Svea may be the J Class' 'newcomers' launched last year and racing at their first St Barths Bucket, but their two hard won first places from today's two windward-leeward races is a perfect opening to the popular Caribbean regatta.
Racing remained typically close and Svea had to battle hard and sail smart for their first day double. On the finish line of the second race, Topaz crossed first ahead of Velsheda by only one single second, and eleven seconds separated first from third.
All three boats lead at different stages of the second race. Svea corrected out from third across the finish to win by a slender three seconds on handicap from Topaz, with Velsheda in third just nine seconds shy of victory.
It is the first time in the short history of the Svea team that they have won two J Class races on one day. In the first race they only briefly ceded their lead to Velsheda through the leeward gate, but they showed good upwind speed and, more particularly, stuck to their avowed strategy of staying away from boat for boat dogfights, trying to sail their own races and let the powerful, newest J Class yacht in the fleet do its thing. Tactician Charlie Ogletree is backed up by Kenny Read sailing as strategist here. Read won the J Class one year ago at 'The Bucket' as skipper-helm of Hanuman.
"We had good starts in both races and that made a difference, and then we just tried to stay out of the traffic. If there was a clump of two boats close together we sailed clear and just worked hard to sail the boat to its target speeds and not get caught up in any battles." Recalled Ogletree.
Ogletree considers the changes made through the winter are working, a shoe fitted to their keel and a change of balance to their rig by utilising a bigger main.
"Let's put it this way, we can race now and we couldn't before." he smiles, "We are able to play in the game and hold our own at least."
And for the newest team in the fleet which only made their debut in Bermuda in June last year, Read brings not only his big picture acumen on the race course but a wealth of J Class knowledge.
"Kenny is great for us to bounce ideas off and gives us a lot of J Class 'dos and don'ts'.
Racing a 2.2nm first beat in 12-14kts of wind, Svea lead by two boat lengths at the first windward mark of the day with Velsheda second and Topaz third. Velsheda eroded Svea's lead as they closed the leeward gate and were able to squeeze an inside overlap at the gate. But by the top mark Svea were just ahead again and showed good boatspeed downwind, opening distance to take first gun and win by one minute and 36 seconds on corrected time with Velsheda second and Topaz third.
Topaz made the best start to the second race and profited by going early left towards the island. At the first turn of the five leg windward-leeward, Topaz lead. In the oscillating breeze Velsheda read the second beat best, staying left and lead while Svea lost out a little by going right. The Velsheda team highlighted their slick sail handling again at the leeward gate where a smart Kiwi drop allowed them to keep their noses in front. Up the third and final beat it was incredibly even, Svea crossed Velsheda but, knowing they held enough advantage on rating, chose to stay conservative.
The Topaz crew were moderately content with their day and lie second overall, sharing the same five points aggregate as Velsheda. Strategist Tony Rey noted sagely, "We are fast upwind and slow downwind and so we are trying to balance that a bit. There are little mode things we have to work on. We did not have this sea state in Newport (where the J Class last raced) and so it is re-learning some things on the boat. Svea had two blinders and on two beats sailed around both of us and did a great job to win the first race easily. They went the other way. They did not start well but they give out the prizes for the end of the race, not at the beginning! They have clearly sped the boat up on the water and slowed the boat down on rating and so they showed us they have done some nice research and good work and it paid off for them today."
For Velsheda, who sit third – at half way up the final beat - were still in with a chance of being best boat of the day, tactician Tom Dodson concluded, "We are not so happy with the results today but feel like we sailed the boat quite well. We did not make any big mistakes and were rising in each race. We did not really do anything wrong but you could say we did not do anything right! We had the lead in both races but just could not hold on. But the other two are sailing well."
J Class Results Day 1
Race 1 1. Svea 1h 5m 42s 2 Velsheda 1h 7m 18s 3 Topaz 1h 8m 26 s
Race 2 1 Svea 1h 20m 16s 2 Topaz 1h 20m 19s 3 Velsheda 1h 20m 25s
Overall after two races 1 Svea 2pts (1,1) 2 Topaz 5pts (3,2) 3 Velsheda 5pts (2,3)