Written by Chris Gould
This article was written for Nantucket Yacht Club's magazine "Soundings", and is presented here with permission of its author.
The 2016 International One Design “world” Championship, was held September 3-10 out of San Francisco Yacht Club, north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Tiburon. The event was unorthodox in nearly every respect. The sport’s international governing body had prohibited use of the term “World Championship”, in accordance with its new standards for fleet size and geographic representation. The IOD class governing body was itself at war with the local San Francisco Bay host fleet; the latter was in open conflict with one of its own members. The number of entering teams outnumbered available boats. Two consecutive non-cumulative scorecards were kept, one for “qualifier” series, one for “final” championship. No throw-outs. Protest hearings were replaced by on-course umpires. Tidal current on the race course matched that of Nantucket’s entrance channel. Courses featured starboard mark roundings.
And yet, despite all distractions and challenges, the event was competitive, legitimate, fun and worthy of the “class championship” moniker.
The field and format…
Eleven teams were present: three from Fishers Island, two from Norway, and one each from Bermuda, Long Island Sound, Nantucket, Northeast Harbor, San Francisco and Sweden. Four skippers were former World Champions, including 2015 defending champion Jonathan Farrar who won a year ago in Nantucket.
With fewer boats than entrants, regatta organizers adopted a two-stage competition consisting of a qualification series followed by a championship (final) series. All teams rotated onto boats in the qualifiers, with six teams sailing, and five sitting out each race. The three day qualifier series would yield six finalists in a “Gold” fleet, and a five team “Silver” fleet.
Hurry up and wait…
Every book about sailboat racing advises, “Be on the water early. Sail to the race course in plenty of time to tune and get a feel for conditions -- especially when racing in unfamiliar waters, borrowed boats, or with crew that haven’t sailed together.”
Now picture Team Sierra, representing Nantucket. Skipper Roy Weedon, and crew Dan Faria (tactician), Phil Cox (foredeck), Linda Green (middle) and Chris Gould (middle) arrived the night before (and day of) the first race. As is customary to prevent damage, the fleet had been quarantined until commencement of racing.
Being one of the teams to draw a bye for the first two races, Nantucket’s team Sierra boarded a large motor yacht an hour after the IOD fleet left the dock. So much for practice time. Racing was already underway in the middle of the bay, with a start/finish line set a couple of hundred yards west of Alcatraz, and a weather mark half way to the Golden Gate, in the vicinity of the recent America’s Cup starting box. Watching the competition from the massive power cruiser, Weedon and company pulled on layers of gear for the Bay’s brisk conditions.
Initiation by fire…
A rigid inflatable launch whisked us to our assigned boat as soon as it had crossed the finish line. Within minutes, a voice on the VHF was asking all boats to raise their jibs to indicate readiness for a starting sequence.
Sierra’s crew was very experienced, not just in IOD’s. Roy is an IOD North Americans champion, and this was his fifth shot at the worlds. Dan is a Bermuda Race Week winner in IODs; he and Phil race a Shields in Newport. Linda is not only a skipper of the Echo syndicate in Nantucket; her name is also in the trophy case at San Francisco Yacht Club, where she first started sailing years ago. This author is a local to San Francisco Bay, has background in Olympic classes, and races IODs in Nantucket. Notwithstanding individual resumes, the five of us had never sailed as one team. We were still determining roles on our ride out to the race course.
Once finally aboard, we scrambled to figure out systems, identify strings, and organize the spinnaker. We got a quick look at the ferocious flood current on the starting line. The RC boat looked as if it were being towed by its anchor rode. The warning signal sounded before we had upwind compass bearings.
A river runs through it…
Over six days, almost every race was in flood tide. That meant tactics were simple, almost irrelevant. The name of the game was to start well, go left, and try to guess how much by which to overstand the port layline against the torrent of left to right set. In all but two or three of the twelve races we sailed, the Sierra team tacked twice – once per upwind leg.
Starting in the second row, or without clear air, or not being able to hold a lane almost certainly meant a fifth or sixth place finish. In this respect the course location, indeed most of San Francisco Bay, is not ideal for a major fleet championship. But that’s sailboat racing, and it was the same challenge for all entrants.
To grasp the magnitude and effect of the current on racing, consider that for the first four days, in race after race, the fleet took eighteen to twenty minutes to claw its way against the tide upwind, and as few as six minutes “downhill” with chutes up and current boiling from behind. In the 15-23 knot breeze, a slow spinnaker set, or even no spinnaker set, was unlikely to result in changed positions.
Knowing its flock would head toward the San Francisco city front, and thus would approach the weather mark on port layline, the race committee opted for starboard roundings in the flood tide conditions. That setup led to some nasty encounters, and at least one major collision involving two former world champions. The committee attempted unsuccessfully to set an offset mark, and every race became up-down-up-down finish. Only later in the week were there a few counterclockwise courses in the ebb tides.
