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White boats, white sails, white guys and white-hot competition. That's our abbreviated impression of the J/24 World Championship, a nine-race series hosted by St. Francis YC on the Berkeley Circle on July 19-24. Not that the regatta wasn't plenty colorful - mix 65 boats from 13 countries and all over the United States together, throw in 300-some of the best sailors on the planet, add 20 knots of breeze and chop, and, viola, you've got the recipe for one hell of an intense regatta.
As one of only two world championships on the Bay this year (the 11:Metres are coming in October), this was the hottest thing anyone has seen on our local waters since last year's I-14 Worlds. . . with the possible exception of a freighter laden with 277 spent uranium fuel rods - a radioactive gift from South Korea - that passed a mile upwind of the fleet during the third day of racing.
The script for the J/24 Worlds called for a battle royale between three sailmak-ers, all veteran J/24 campaigners - defending champion Vince Brun, age 51, of North Sails San Diego, who won the last Worlds in Buenos Aires; 32-year-old Chris Larson of North Sails Annapolis, the '97 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year as well as winner of the '96 J/24 Worlds in Sardinia; and perennial powerhouse Terry Hutch-inson, a 30-year-old Quantum Sails rep from Annapolis.
Brun, an affable Brazilian expatriate whose resume already includes half a dozen world titles in Solings, Stars and J/24s, was widely considered the pre-regatta favorite. Sailing with an all-star crew that included class stalwarts Kris and Moose McClintock, Brun did nothing to discourage that notion by dominating the J/24 Nationals, a somewhat sloppy tune-up regatta hosted by San Francisco YC the weekend before the Worlds (see results below).
After two general recalls, Argentinian sailor Guillermo Baquerizas won the opener of the Worlds - followed by the 'holy trinity' of Brun, Hutchinson and Larson in that order. The stage was set for the rest of the week: each day the fleet sailed at least one, and sometimes two, long double windward/leeward races on the Berkeley Circle in winds ranging from 12-22 knots. Race manager Matt Jones and his squad of 35 volunteers used every trick in the book to control the aggressive fleet: an offset at the weather mark, a gate at the leeward mark, use of VHF radios for countdowns and over-earlies, and, most interesting, generously long (and quite square) starting lines that featured the race committee boat motoring mid-line upwind of the fleet, shapes and flags visible to everyone.
"Communication with your fleet is the key," noted Jones, who deserves kudos for orchestrating a near-perfect event.
Midway through the series, Brun was looking, well, invincible. His 2,2,5,1,3 record put him nine solid points ahead of Hutchinson and miles ahead of Larson, who'd booted the fourth race with a 14th, his eventual throwout. The tide began to turn, however, in the six race as Larson regained his Rolex form with the start of back-to-back bullets while Vince and Terry both began fading. The sixth race was a minor setback for Brun, who took a seventh, and an unmitigated disaster for Hutchinson, who was tossed out by Brun for contact at the leeward mark. Terry was forced to eat 66 points, his throwout.
The seventh and eighth races were both sailed on Thursday, with Terry and Chris pulling even nearer to Vince when he had a meltdown at the start of the first race - an OCS saw him start dead last, but battle back to a 16th, his throwout. Going into Friday's finale, Brun had a six-point lead over Larson and nine points over Hutchinson - not quite enough for comfort in this talented fleet.
With oodles of sales revenues on the line (big victories sell sails, and there are 5,200 potential J/24 customers out there) as well as international bragging rights (past winners of the Worlds include the likes of six-time champ Ken Read, John Kolius, John Kostecki, Ed Baird, Dave Curtis, Jim Brady and the late Larry Klein). . . well, the pressure was definitely on.
After what was probably a sleepless night for all three contenders, it was time for the final shoot-out. Hutchinson and his Evita gang (Dave Crocker, Dave Moffet, Matt Beck and Will Jeffers) led wire-to-wire, completing a brilliant comeback. Behind them, both Brun and Larson were over early and deep on the first beat. Neither fully recovered, though Brun man-uevered his Fatal Attraction from the twenties up to the low teens, desperately trying to pull himself back into the regatta lead. Had he passed just one more boat, it would have forced a tie that would have been broken in his favor.
