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Mike Ingham: Reflections on the 2007 J/24 Worlds
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - March 5-9, 2007
Looking back on the Mexican worlds, I have to say we are impressed with the show the Mexicans put on for us. I had been talking to Peter Wiegandt, the event chairman and all along he said it was going to be sponsored beyond what we had seen before. He was right, with events organized with a sponsor every night, they spent their $600,000 well. Though the promise of GPS real time tracking fell short of expectations, it was a great concept and I hope to see it up and working at events in the future. How cool it would be for our friends and sponsors at home to track our progress real time?
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico is a beautiful place. They say that politicians are less than honest in Mexico, and in some places it's drugs, but in Puerto Vallarta it is real estate. Nothing hurts real estate more than crime, so there is very little. I don’t know anything about the politicians in Mexico, but I do know that Puerto Vallarta is safer than many places in the US. Since the government recently allowed outside investment, foreigners, mostly from the US and Canada, have flocked here. But the locals still live in small cement dwellings with no windows. Nevertheless, the both the rich and poor (there is no in-between) Mexicans are friendly and happy people. The wind was like clockwork. Around 11:00AM the thermal would start to fill in. It was never light for a race, and it was never heavy for any race. By the end of the regatta, I stopped bringing any extra gear out; everyday was shorts and t-shirt racing. If you ever get a chance to race in Puerto Vallarta, don't pass it up.
Snowman in Rochester, NY the day we left
Driving through Mexico is an experience. We had done it once before and found it crazy and dangerous, and last time one of our J24 competitors was lost to bad roads. Last time we drove, we had a radically underpowered 6-cylinder pickup truck, and we were unprepared for the whole experience. This time we did it in a Suburban and we were ready. The road trip was no problem at all. We took a different and longer route home for fun. We went across a section called “the devils backbone”, that was full of switchbacks and was steep. But it was also spectacular and worth the extra time. We did notice too that the roads are better than last time we were in Mexico, and even more noticeably, the cars on the road were shinny and new.
When we went 4 years ago, they had just stopped making VW bugs, and there were all kinds of crazy vehicles on the road. Don’t get me wrong; there are still some wildly bad trucks and cars on the road, but not as many. It turns out that Mexico has just discovered loans, so they have traded in their old cars for shiny ones -and debt.
Tricked out local ride
The J24 Class:
We race the J24 because it is still the strongest keelboat class in both North America and the World. We hear a lot about some of the big sailing names doing Melges 24's, but they seem to lack the grass roots we are looking for and the Melges' cost of playing the game is huge compared to the J24. You can take an old inexpensive J24 and fix it up and win -that is good for a class. I just saw 3 J/24's for sale on Craig’s list for almost nothing. We hear a lot about the J22, but the J24 still is much more active world wide. I am sure you could go down the list and make arguments for the Etchells, Soling, Star, etc. However, if you are a serious one-design keelboat racer on a budget and you still want to race a class that is very large worldwide, there really is nothing that matches the J24.
Below is a day-by-day summary of the racing at this year's worlds. We wrote this the morning of each race, so it was rather rushed and a bit crude, but we will leave it in that form because it give a good flavor for what we were thinking each day:
Morning of Day 1:
70 boats from 14 countries have qualified and are gathered here on the West coast of Mexico for the J24 Worlds. The J24 class the strongest keelboat in both the US, and in the world. The fleet still gets the full attention of many sailmakers and other professionals.
We have been training for the last few days and the conditions here are fantastic, this is a great place to sail. On top of that, Dolphins have come and played with our boat, we checked out some whales, and there are sea turtles all over the place.
Today we are scheduled for races 1 and 2, starting at 2:00pm Central time. This event is heavily sponsored, and Globalstar has added tracking devices to each of our boats so you can watch the races almost real time. They say they track each of our positions every minute and then batch the positions to post on the web every 10 minutes. So tune in every day this week at 14:00 EST. Here is the link: http://j24.waypointinfo.com/# Click on "Launch Map"
The Worlds site has been down a lot, but this is a different sever and seems to work fine. Very cool!
