Svea bounced back from one small error to retain their unbeaten record in the three boat J Class fleet at the first regatta of the season, the St Barth's Bucket. It was the first ever round the island style coastal race for the Svea crew which is lead by their tactician, 2004 Olympic silver medallist Charlie Ogletree with Kenny Read sailing as strategist.
Though Velsheda sailed impeccably in the 12-17 kts SE'ly breeze and lead all the way around the scenic 23 nautical miles counter-clockwise circumnavigation of the island of St Barths, Svea was close enough at the finish line to save their handicap allowance and win by a mere 17 seconds.
Key to Velsheda's early lead was the timing they chose to tack in to the island after the start. They chose to hang out early on during the short 20 minute beat to the corner, timing their tack in towards the island so that they could make the double gain of being inshore boat and getting the accelerated, lifting breeze at the corner. That was enough to allow them to break free of Svea and Topaz and build a small lead as they reached and then ran downwind along the outside, windward side of the island.
Svea shed some time when they lost the tack of their spinnaker on the second hoist, letting Velsheda away slightly, but thereafter they showed good downwind pace and closed down the famous J Class 'original' which won this race last year from 2017's fleet of six boats.
After the mid-race cloud cleared for the final beat back up to the finish, the breeze picked up nicely to 16-17kts. With clear skies Velsheda and Svea stayed right and made use of a nice right shift, lifting on starboard and both stepping slightly further clear of Topaz which had sailed a good race, always in touch with the two yachts in front. The straightforward course offered little in the way of tactical passing options on the downwinds especially, and it was very much a boatspeed test for the trimmers and helms.
"We had a good race, even if we proved ourselves a little short on practice when the tack came off. We could adjust our strategy a little at that time but that cost us a bit of time. That was a clear case of lack of practice. We could not gybe until it was sorted." Recalled Svea's tactician Ogletree, "But we really just focused on our boatspeed, staying close enough to Velsheda. Tom did a great job steering the boat all the way around the course, it needed a high concentration level and he stuck to it."
Adding their first coastal race win as a crew to yesterday's two windward-leeward race wins Svea, her name meaning 'Swede' are in clear charge of the popular Caribbean regatta at its midway stage, four points ahead of Velsheda which has now sailed 2,3,2 from the first three races.
Velsheda's tactician Tom Dodson admitted they could not really see what more they could have done in order to open enough time on Svea. " I feel like we sailed really well. It was a good day but we cannot really deal with Svea, we are just racing her boat for boat and so we are happy to have beaten them across the line really. We had a plan and stuck to it and that seemed to work for us. We could have been a click closer to the line at the gun but we had our strategy to the corner just right and popped out ahead. We wanted to get inshore to the first headland to get to the lift, the accelerated breeze and the flatter water. That is what we thought and it worked." Dodson recalled.
"Our boat is going well and Ronald steered really nicely and the trimmers were great. Svea got within about three boat lengths down the run and there was nothing we could do about that. We got away a little on the final beat as the breeze picked up. I feel we are sailing the boat as well as we can." Dodson adds "And what is nice is that Ronald will go from here and cruise the boat like he always has."
Once more the 2016 launched Topaz were in the mix early but faded slightly towards the end of the race, crossing third. Topaz crew boss Tim Kröger concluded: "We sailed well. Make no mistake here we still think of ourselves as the new kids on the block in this class. We are still learning day by day. Velsheda have been at this for a decade. But we are loving it. We have a great group here and we are enjoying learning together. There is a great atmosphere on board and we know how lucky we are to be doing this, sailing on this boat in this class. Everyone comes to the boat in the morning with a smile on their face."
"We are still lacking in a bit of upwind speed but are working on it. It is all moving on, we are working here with a retrieval system on the spinnakers like Svea have and that saves some seconds here and there but that is where we are. "
2018 St Barths Bucket, Day 2 Round the Island Race.
1 Svea 2h 26m 17s, 2 Velsheda 2h 26m 34s, 3 Topaz 2h 28m 40s
Overall after three races
1 Svea 3pts 2 Velsheda 7pts 3 Topaz 8pts