Brun ended up 10th in the finale, ostensibly giving the regatta to Hutchinson by a point. A subsequent suspense-filled evening in The Room (there were no less than three different protests that could have bumped Brun back to the top) eventually did nothing to alter the final results. Hutchinson's 3,6,6,6,1,(66),5,2,1 was good enough to earn him the J/24 World title, barely. For Brun, it must have been a bitter pill to swallow, but he accepted the defeat graciously, welcoming Hutchinson warmly into this elite pantheon of one design sailing gods.
"To finally win this after all these years is a really big thrill," said Terry, who has finished in the top five at the J/24 Worlds a bunch of times, but never on the top rung. "It was a long time coming!"
The sound and the fury of the Worlds faded quickly as the tired sailors scattered to various corners of the country and the world. Brun headed immediately home to his family in San Diego; Larson was bracing himself for the mind-numbing task of towing his J/24 across the country, while Hutchinson was looking forward to sailing on the 1D-48 Abracadabra in next week's Kenwood Cup. Inevitably, the three rivals will meet again, either at the J/24s Worlds in Monaco next summer, or sooner.
Matt Jones also disappeared after the regatta, heading for the Sierras with his family for a much-needed vacation away from sailboats. "This was a benchmark regatta, both in terms of competition and - humor me here - race management," he claimed. "It doesn't get much better than this."
J/24 WORLDS (StFYC; July 19-24; 9 races):
1) Terry Hutchinson, Annapolis, 30 points; 2) Vince Brun, San Diego, 31; 3) Chris Larson, Annapolis, 39; 4) Tito Gonzalez (Jeff Thorpe), Chile, 68; 5) Kenneth Kaan (Jeff Madrigali), Honolulu, 73.1; 6) Keith Whittemore, Seattle, 76; 7) Juan Ignacio Grimaldi, Argentina, 77; 8) Jens Hookanson, Middletown, RI, 79; 9) Chris Zaleski, Norwalk, CT, 90; 10) Chris Snow, San Diego, 104; 11) Guillermo Baquerizas, Argentina, 106; 12) Seadon Wijsen, San Francisco, 107; 13) David Willetts, Vancouver, CAN, 110; 14) Doug Clark, Westminster, CO, 126; 15) Jay Miles, Newport, RI, 139; 16) Yon Belausteguigoitia (aka 'B-17'), Mexico, 141; 17) Rodrigo Zuazola, Chile, 152; 18) Brian Goepfrich, Lake Tahoe, 158; 19) David Klatt, Oxnard, 167; 20) Bob Harden, Austin, TX, 170. (65 boats)
Other NorCal boats - 26) Seamus Wilmot/Don Oliver, 197; 27) Tim Duffy/Susie Gregory, 198; 28) Melissa Purdy, 212; 31) Jeff Littfin, 232; 43) Phil Perkins/Don Nazzal, 315.
J/24 NATIONALS (SFYC, July 11-12, 5 races):
1) Vince Brun, San Diego, 6 points; 2) Terry Hutchinson, Annapolis, 10; 3) Chris Larson, Annapolis, 29; 4) Chris Snow, San Diego, 36; 5) Jay Miles, Newport, RI, 37; 6) Chris Zaleski, Norwalk, CT, 42; 7) David Willetts, Canada, 45; 8) Kenneth Kaan, Honolulu, 50; 9) Klatt/Phillips, Oxnard, 58; 10) Kevin Down-ey, Seattle, 59; 11) Tito Gonzalez, Chile, 60; 12) Brian Goepfrich, Lake Tahoe, 63; 13) Clark/Dropkin, West-minster, CO, 63; 14) Jens Hookanson, Middletown, RI, 80; 15) Tim Duffy/Susie Gregory, San Francisco, 81. (52 boats)
Other NorCal boats - 20) Jeff Littfin, 103 points; 24) Phil Perkins/Don Nazzal, 125; 27) Seamus Wilmot/Don Oliver, 137; 33) Melissa Purdy, 167; 35) Wayne Clough, 182; 37) Dennis Holt, 184; 39) Bailey/Hopper, 197; 40) Jepsen/Henneberger, 199.
© 1998 Latitude 38