I’m busy keeping up with my job in the AM then racing in the afternoon, but I hope to get you all a quick update every day. Stay tuned, and in the mean time, check out the tracking.
Races 1 and 2:
For those tracking on the website, we are bow #32: http://j24.waypointinfo.com/#
Supposedly it’s updated every 10 minutes with positions tracked every minute then batched.
Here is the team:
Bobby Bryant, Curt Barnes, Jon Faudre, Ernie Ferullo, and myself.
Yesterday the Race Committee had a hard time getting off the first start. Everybody is so hyped up that they just could not hold back. So they resorted to scoring penalties called Z flags, then to throwing people out –Black Flag! When all this was sorted out, there were 10 Black Flags and over 30 Z flag penalties. Fortunately we we did not get any of those penalties. Unfortunately only one of the teams that we feel is a serious competitor got one –that was the “Geiko” team from Japan.
Race 1 was a little bit light, and the left side seemed to pay. We were left of most of the fleet, so we hung in there getting around the top mark in around 10th –which is about where we hope to be first time around. Things were spread out, so there were not major losses or gains from there, but we were able to pass a few boats and finished 7th.
Race 2 was blowing about 14 Kts, and the fleet was much better behaved after receiving all the penalties in the first start. We were just a little too conservative (not wanting to get penalties) and did not quite get on the course as well as we would have liked to. But we saw one small opening out and bobbed and weaved our way on port tack through the fleet –which was hard since we were on port with no rights. It could not have worked out better and we were going very fast. The right came in just enough that we were able to get around the top mark in first place. The Dolphins must like the leaders because they darted around our boat for most of the downwind. Mark Hillman capitalized on one mistake and was going very well and ended up nosing us out at the finish to take the win with us 2nd.
The defending world champion Brazilian team had 3rd in both races and although we have not seen the official scores, they should be in the lead with 6 points. We have 9 and should be in 2nd, followed closely by the team that won the Mexican Nationals, Ryan Cox.
I hope the link works as well as they say it should.
Races 3 and 4:
The locals call the large mountain range to the south the Jungle. The small valley before it was packed with low clouds and we had not seen that before. We are not sure why, but that made for very unstable winds today. After about an hour and a half of the Race Committee chasing the wind through 30-degree shifts, they finally got a race off. But it had shifted significantly again and we found ourselves in big trouble. We were going fast and Bobby made some good calls and we were able to claw back to 16th.
The 2nd race steadied out a little and picked up to about 12kts with big chop. This was tricky, but we were going well anyway. We had another mediocre start and had to claw our way back again, which we did well and by the end of the 2nd lap we were in 8th. But we went the wrong way and lost 3 boats on the last beat. It's tricky sailing here!
All in all not a terrible day, most of our competitors were inconsistent and had some bad races too. But the Brazilian team continues to do well with a 1st and an 8th. Chris Snow from North Sails had a 4 and a 2 to take our 2nd overall from us, and Ryan Cox who was only one point behind is now a few points ahead. We are in 4th tied with the team from Argentina.
The sponsorship at this Worlds is over the top, they say they raised $600,000. The hospitality shows, but after spending 7 hours on the water yesterday we had to skip the party on the beach and we came back to our place and I slept before my face hit the pillow.
The event web site seem to be working again: http://www.j24mex.com/worlds2007.asp
I hear the on the water tracking does not work as well as advertised, but they just sent me an email that they think they have solved the problem: http://j24.waypointinfo.com/#
Races 5 and 6:
There are 10 races scheduled, and we crossed over the midpoint of the regatta today. This is a regatta of attrition, as the top teams try not to take themselves out of the event with a poor score. It’s not as much about winning as it is about not doing poorly. They tell me that the http://j24.waypointinfo.com/# website to track us is working well now.
Probably shouldn't have eaten here. Brain Cramp crew from left: Bobby Bryant, Curt Barnes, Jon Faudree, and Ernie Ferullo (photo by Mike Ingham)
Race 5 we got a good start, but the race was recalled, and they went right to the black flag. We got off cleanly on the left half of the line and were sailing fast. It was fairly light, maybe 5kts, and we managed to outpace the boats around us. We tacked over to port and were looking really good. But unfortunately the right filled in and although we looked like we were winning the race, the right came in so hard that we found ourselves in around 20th place. We had won our side, and if not it would have been much worse. But we picked up boats on the run, then the same on the next beat, then a few more on the next run. We worked our way back up to 8th.
