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Peter Duncan captures J/70 North American Championship plagued by poor conditions on Chesapeake Bay

Owner-driver Peter Duncan and his top-notch crew aboard Relative Obscurity captured the J/70 North American Championships, which were limited to one day of racing due to adverse conditions.
Owner-driver Peter Duncan and his top-notch crew aboard Relative Obscurity captured the J/70 North American Championships, which were limited to one day of racing due to adverse conditions. (Willy Keyworth)

An unfortunate combination of adverse weather and current conditions turned the J/70 North American Championships into a one-day, three-race regatta.

High pressure systems that hovered over the region resulted in light, fluky winds throughout the week, while a constant ebb tide prevented the normally reliable afternoon sea breeze from filling in.

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Organizers with host Annapolis Yacht Club worked hard to give the 59-boat fleet some action, but ultimately bowed to reality and sent the fleet back to port without an official race on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

“It takes wind to run sailboat races. We didn’t have any wind, so we didn’t have any racing,” principal race officer Mark Foster said.

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Thursday provided passable conditions and Foster completed three races in shifty 4-6 knot winds. New York skipper Peter Duncan and his crew on Relative Obscurity performed well in challenging conditions and posted a solid score line of 2-3-5.

Little did they know that low score of 10 points would wind up winning the regatta. It was the first North American championship for Duncan, an American Yacht Club member who placed second in 2017 and third in 2016.

Duncan captured the 2017 J/70 World Championship with Victor Diaz de Leon as tactician and Willem Van Waay as headsail trimmer. Those two seasoned professionals were aboard this week as well with Carlos Robles working the foredeck.

“It was tough out there. We had to deal with light breeze and a lot of current on the one day we got in racing. It definitely was not easy,” Duncan said.

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Diaz de Leon decided caution was the wise approach, electing not to pressure the start line or bang corners on the beats.

“What we were trying to do was stay in the game the whole time. We wanted to be relatively conservative at the starts and stay within the goalposts,” Duncan said. “The left paid off for the most part that day, so we were definitely favoring and protecting that side. It was mostly a matter of just keeping the boat moving. It was tough sledding out there.”

Foster said the cause of the constant ebb tide was the floodgates being opened at the Conowingo Dam. Three separate high-pressure systems that moved slowly across the Chesapeake Bay stifled the wind.

“From what the locals sailors tell me, if we had a flood tide we would have gotten 6-8 knots of sea breeze each afternoon,” Foster said.

Foster started two races in a light northerly on Wednesday, quickly abandoning the first after the breeze dropped out. Less than half the fleet finished the second start, so that was abandoned afterward.

There was a shore postponement until 2:30 on Friday afternoon before Foster sent the fleet out to the course. After two hours of boats bobbing around, it became obvious the sea breeze was not going to fill in and the fleet was sent in.

“The most wind we saw was four knots on Friday and the class has a five-knot minimum,” Foster explained.

It was more of the same on Saturday with a dock delay lasting an hour and a half. A forecast for some wind around 1 p.m. prompted Foster to send the fleet out and was encouraged when it shifted from north to south. However, the breeze peaked at three knots before petering out and racing was abandoned once again.

Savasana is the eighth place finisher in the J/70 North American Championship skippered by Brian Keane. - Original Credit:
Savasana is the eighth place finisher in the J/70 North American Championship skippered by Brian Keane. - Original Credit: (Willy Keyworth / HANDOUT)

Foster, who hails form Canyon Lake, Texas, has run four straight North Americans for the J/70 class and knows well what type of racing the sailors want and expect.

“Every now and then, the Chesapeake Bay delivers these types of conditions. I don’t think anyone came here to have one day of racing, but it is what it is,” said Terry Hutchinson, skipper of third place finisher USA 419. “I thought the race committee made all the right calls.”

Hutchinson and co-owner Jenn Norwood Wulff won Race 2 on Thursday, sandwiching results of 12 and 13 around the bullet. Quantum pro Scott Nixon called tactics aboard USA 419, which totaled 24 points. Dan Morris, a member of the American Magic syndicate of which Hutchinson was skipper and CEO, trimmed the headsails.

“I think all of us would have sailed a bit differently if we’d known it was only going to be that one day,” Hutchinson said.

J/70 North American Championships (68 boats) results:

  1. Relative Obscurity, Peter Duncan, American Yacht Club, Rye, NY, 2-3-5=10
  2. Surge, Ryan McKillen, Coral Reef Yacht Club, Miami, FL, 9-2-2=13
  3. USA 419, Terry Hutchinson & Jenn Norwood-Wulff, Annapolis Yacht Club, 13-1-10=24
  4. Stampede, Bruno Pasquinelli, Fort Worth Boat Club, Dallas, TX, 10-9-7=26
  5. Catapult, Joel Ronning, Wayzata Yacht Club, Excelsior, MN, 3-7-17

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