Sailing With the Masters

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By Steve Schupak | Special to NB Indy

This monthy, San Diego Yacht Club hosted the revamped International Masters Regatta. What was introduced at Saint Francis Yacht Club almost 30 years ago has begun again, after a three year hiatus. With a new venue and host organization, this was the crowning event for SDYC’s J105 Fall Series which consisted of the Southern California Champs, North American Champs, International Masters, and finally the Lipton Cup the following weekend. Friday and Sunday were in-the-bay buoy races and Saturday the Masters fleet was merged with the Hot Rum series, which sails a 12-mile pursuit race out and back into the harbor.

Argyle Campbell got the invitation to race for Newport Harbor Yacht Club and quickly called Jamie Hardenbergh to help organize the crew. Jaime was scheduled to sail the following weekend on the Lipton Cup team so he drew from as many of that crew as he could under the age requirements. Jon Pinkney got the call for trimming and tactics, Dave Clark for mast, and I was on the bow.

On the early entry list we were looking good, with the youngest crew and lightest average crew weight. We were feeling pretty good.

As of Thursday afternoon SailFlow backed up our prediction by showing we might see 4-7 knots on Friday and less on Saturday and even less on Sunday. We were still looking good on paper.

The rules for the Masters Regatta are pretty simple, the invited skipper needs to be over 60, and the crew needs to be over 45, and all together they have to weigh in less than 1100 lbs. SDYC provided 10 matched and tuned J105s with brand new sails, and rigs tuned and taped, (though the tune seemed to change from day to day).

Each boat also came with an owner’s rep that was charged with driving on and off the dock and was available to help out as needed other than on the bow, or driving a race. They also weren’t counted in the overall crew weight.

On Friday, San Diego really pulled out the stops with super chamber-of-commerce weather. Full sunshine, 75 degrees, and – against the SailFlow prediction – we had 8-10 knots of breeze.

Our plan was to get off the dock as soon as possible to learn how to sail a J105 and learn how to sail together as a team. After getting the kite up and down a few times, doing a bunch of tacks and jibes we were feeling good and ready.

The first start was great for us – we nailed the pin and had a nice lane. From there on out the rest of the field caught on and we more challenged to get consistent starts were we wanted to be. But the good news was that our speed was good and our crew work was keeping us up with the Joneses At the end of the day, we were in a three-way tie for third.

Also at the end of the first day was a hosted cocktail party in the Malin Burhnam sailing center. Stories were swapped, and it was a great chance to meet the other crews, and find long lost friends. – and a great opportunity to rub shoulders with sailing legends, Olympians, world champions, yacht designers. This is what makes sailing so great.

Saturday was more perfect than Friday: sunny, warm, and the wind actually built a bit (curses, SailFlow!) and there’s nothing quite like the Hot Rum, where you’re lining up with 120-plus of your closest friends trying to stay on the correct side of the starting line with an ebb tide pushing you over.

Boats ranged from an old Santana quarter-tonner to TP 52s and a couple of IACC boats left over from the 1987 America’s Cup. You start at your handicap and theoretically you should all finish at the same time. Or when you do actually finish you know where you stand compared to your competitors.

The most spectacular sight is when you’re sailing out the harbor and you look either forward or back (depending on how big a boat you’re on) on a sea of spinnakers. The jibe mark at 6 miles is usually the most exciting as the smaller 20- to 30-foot boats going 5 knots come in at the same time as the 52s and 80-foot IAAC boats doing 15-plus knots.

So we were lumped in with the general fleet and started with the regular J105s. Now our start had swelled to 13 boats, and the start line, while square to the wind, was exactly parallel with the course out of the harbor. The only place to start was at the pin, and it was going to be a fight to win it.

Argyle did a fantastic job winning the pin end and we had the majority of the fleet above and slightly in front of us so the RC wouldn’t be able to see us in the melee. We were also about three seconds early and knew it. But not to worry, being at the pin we were able to spin around and restart before most of the rest of the fleet could start.

As soon as we got clear of the line, our kite went up and we were rocketing out the bay on a close reach. No one was passing us, and we were reeling in the slower boats who started before us. The rest of the race was a great parade, one jibe, one take down, and four tacks to the finish line.

As we approached the finish line, it was miraculously oriented square to the directions we were finishing from. The Masters as a sub-fleet did terrific, finishing in eight of the Top 10 spots. As for Team Argyle Campbell, we finished sixth overall, which for me was a personal-best finish. It also strengthened our overall position in the Masters fleet into a solid fourth, only three points out of first.

It was terrific getting back to SDYC’s bar so quickly, we easily got a table right in front of the big screen – just in time to enjoy some Mount Gay and tonics with extra cherries.

Sunday came early with more surprises than normal. Not only were we grappling with the time change, we were also locked in our hotel while a 5K run ran its way through Shelter Island, and the news was rambling on about a Santa Ana condition setting in. And sure enough San Diego bay was like a sheet of glass when we left the hotel, when we left the dock, and when we got out to the starting line.

Team Campbell was charged and pumped, we could see a podium finish was within our sights. Three races and we would know. Two postponements and an hour later the wind finally filled in enough to set a course and get racing.

After the first race where we had a little trouble getting off the line, then a couple of sail handling mistakes, our podium plans were dashed. We did end on a high note by placing well in the seventh race and getting a second in the final, eighth race.

But too little too late.

Dennis Case from SDYC won the regatta and second through sixth were separated by 1 point each. It was a tough finish for us, but we all felt proud to have been invited and participate in such a great event with terrific competitors.

Thanks Argyle for including me on your team, I had a ball for the entire event. Let’s do this again next year, we’ll still be the kids of the regatta!

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