|Sailed on Kentucky Lake in conditions ranging
from 0 to 15 knots of breeze, the 1998 J/80 North American Championship
tested the patience and fortitude of all competitors. In a challenge
of changing gears, Fort Worth sailor Roland Arthur proved that
time-on-the water and an all-star crew were the ingredients
necessary to bring home his first championship aboard Wild Thang.
With 14 entries hailing from Montreal to New York to Texas
arriving on Thursday morning at the Adventures in Boating
yard, competitors were introduced to the Les McWilliams one-man
show. As the J/80 Class Association Director and host of the
regatta, McWilliams performed duties that morning ranging
from boat-launching Travel-Lift operator to hamburger chef.
After splashing hulls and stepping masts, the "delivery
crews" were treated to the beautiful scenery along Kentucky
Lake and Lake Barkley as they made the 17-mile pilgrimage
to the Kentucky Dam.
Arthur and crew had arrived several days early for local
practice, and this clearly paid off, as they dominated the
first day’s racing with finishes of 1-1-4-1. Sailhandling
was mastered by Carter Perrin, who is currently mounting an
Olympic Soling campaign with John Kostecki. Fresh off recent
second place finishes in both the Sunfish and Laser NA’s,
New Zealander Cameron Dunn timed the oscillations so that
Wild Thang could tack away from the fleet only to come back
far ahead. In the shifty breeze, this was likely the key to
winning the regatta. Houstonian Dr. Steve Hammerman gave chase
to Wild Thang in the second race, reaching the leeward gates
on Arthur’s transom and poised to strike. From his position
on the mark boat, Jim Johnstone recalled seeing Hammertime
approach the port gate, and as the boat turned to windward
the only sign of Hammerman was his feet straight up in the
air. A minor brush with the mark, followed by Hammertime’s
penalty turn allowed Arthur to escape the challenge. At the
completion of the first day’s racing, Arthur led by
6 points. Tied for second with 13 points were Hammertime and
Ohio sailor Ed Taylor’s boat helmed by Skip Dieball.
Saturday morning saw the fleet motor to the race committee
boat located just upstream of the Kentucky Dam. With no breeze
in sight, a postponement was called. The breeze began to fill
slowly; however, the day served up much lighter and less predictable
wind than for the previous day’s competition. Finding
the breeze and avoiding the enveloping holes proved to be
critical to performing well in this epitome of lake sailing.
Sailing World’s one-design guru Greg Fisher kept skipper
Pete Carelli on target, taking bullets in races 5 and 8. Races
6 and 7 were won by Taylor and Arthur, respectively, although
each fell back in other races. Consistency was the name of
the game for Hammerman, who sailed conservatively to finishes
of 2-3-3-4. Former Lightning World and J/24 National Champion
Jay Lutz called the tactics on Hammertime, which recorded
the lowest point total for Saturday and was the only boat
to score all top-five finishes in the series. While Hammerman
fought back from a poor start in the final race to finish
4th, Arthur managed to hang onto 8th place and a one-point
lead for the championship.
With the prescribed 8 races completed by Saturday afternoon,
the awards were presented at a steak cookout Saturday night
at the Kentucky Dam Village. Trophies for the J/80 Southern
Circuit were also presented, with Hank Vasquez’s Rasta
Rocket winning by a point over Hammertime. Unfortunately,
Vasquez and crew were unable to attend the North American
Championships, as their Hummer vehicle had broken down in
Memphis en-route to Kentucky.
Both on and off the race course, the fleet enjoyed the comradery
of familiar old faces and friendly new ones. On Sunday, the
journey back to the Adventures in Boating yard was complicated
by pea-soup fog. The boats appeared out of the fog one-by-one,
and were quickly broken down and prepared for trailering.
As the competitors departed by land for their respective ports
of call, promises were made to see each other at Key West
Race Week for the 1999 Mid-Winters and in Annapolis next October
for the 1999 NA’s.
~~Steven M. Hammerman