing clean,” said Carolyn Russell of Greenwich, Conn., who trimmed spinnaker for the winning crew. “You don’t want to make contact, because that really kills you.”

Womens Worlds winners- Everett and American YC team“We tried our hardest never to realize we were really close,” said Erin Sprague, who trimmed the mainsheet and traveler. “After the second round robin, once we looked at the numbers, we had a little taste of the fact that it was possible.”

But, until their J/70 was close to the final finish line, Everett and her crew tried to keep it out of their heads.

“We didn’t talk about it a lot, we were just out for a sail,” said Alix Hahn, who grew up sailing at American Yacht Club and trimmed jib and called tactics for the winners. “After the second race in (the championship flight) we knew this was ours to lose, and we went out and won that last one, and it felt really good.

When the boat crossed the line, tears flowed, hugs were given, and the spinnaker came down. But Everett’s team knew what an amazing week of sailing they had shared.

“Every minute in the boat counts,” said Alix Hahn, who grew up sailing at American Yacht Club and trimmed jib and called tactics for the winners. “Without question, this is a peak victory for all of us. I don’t think any of us have had a sailing moment that’s as special as this one.”

For the winners, the influence on younger female sailors could not be understated. “I would say to any young girl who is scared of sailing right now, just keep at it, ask a lot of questions, and find some mentors or find some coaches and get determined, and decide this is what you want to do, and go do it.”

First day report
The sixteen teams came from Germany, Canada, New Zealand and 12 US states. Included were two teams from Rye.  After a four-year hiatus, U.S. Sailing restarted the International Women’s Keelboat Championship, choosing the 130-year-old American Yacht Club in Rye as host.

Held in Long Island Sound, the regatta spanned four days, beginning Tuesday, and featured 16 four-member crews who rotated boats, competing 10 races each.  At least, that was the plan.

The teams used 12 provided J/70 sailboats that were all tuned identically for mast rake and rig tension and used a brand-new inventory of North Sails.

Women's J/70 Keelboat WorldsMegan Ploch, who at only 16, was skippering a boat, wasn’t taking anything for granted.  Ploch, a Pelham resident whose dad is a sailmaker, has sailed at American Yacht Club for years. She competed with a team that included Christine Klinger, 18, of the Larchmont Yacht club, Barbara Gold and Anne Schwagler.

“I love how I actually know a lot of the people sailing or know of them. It’s like ‘Oh, gosh, I’m sailing against world-class sailors. Wow, insane – Germany,” said Ploch, who’ll start her senior year at Pelham High in the fall and plans to sail in college.

“There are some really, really good sailors here. I really want to have a good time and to do the best we can. All the people (on my team) are really capable sailors. We’ll sail the best we can and see where it gets us,” she added.

J/70 German women's team- Deutscher Touring YC The German team Ploch mentioned, the Deutscher Touring YC team out of Tutzing, Germany, which is near Munich, includes Monika Linder, Anna Seidl, Laura Fischer and skipper Mareike Weber, all of whom are in their early to mid-20s.  Their club and sponsors, including BMW, sponsored their trip and entry.  The squad, which has competed together since March, is hoping for a top-five finish.  It did not take long for these sailors to be treated to the heart-quickening pace that is attributed to the “sailing league” format.

The fleet experienced an amazingly good first day of sailing.  The forecast was for an early easterly breeze of 6-8 kts to die by noon and, with a pending front arriving overnight, to switch into the SSW and increase to 10-15 kts.  The US Sailing PRO- Sandy Grosvenor, worked closed with her assistant PRO- Sandy Weil of American YC, to provide incredibly fast-paced racing.  After getting in a quick three races in the morning, then a quick lunch break for the wind to settle in, the fleet zipped through a flurry of eight races (averaging 20 minutes each) in the afternoon to complete 11 of the 16 races necessary for a complete rotation in Round 1.

After the first day of racing, it was pretty clear that two teams were sailing fast and consistent and were hoping to be leading after the completion of Round 1 the next day; Melinda Henshaw from Remuera, New Zealand and Allie Blecher from California.

Women J/70 sailors- racing WorldsDay Two Report
After two days of intense competition, it was Henshaw’s New Zealand crew that was leading after Round 1 of 16 races in very puffy, shifty wind conditions.  Henshaw was counting all top four finishes for just 25 pts in her ten races- an astonishing average of just 2.5 pts.  After closing with a 2-1-2 in her last three races, Allie Blecher leapt into second place with 32 pts, just seven points clear of the German Deutscher Touring YC led by skipper Mareike Weber, sitting on 39 pts.  Fourth was Emily Maxwell’s team with 40 pts, winning the tie-breaker for Round 1 over Giselle Nyenhuis, the leader of the Netherlands team.

The stage was now set for Round 2 of the regatta.  Would the standings get jumbled yet again?  It was evident the fleet was beginning to play a fierce game of “snakes & ladders” in the exceedingly shifty, blustery winds on the second day of racing.

The forecast for the day was for a strong NNW breeze to slowly die off by the evening.  The morning dawned with winds blowing 10 to 20 kts from the NNW and shifting a good 35-45 degrees on both the upwind and downwind legs.  It paid to get in phase on the lifted tack as early as possible off the start.  Getting flushed to the wrong side of the course produced disastrous consequences.  And, not gybing early into wind streaks filling off the New York shoreline would cost you dearly as boats that worked into the leading edges of puffs would simply streak past you on a full-on plane.

