Monday, March 2, 2020

Team VINEYARD VINES Crowned J/70 Midwinter Champions

J/70 Vineyard Vines
(Miami, Florida)- The 2020 J/70 Midwinter Championship will go down in the history books as an epic, thrilling regatta punctuated by big winds, big waves, big competition, and an outrageous, amazing final race to determine the entire top five teams on the leaderboard. From the beginning, most of the 225-plus sailors on the fifty-four boats from eight nations (USA, Argentina, United Kingdom, Turkey, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Denmark) expected the Midwinters to be an incredibly competitive event. With multiple World Champions represented on the various leading teams (J/22, J/24, J/70, J/80, Lightnings, Stars, Lasers, Etchells 22, etc) there was going to be a high-level of performance unlike anything seen since the recent J/70 Worlds in Torquay, England. 

The Coral Reef YC PRO Mark Foster (himself a J/22 North American Champion from Corpus Christi, Texas) was blessed with nearly postcard-perfect, epic sailing conditions all weekend-long. The regatta started off in 15 to 25 kt Northwest, shifty breezes on Friday. The forecasted "blowing dogs off chains" nuclear wind conditions for Saturday ultimately materialized, with mostly North to Northeast winds averaging 22 kts, gusting to 30 knots in squalls. Sunday dawned with a gorgeous sunrise over Biscayne Bay and the fleet was blessed with "champagne" sailing conditions for the final day; sunny and 75 degrees, with winds in the Northeast to East at 10-20 knots.

Winning the regatta on the final day and in the final race was John & Molly Baxter's Team VINEYARD VINES from Riverside Yacht Club in Connecticut. Their crew included Allan Terhune and Ben Lamb.  Taking the honors in the Corinthians Division was the Turkish team from Istanbul- Team EKER KAYMAK skippered by Ahmet Eker, with crew of Burak Zengin, Bilge Kerem Ozkan and Yasar Doga Aribas. Here is how it all went down over the three challenging, fun-filled days.

J/70s sailing off Florida
Day 1- Friday Frontal Follies
A significant weather front was forecasted to pass over the racing area on Biscayne Bay Friday with forecasts for thunderstorms, squalls, and lightning. At the 0900 hours skipper's meeting, the PRO Foster wisely postponed until the frontal system passed by. Following the onshore postponement, the winds shifted, and teams were able to complete two exciting races starting at 1330 hours. Fast off the line and sailing away to nearly insurmountable leads in both races was past J/70 World Champion Joel Ronning; he and his CATAPULT crew of Victor Diaz De Leon, Christopher Stocke and Patrick Wilson seemed untouchable. Ignacio Perez’s ZAQUERO from Valle de Bravo, Mexico also excelled in the windy, shifty conditions, posting a 3-4 for 7 points. Then, two teams are tied at 9 points for the third position; John Heaton’s EMPEIRIA and John & Molly Baxter’s Team VINEYARD VINES

J/70s sailing off start in Miami, Florida
Day 2- Stormy Squally Saturday
Truly epic "blowing dogs off chains" conditions on Biscayne Bay presented a challenging three races on Saturday, testing both crews and equipment. With gusts hitting 30 knots, several teams reported hitting speeds of 19 to 21 knots on their speedo's downwind, sending walls of salt water bursting into the air and clouds of spray flying over the boats.

Standing out in the crowd was the Perez family team on ZAQUERO- skipper Ignacio, with Santiago and Juan Perez and their friend Moritz Spitzauer. In the big breeze with near three-foot, boat-stopping square waves, the team from Mexico eclipsed the large fleet with stunning scores of 1-2-1 to finish the day with 7 net points in five total races (discarding a fourth from Friday). Ronning’s CATAPULT dropped to second overall with 11 net points, following scores of 4-7-5. Pamela Rose’s ROSEBUD moved up to third with 18 net points. Pedro Camargo’s MANCHA NEGRA from Brazil led the Corinthians Division.

Perez racked up his first bullet of the day in race three, trailed by Ryan McKillen’s SURGE and Rose's ROSEBUD. Coincidentally, the same group comprised the top spots in fourth race, but in this order: McKillen, Perez, Rose! In the final battle, Perez returned to first, ahead of Heaton’s EMPEIRIA and the Baxter’s Team VINEYARD VINES.

J/70 Surge sailing Midwinters off Miami, Florida
Day 3- Simply Splendid Sunday
Biscayne Bay delivered its third consecutive day of epic conditions, as winds averaged 10-20 knots with blue skies. Three more races were completed for a total of eight, as Team VINEYARD VINES won two of three races on Sunday. Day two leader ZAQUERO suffered a BFD in race seven, and was overtaken by Ronning’s CATAPULT and McKillen’s SURGE, that finished second and third overall, respectively. In the end, the Baxter’s tallied 27 net points, two better than Ronning. McKillen finished third with 37 net points.

In the 12-boat Corinthian division, Team EKER KAYMAK of Turkey claimed victory. Zachary Segal’s USA 1154 and Andrew Fisher’s BUTTON FLY followed in second and third, respectively.

Team VINEYARD VINES is based out of Long Island Sound, and they have recently excelled in heavier air, including placing fourth at the breezy 2019 North American Championship in Cleveland, OH (the last J/70 event they had raced). Reflecting on the final day’s strategy, which they started in fourth place, skipper John Baxter said, “There were a lot of teams that were in the top group. Our strategy was to sail clean, get off the line and go straight. Although we weren’t winning right off the line, we chipped away. We were really quick downwind, and then at times we were fast upwind. We were able to hold lanes, which we couldn't do before, and now we’ve figured it out.”   Sailing photo credits- Chris Howell/ Tim Wilkes

J/70 Vineyard Vines interview
Team Vineyard Vines/ Baxter interview- winners

Mexican J/70 sailing Midwinters
Zaquero/ Perez family interview- #23

Sailing video of epic sailing conditions on Biscayne Bay

For more J/70 Midwinter Championship sailing information Add to Flipboard Magazine.