After the racing community arises in the beginning of the year from its short holiday hibernation to compete in Del Rey Yacht Club’s Berger/Stein race, the next stop is the Champagne Series, which happened on January 12th and 26th.

Like the Berger, some of the Champagne races were threatened with ugly forecasts that ultimately came to naught. In fact, for this past weekend’s contests, a spry ten-knot breeze blew through the waters of Santa Monica Bay to help settle the scores that were pending from day one of the series.

Thirty-five boats divided into five classes gathered for the winter series, hosted by the South Bay Yacht Racing Club (SBYRC), and battled in a variety of wind conditions.

Day one was light and variable, suitable for testing light-wind skills, while on the second day everything was happening a bit faster. Three of the five divisions were one-design classes.

Nik Vale from the South Coast Corinthian Yacht Club (SCCYC), a member of the newest class in Marina del Rey’s one-design universe, the Open 5.70, got his name on the Best Overall Boat perpetual trophy with consistent finishes throughout the series. In his lime-green sport boat, Boracic, with crewman Todd Lustgarten, Vale pulled off the impossible by sailing extremely competi- tively after having blown out his chute on the first race of the last day.

“I blew up my spinnaker in the first race,” said an astounded and satisfied Vale. “So I had to race the second and third races without a spinnaker — somehow I managed to finish first in the last race.”

In the new class, Open 5.70 importer Jerome Sammarcelli, also from SCCYC, won the Perpetual Kleeve Trophy (Best One Design Boat) sailing Chupacabric and was chomping at Vale’s heels through the entire series. He and crewman Mike Georgia had some problems towards the finish during one race that allowed Vale to maintain his lead and take home the overall trophy.

“In the second race, the downwind legs were only half a mile and we basically sailed straight at the mark, whereas usually the Open 5.70 reaches back and forth,” said Vale. “We were making over five knots VMG [velocity made good, actual boat speed after adjusting for such factors as current and leeway], but still very surprised when we rounded the first leeward mark in first place.

“The second downwind leg, Jerome passed us. There was definitely some luck. Jerome had kelp on the second race, and [issues with the] finish pin on the third race.”

The two often joke and turn their races into matters of national pride, as Vale is a native of England, and Sammarcelli is from France.

Vale has mostly been a crewmember through the years, mostly with Sammarcelli, but is now making a presence as a formidable skipper. He has been getting better and better with every race, placing high in the standings in a number of recent races. He is an advocate for the class and has been enjoying the growth that it has seen in the past year.

“Well, we had six boats on the line the first day and four on the second day — that is compared with only one boat in 2007, so I would say that the class has proved itself as a successful one-design class in MdR,” said Vale.

Asked if his win was more luck or genius, he laughed and said, “definitely luck, not so much genius.”

In the other classes the Champagne Series winners were:

PHRF A (Pacific Handicap Racing Fleet A): Powers/ Schmidt, Frequent Flyer, Mumm 30, CYC (California Yacht Club

J80: Lawrence Travis, Athena, J80, CYC

Martin 242: Mark Sands, Sandbox, Santa Monica Windjammers Yacht Club (SMWYC)

Open 5.70: Nik Vale, Boracic, SCCYC

PHRF B: Dana Polk, Eggemoggin, South Bay Yacht Racing Club (SBYRC)

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