Here come ‘da judge…
The fleet may have seen a glimpse of the future, with umpires on RIB craft watching every move. In lieu of Rule 61, a protesting boat would wave a “Y” flag, and instantly an on-water judge would either direct the offending boat to do a turn, or disallow the request. Moreover, the umpires were ready and willing to impose a penalties on their own, whether or not called by a competitor. There were no off-water protest hearings. Everyone we talked to was impressed and appreciated the real-time judicial process. Mistakes may have been made, but probably less so than after the fact, indoors, with biased perspectives and recall.
Team Sierra learned the protocol first hand in the qualifier series. In one start, we were deemed not to have yielded to a leeward boat. In another race, at a downwind rounding we were nabbed for squeezing our nose inside a right-of-way boat. Justice was administered on the spot, and served to illustrate the enormously harsh consequence of a 360 degree turn in those circumstances.
Among the many unexpected twists of this regatta, the on-water jury added a surprise on the last day of racing. Judges boarded the boat of the eventual regatta winners, and busted them for “adding ballast”, i.e. pumping water into the bilge. That unfolding story maintained suspense for several hours after sailing was completed, and was finally settled with a penalty that left the overall result unchanged.
Charlie VanVoorhies of Fishers Island fleet demonstrated from the very first race that he was ready to rumble, and his team never let up. His crew was talented in every position, with good size for the windy conditions though not huge in overall weight. Neil Fowler, a veteran Celebrity Tactician in NRW IOD Celebrity Invitational called tactics. Jim Thompson was recognized at the awards ceremony as most-distinguished overall crew. Charlie’s son Lyon and Todd Wake completed their roster.
Defending champion Jonathan Farrar, also from Fishers Island fleet, kept it close all the way to the end. Going into the last race, they were still in position for a repeat win, but couldn’t quite pull it off in the end. The VanVoorhies and Farrar teams outsailed the rest of the fleet all week, and deserved to finish at the top of the board. John Burnham and team rounded out the Fishers Island podium sweep, substantiating the claim that theirs is the most competitive fleet in the class.
Sierra sailed well. One highlight of the week was winning the last race of the qualifier series, saving the team from Gold fleet elimination. Sierra was one of only two boats in the “championship” series without a former world champion at the helm; the other was the San Francisco entrant, Rich Pearce, who clearly had a local knowledge advantage over most visiting teams. Sierra finished strong in the final series as well, with a second and third on the last day. It wasn’t easy to step aboard all the different boats and dial things in right away. We mixed it up with the fast crowd, just not as consistently as the guys who came out on top.
Controversy surrounded this event for over a year. At the 2015 IOD class Annual General Meeting held during last year’s Worlds in Nantucket, a faction of the IOD World Class Association (WCA) leadership attempted to reassign this year’s hosting and venue to a fleet other than San Francisco. Over the winter, the WCA deemed the San Francisco fleet to be “not in good standing” due to an argument the fleet was having with a member regarding changing his rig. The WCA deemed the changes acceptable, and sanctioned the fleet for its handling of the matter. The battle continued in San Francisco, with procedural arguments in the skippers’ meeting, followed by tense and testy exchange during the Annual General meeting two days later. At mid-week the San Francisco fleet was still “not in good standing”, and decided to cancel the entire event following the qualifier series. Cooler heads prevailed, with both sides giving some credit to Roy Weedon as mediator. At this writing the matter is moving up sailing’s judicial system to the regional and perhaps national level.
Politics, pettiness and personalities aside, the core issue of the debate is relevant to all IOD fleets, including particularly Nantucket. It’s analogous to federal versus states’ rights in the U. S. constitution. Can the WCA force a fleet to accept a member and his boat if it deems the boat’s measurement certificate to be valid? Or should the local fleet have final say on its standards and their enforcement? No doubt, much more discussion will take place on the topic.
The 2016 IOD Class Championship was very successful, despite oddities and distractions. The San Francisco Bay IOD Fleet made huge effort and sacrificed greatly to make its boats available. The San Francisco Yacht Club, led by P.R.O. Forrest Gay and supported by a deep bench of volunteers, did a superb job on the water. Housing was well organized. Social activities were top notch. Parts of the format were experimental, but nearly everything worked. The competition was fair, and overall, teams finished in accordance with their performance. If the format is repeated, one might expect it to be tweaked to maintain interest and incentive for the Silver fleet.
Nantucket sailors benefit many ways by attending off island events. We learn by racing, observing event management on and off the water, and by interacting with members of all other fleets. We return to Nantucket with ideas, and with renewed appreciation for the uniformity, layout and condition of our own fleet of boats, our unmatched open waters for racing, and the spirit of cooperation within and among our syndicates.
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