Race 6 we wanted the right, so we started near the boat. Now it was blowing about 15kts. After one minor maneuver to get away from the team from Vancouver, we headed out toward the right and it paid off. Once again we were going well, and we rounded the top mark in first. One error cost us the lead to the Canadians, and we found ourselves in a battle with the blue Japanese boat. After swapping positions with them a few times, they got ahead of us right before the finish, and both of us had closed in to just a few boat lengths from the Canadians. Right at the finish, the Canadian team tacked onto the Japanese to protect their narrowing lead and it gave us just enough of an advantage to get 2nd in a nail biter.
A day of 8 and 2 is good in this fleet. We beat the nearest boats in the standings for the day, but the Brazilian leaders have a 7 and 7 for the day which still comfortably keeps them in the lead.
The standings show us regaining 2nd, but we now get to discard a race. Our discard is a 16, but many of our competitors (except the Brazilians) have a worse discard. This is good, but I don’t think we will be in 2nd anymore.
Races 7 to 10:
Sorry we missed telling you about races 7 and 8, they were not terrible, but they were not good either. The website still showed us in 2nd, but with the throw out we were officially 5th going into the final 2 races. Only the Brazilian team had a better throw out than ours, and barring some disaster day, we expected them to be able to sail the first race and then use the last race as our throw and win the 2007 worlds with a race to spare.
Chris Snow from North Sails was in 2nd, followed by Mark Hillman from Annapolis, then the British team, our team, then 2 Japanese teams, and an Argentinean team. A good last day could move us up to 2nd and a bad day down to 9th.
Race 9 started in maybe 6kts of wind. With so many competitors so close in the standings, we could not pay attention to any one of them, and instead we needed to race a good race. We had a good start near the middle of the line, and expected the right side to be favored because that was the trend all week. We sailed a little while and tried to get to the right, but could not quite cross everyone, so we safely followed them all back. There were a few boats launched from the right, but there seemed like no way to get there and that there would only be dirty air, so we just stayed conservative. As it turns out, just about everyone we needed to do well against tried so hard to get to the right that it was just too congested and their was no clean way back.
We rounded about 16th with only the British near us. We were able pick up about 4 boats and put about 4 between us and the Brits to finish 12th. It was hard to tell what the scores really were, but everyone else that we needed to beat had a terrible race. It was really tricky conditions.
Going into the last race we figured we were 2nd with just a few points to spare on the British.
This time we felt we really needed to go right, and so did everyone else. We opted for a late start at the boat and had to wait a short while for it to clear out. It was touch and go as we managed to get some fee lanes and work our way a little to the right. But a lot like the race before, it just looked too crowded over to the right and we decided instead of going into the mess that we would stay right of center. We had awesome speed and were able to get to the top mark in the top 10. The Argentineans, and Japanese were ahead of us, but they had done poorly the race before and were mathematically unable to beat us.
The good news was we were a good distance ahead of the British and the other American teams we needed to beat, so we sailed conservatively and comfortably and passed a few boats to finish 7th.
The final results:
This put is in 2nd overall after 5 days of intense racing (click here for results). We packed up the boat and went to the awards ceremony not quite satisfied with 2nd, but the Brazilian team is tough to beat and they deserved the win. They are professionals and have been training hundreds of days a year for this and we go back to work Monday morning, so I guess we should not be too hard on ourselves.
The award ceremony was amazing complete with a thousand people and a huge screen where they showed a summary video of the week with some great shots, then after we all went up to collect our prizes, and finally fireworks. They raised over a half Million $ for this event and it showed. It will be a tough act to follow for the Italians hosting the event next year. After the awards ceremony started to wane and it got around midnight we got in the car and started the 57-hour drive home. It sure would be nice to have full sponsorship so we could ship it and fly home!