Emerging in second place from a dramatic, high stakes final race which was laden with tension until the final run to the finish on a tight, compact race course off Bermuda's Saint Georges, Lionheart clinched the first ever America's Cup J Class Regatta.
Carrying a one point lead and with the regatta title in their grasp, they started flat footed off the line, looking to have done all they could to hand the regatta win to title rivals Hanuman. But the Lionheart crew stuck to their task in the fickle, shifty breeze to climb back into contention at the last turn.
When Hanuman were dramatically given a penalty for a rules infringement on the approach to the last buoy, the Lionheart crew caught the scent of the overall win that they have worked so hard for over the last three years, and capitalised.
Down the last run they passed the unfortunate leaders Topaz but with Hanuman astern and Velsheda winning the series' fifth and final race not only did they come right back from the awful start but they extended their margin to three winning points.
And Velsheda's second win of the regatta, 2,1 for the day, proved critical, earning them the runners up position tie break from the Hanuman.
When they won the America's Cup Superyacht Regatta last week, Lionheart served notice that they are on form, triumphing in the 'warm up regatta' as tactician Bouwe Bekking joked of the three coastal course format.
"Nobody ever said don't win the practice regatta." Grinned Bekking today.
The crew which has been together since 2012 add the Bermuda class victory to three back to back major titles in 2014, the Menorca Maxi J Class, Palma's Superyacht Cup and the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup for the J Class.
Few would deny that Lionheart have trained hard and worked diligently in pursuit of their coveted victory today. As well as the major regattas, Lionheart competed at and won the Palma Vela regatta in 2015, a low key training event on their home Bay of Palma waters.
Dutch seven times round the world race Bekking has driven the team hard, setting a high standard with their disciplined, comprehensive debriefs each day. And they have striven to keep the same, settled core crew at the heart of the machine.
Lionheart are the one crew who have been most open in stating their absolute goal, winning this showcase regatta, which was originally announced back in 2014.
"As soon as Bermuda was announced, we just said that's the one we'd like to win. As always, I think you have to have an aim. You have to have a goal as a team. Every regatta you win is a nice one but here this is the one, with the Americas Cup going on and a record fleet of seven J Class yachts It has been magic."
Bekking highlights their second flat footed start, when they were last up the first beat, as typical of the crew's tenacity:
"You just have to keep fighting, I think that's one of the things with this crew. The boat is doing a nice job for us as well. But I think the crew work has been really good. That atmosphere on board that you are still able to claw back from maybe an impossible position like today, that's what makes the difference." Bekking explains,
"We've been together for a few years since Harald bought the boat. That has been the really nice thing about the crew. Everyone digs in for each other and there's no captains. Everyone's kind of the same level. Everybody appreciates each other. Everyone is a key person on board. I think that's one of the things. I think everybody deserves it. The essence is stay together and have a great relationship with great owners."
Particular credit is also due to the Lionheart owner who has worked hard to ensure that his helming has improved as the intensity and level has risen over the last two years especially. Similarly he ensured that Lionheart was heavily optimised through the winter, as was Hanuman, for the lighter breezes expected in Bermuda.
Opportunities were plentiful throughout the last two races which were contested in the same zone of breeze convergence on Murray's Anchorage, on Bermuda's NW extremity, in the shadow of Sugarloaf Hill and Banjo Island. In 6-11kts the left side of the upwind, right side of the downwind paid often but not always. Although opportunities did not always have positive outcomes, some downward slides were due as much to self inflicted mistakes. Hanuman and Ranger went into the last day sharing the lead but finished third and fourth.
Hanuman's penalty at the last mark was pivotal. Ranger were caught slowed at 90 seconds before the first start of the day and could not accelerate in to the start. They exploded a spinnaker in the second race to compound a disappointing final day.
"We made a mistake today." Acknowledged Ken Read, the Hanuman skipper-helm, "But that is life, that is sailing, and Lionheart deserved to win. Now we have to regroup a little bit. It is such a shame. I feel bad. I feel bad for our team who have worked so hard. I feel bad for Jim and Kristy the owners who put so much into this, but at the same time, that is sailboat racing. You take the bad with the good. We had our breaks when we won in Saint Barths. We did not have our breaks here. That's the way it goes sometimes."
But Velsheda, checking out today with a second and first to take second overall returned to the dock with huge smiles. "We were punching above our weight in that light stuff, so we are delighted. Velsheda is 84 years old, 85 next year, so second in that fleet is pretty good stuff." Smiled Tom Dodson, tactician on the Velsheda. "I think I was pretty hard on Ronald, our owner today so he came out of it with a big smile on his face. So it was worth it!"
Results after five races, no discard:
1. Lionheart 11pts
2. Velsheda 14pts
3. Hanuman 14pts
4 Ranger 18pts
5 Topaz 21pts
6 Shamrock 30pts
7 Svea 36pts
Peter Holmberg, helm Topaz: "We're pleased with how it went, we're sailing better all the time. Improvement is our thing, we're still one of the developing boats so we know we have some more steps to go. Today was good; we got the boat going well, going the right way. We had unfortunate hydraulic failure the final gybe to the finish so it took us from first place to third which was a little painful but it was a good day. It's fantastic to be sailing these classics here and racing them hard. No crashes which is a big bonus, regardless of a few close ones today. Our owners loved it, we've got a good team, we just have to be patient and take all the steps necessary to get up there."
Erle Williams, Ranger: "It's been a great regatta for the J Class. We've seen a mixture of performances. As we saw today, we had third and fourth place boats came out and had a first and second each. Hanuman and ourselves were leading this morning and this afternoon Lionhead and Velsheda have won so it's close racing. There wasn't enough wind for Ranger, we suffered today. We tried to do a jibe at that first start but we just didn't have the acceleration. That was my fault, I totally hold my hand up for that one but all in all, we thoroughly enjoyed it and its always going to be a lighter regatta here so for Ranger it's a little bit tough. We've enjoyed racing, we've had some success and some good racing and results but at the end of the day we got beaten by a better crews and a better boat. We're going to look forward to Newport, hopefully we'll get some good breezes there and we can start again."
Stu Bannatyne, Shamrock: "It was a fantastic day for the Shamrock today and obviously all the J Class racing. It was a real shame not to see Svea out there again today. We're very happy on Shamrock to have beaten a boat for the last race and for the day on the count back. Everyone's really happy, A big thanks to the owner for providing us with such an awesome boat with such a great history for us to go sailing in. We worked hard and the crew have been doing a fantastic job- first of all to get the boat here and then the sailing team during the racing here this week. We've gone from strength to strength and had some nice races. That last race today we sailed a good race and got a good result. I think the conditions have been pretty good for us all week, nice flat water and relatively light winds so we've been happy with that. We've just been trying to do the best we can and today we got a couple of breaks so it went well."