in light, fluky winds and fog


Light and fluky winds with overcast skies is what competitors were dealt in the last race of the Champagne Series, hosted by the South Bay Yacht Racing Club last weekend.

In the PHRF (Performance Handicap Racing Fleet) A and B classes, it was anyone’s series to win and racers were hoping that the fog would burn away and that a nice breeze would replace the gloomy covering, but it was not to be.

The committee was able to run only one race on a scheduled two-race day. The start was delayed more than 20 minutes as the wind continued to clock around and refused to decide on a steady direction.

On most start lines, crews were working out game plans and talking over strategies amongst themselves while privately eyeing their competition.

However, on race day, there was a prevalent intimacy within the fleet due to the conditions and delay.

Instead of the more common sights and sounds of serious skippers sternly directing their crews in pre-race exercises, racers laughed and jousted with one another as they slowly wandered around the committee boat waiting for starting information.

Once the racing was under way, the teams that were most adept in light winds and skippers who were able to negotiate the fickle breeze came out on top.

In this sport, the key is to not make costly errors — more than just sailing fast — and in these conditions not making mistakes would be a tall order.

In four out of six of the classes, top local talent started and remained on top in their respective groups.

Jim Durden, who is largely responsible for the popularity of the Martin 242 fleet in Marina del Rey, kept up the pressure through the series aboard Zip and won most of his races in the 242 class.

Likewise, Jeff Janov won handily in the Schock 35 fleet, as he often does.

And Curt Johnson and Larry Travis battled in the J-80 fleet through the weeks, but Johnson finished on top.

The winner of the overall series came from the PHRF C class where Bruce Fleck, Mike Cheda and John Thomas were overpowering against their opposition.

Bandit won every race in the entire series, and in doing so, came out on top in the series standings, adding its name once again to the Champagne Series perpetual trophy.

“The three of us have been sailing Bandit 15 years now, so we like to think we know how to sail the boat” said crewman Bruce Fleck. “The main advantage we have is that Mike [Cheda] just drives.

“We feel that it’s a big advantage that the driver doesn’t have to look around and think about anything else.”

Bandit’s crew was able to handle the unpredictable conditions of Saturday’s race but, according to Fleck, there was a certain element of luck involved.

“There were huge wind shifts and huge dead areas,” Fleck said. “You’d sail into certain areas and sit there while everyone else would sail around you. It was a bit of a crapshoot on Saturday — no doubt about it.”

In the A and B classes, things were a bit less calculable.

The top of the leader board never showed the same name twice, so the key for the players would be consistency.

Whoever could stay close to the top most often would prevail.

Al Berg, still sailing in his 80s, would gather one first, two seconds, and two third place finishes that would earn him the class victory in the A class sailing his Farr 39 Ghost II.

The B fleet was nip and tuck through the series.

Three boats — Wired, Diavola, and Hitchhiker — were all well within reach of the trophy entering into the capricious air of Saturday’s contest.

“This was my first Champagne Series as skipper and the first for Diavola,” said Gray Marshall, who finished just seconds behind Ty Hokanson, skipper of Wired. “It was very close going into the final two races.

“We knew that we had to keep up with Ty [Wired], beat him if we could, and, at the same time, keep our eyes on Hitchhiker.

“For the first race of the day, we had an okay start but it was much shiftier conditions than found in a typical Marina del Rey summertime race.

“We had to play the shifts, keep sailing our race and see how we did against Ty. We didn’t get the chance to cover him as much this time as we had in the past race.

“He made some very good calls downwind, and in the end, we placed second to his finish. Hitchhiker, unfortunately, was out of the hunt on this race.

“The final race was looking very interesting, with extreme wind changes, but we’ll never know, since it was abandoned.”

Champagne flowed during the post race festivities and racers were pleased that, largely due to the competence of South Bay’s race committee, the contestants were able to get in more races this time around than they have in the recent past.

In last year’s regatta, only three races were held in the series, due to poor weather.