AYC Girls team- sailing J/70 Women's World Championship“We felt really comfortable today, which was sort of surprising,” Blecher said. “We never really lost our cool. Anything’s possible. If we were on the wrong side of a shift, we knew hopefully that something else would be there to gain it back.”  Blecher’s boat, crewed by Rebekah Schiff, Molly Robinson Noble and Sarah Somes, had won three races, finished second twice and third twice to stay in the hunt for the overall lead…but there was a lot of racing still left to go.

Henshaw, with Carla Holgate, Zib Campbell and Wendy Faulkner aboard, had taken three bullets and finished second three times. “Perhaps a few of our starting tactics weren’t right today, and I think that cost us the consistency we were looking for,” said Henshaw. “That cost us two or three races where we could have been further up there.”

Racing out of her home club, Clemmie Everett and her crew of Alix Hahn, Carolyn Russell, and Erin Sprague had taken three races, finished second three times and third once.  “The wind was coming right off the land, which was really shifty,” Everett said. “We were able to get into that ‘play the shifts’ mode, and though we had a penalty for contact early in the day, after that, we played it conservative, didn’t take crazy risks. We’re just aiming to be top three or top five every race.”

Day Three Report
The third day of racing ended up being a complete washout.  After a four hour postponement, the “Sandy & Sandy” PRO team made a valiant effort to get the fleet motivated to get racing going on Thursday.  However, the wind Godz would simply not cooperate.  The forecast was for “less than zero to two” all day, and that is exactly what was delivered.  It was simply a classic Long Island Sound “glass-out”.

Day Four Report
At dawn on Friday, the fleet was required to show up at American YC for an 8am skipper’s briefing and roll-call.  Some teams showed up a bit glassy-eyed, one was even “AWOL”, apparently they took advantage of all the time off on Thursday to visit the exciting “bright lights and big city” of the Big Apple- downtown New York!  Just as promised, the Sandy & Sandy team took off early, set the course in the light to moderate easterly, and fired off the first race on-time at 0930 hrs to complete Round 2 by 11:45am.  With just ten races completed of Round 2 on Wednesday, their work was cut out for the RC team to sail five races, organize the top ten boats for a final three race “Gold Championship” Round, and rotate boats!  Incredibly, with amazing organization by the RC, PRO’s, and the “swap boat drivers” (Jamie Everett and Stu Johnstone), it all came to fruition with all racing completed by 1:45pm!

New Zealand women's team- J/70 Women's WorldsThe completion of Round 2 brought several surprises.  The biggest issue for all the teams was maintaining a consistent scoreline in the shifty winds on Wednesday, then putting it together again on the last day where breezes were mainly steadier and streaky from the East.  Henshaw’s team stumbled a bit mid-round, posting four finishes of 6th or worse and closing Round 2 with 69 pts with just a four point lead.  Meanwhile, loving the shifty winds Wednesday and maintaining that pace on Friday morning was Everett’s local American YC team, finishing their round with 73 pts and closing fast on the leaders— there’s was the most meteoric rise in the fleet as they were not even in the top five after the completion of Round 1!  Lying third only 3 pts back was Blecher’s California crew with 76 pts, fourth was Weber’s German DTYC crew with 82 pts and fifth was Nyenhuis’ Netherlands team with 84 pts.

The stage was now set for the 3-race Gold Championship round. And, what a nail-biting, anxiety-inducing finale it was for the leaderboard!  In Gold race #1, Henshaw’s crew were trying to nail the port end start and in the process was OCS, had to restart and, concurrently, fouled another boat by hitting them.  As a result, they not only did a 720 to absolve themselves, but had to take a 100% collision penalty- about as costly a mistake anyone could make- adding an instant 23 pts to their no-throwout scoreline!  Meanwhile, Weber’s German crew took a 2nd and Blecher’s crew a 3rd, for both teams to close within 4 and 1 pt, respectively, to the new regatta leader- Everett’s AYC team (now that Henshaw’s scoreline was eviscerated)!  Yowza!!  Snakes & ladders, everywhere!! In the second race, Weber nailed the start and race to again take 2nd, Blecher took another 3rd, but Everett’s crew regrouped and won the race to open up a 3 pt lead on Blecher and 5 pts on Weber!  Meanwhile, Henshaw’s Kiwi crew just could not get it together and produced a 9th place- a devastating second blow in an otherwise brilliant week of sailing.

Anna Seidl- Germany- Women's Worlds summaryThe drama continued to build and the crescendo of thundering hooves could be heard everywhere as the horses were on the track heading for the final curve and the photo finish!  In the final race, it was Weber’s team that blinked, posting an uncharacteristic 8th place, but holding on to the bronze medal.  Meanwhile, Everett’s crew finished in triumphant style, winning the last race and the championship, their amazing comeback now completed!  Henshaw’s Kiwi crew had a mini-redemption race, easily taking 2nd and closing with 5th overall.  Blecher scored yet another 3rd place to take the silver medal.  And, Nyenhuis’ Netherlands crew sailed consistently to take 4th overall.  Nothing like a bit of drama on the last day and in the Gold Round!  Needless to say, it was great racing and the big winners were the women’s teams themselves that participated in the regatta— a great many new friends were made and many are determined to continue practicing and head for Bermuda for 2017!   Watch this nicely done sailing video recap of the Women’s Worlds here.  For a beautiful photos from Matt Callen- check out the IWKC Flickr album here.   For more J/70 Women’s Worlds Keelboat Championship sailing information