Report From Quantum Pacific
San Francisco’s one-design fleets gear up for summer under shifting conditions on the Bay.
San Francisco’s top one-design fleets turned out for the Spring One Design regatta last weekend hosted by the St. Frances Yacht Club. There was excitement in the air for the kick off of the summer season, unfortunately, there wasn’t any summer wind. Warm temperatures prevailed, and the only thing the 80-odd boats in the race saw on the water was the glimmering reflection of their crisp, new sails.
The wind never materialized on the city front, and after a several postponements, Saturday ended without a single race getting off.
“I’ve been on the Bay for 30 years. I’ve never sat out on the water for hours and not had enough wind to do anything,” said Dorian McKelvy, owner of the J/111 Madmen.
That afternoon, the race committee posted two amendments to the sailing instructions, calling for up to four races on Sunday.
Sunday morning looked promising with overcast skies and an approaching front. The Express 27s, Moore 24s, Open 5.7s, and Knarrs started on the City Front course, with the Melges 24s, J/70s, and J/111s on a course off of Alcatraz. All of the fleets got off four races.
The breeze filled to be a pretty decent southwesterly, but that put the boats on the City Front course in the lee of the city.
“It was very shifty and puffy—you had to be pretty acrobatic in your tactics and in your maneuvering to put yourself in a good spot,” said Quantum’s Will Paxton, who was at the helm of his Express 27 Motorcycle Irene.
“One of the hallmarks of the Spring One Design regatta is that there’s usually a lot of run-off from the rivers, creating a visual marker and a huge elevator on the right, which makes starting and tacking at the boat critical. This year it just wasn’t there. The course was more wind-shift based then it was tide-based this year.”
The crews were kept on their toes as conditions varied throughout the day; the boats reported wind speeds shifting between seven and 18 knots. “Usually in the summertime, the wind starts lighter and it builds. You switch from the #1 to the #3 and you’re good,” said Dan Pruzan, owner of the Express 27 Wile E Coyote. “This time, it was up, it was down—we went back and forth between the #1 and the #3 a number of times, scratching our head trying to figure out which one to go with.” Pruzan and his crew won the first race of the day, finishing third in the regatta.
“The race was almost exactly like the Express 27 tuning clinic we held two weeks ago: short races where the start mattered a lot,” said Paxton. Some of the racecourses were just one time around with a downwind finish. “It wasn’t a boat speed drag race; it was a starting and maneuvering race.” Motorcycle Irene took the regatta with a third, a second, and two bullets.
The J/105 fleet was the largest on the day with 21 boats, including several new boats. While the fleet had four starts, only three races counted due to the fact that in one of them, there was a windward offset mark that only half of the boats knew was there.
“In the third race, which was the cancelled race, a lot of boats were over early, so I think a lot of boats were gun shy. So in the fourth race, we were the starboard boat on the pin end and when we tacked, the entire fleet was pretty far back. It was mostly a one-leg trip to the windward mark, where we were duking it out with Bruce Stone of Arbitrage, but we hung on and were able to take first,” said Phil Laby, owner Godot. Laby and his crew took third for the regatta. “It was a good day on the water.”
McKelvy and his Madmen owned the J/111 fleet with two seconds and two bullets. “I can’t believe we’re still doing so well. We raced the GGYC winter series in an effort to stay coordinated … A couple of people have asked me how do we do so well, and I say it’s because I do so little. I’m only allowed to look at the knotmeter and to make sure that there’s pressure on the blade. Quantum’s Jeff Thorpe says to me, ‘You fix your world, and we’ll fix our world,’ and that really helps a lot.”
“Racing on the course above Alcatraz is interesting. It tends to be a very lopsided racecourse, especially with the ebb tide going on. There aren’t a lot of passing lanes,” said Thorpe, who was calling tactics on Madmen. “If you didn’t have a good start on the favored end and got going immediately there weren’t a lot of passing lanes. Then on the run you had to stay right until the last jibe to come into the leeward mark. If you weren’t up in the front at the first weather mark there wasn’t any opportunity to pass. It was a one-track racecourse.”
The J/111 fleet is one of the fastest-growing fleets on the Bay. “We’ve had our boat the longest, we bought it in 2011, and Dick [Swanson, Bad Dog] has one of the newer ones and Roland [Vandermeer, Big Blast!] just got his boat from Lake Michigan. So these guys are getting better and smarter, and that’s going to prove to be a very competitive environment this year,” said McKelvy.
One of the up-and-coming J/111s is Gorkem Ozcelebi’s Double Digit, which came fourth in the regatta but took their first second place race finish in the fleet. “We’ve worked really hard. I’m really fortunate to have a great group of people to sail with. They’re great sailors and they’re great people with great attitudes. We get along well,” said Ozcelebi.
On the day, Rich Jepsen, co-founder of OCSC, was calling tactics on Double Digit. “That was a huge help,” said Ozcelebi, “but it wasn’t a coincidence that we did so well in that race. We’ve reached a point in boat handling that we can execute the strategy without making a mistake.”
And then Ozcelebi laid down the gauntlet. “Our goal for the summer is to push into the top three,” he said. The J/111 fleet has some of the Bay’s top sailors. Look for this summer to be a great competition!
And—not to sound like we’re tooting our own horn too much, but Ozcelebi insisted on giving a shout out to the guys in the Quantum Pacific loft. “Jeff Thorpe was so helpful with coaching and that’s important, but Ben Mercer and Patrick Whitmarsh were super good at fixing our sails overnight at regatta after regatta. They gave us excellent service, and really kept us going. They gave us a lot of time on the water, we didn’t have any downtime.”
Photos by Chris Ray for St. Francis Yacht Club.