Bertrand leads Melges fleet
The NOOD Regatta started out bright and early - first signal was scheduled at 9:30 a.m. but due to the constantly shifting breeze this was delayed for about half-an-hour. The conditions - absolutely glorious. Plentiful sunshine and abundant breeze set the stage for what Mike Dow, USMCA Midwest District Governor - on board with with Tony Trajkovich on Bada Bing who travelled from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin - called "this a fine day for sailing".
Once past the initial delay, the start of the first race resulted in a general recall - the product of many teams working out the nerves on what is the largest ever start line for the Melges 24 Fleet in St. Petersburg. On the second start things got off well with Bertrand immediately advancing ahead of the fleet. Bertrand's main competition came on strong coming into the first leeward mark with Dan Cherish on Team Intermec working the course in an effort to overtake Bertrand for the lead. Instead Bertrand put a healthy distance between himself and the rest of the fleet, leaving Cherish to contend with Doug Fisher and his Ullman Sails powered Melges 24. At the second windward mark Bertrand, still many boat lengths out front, fumbled a bit on the spinnaker set - enough to make the spectators and Bertrand's team a little nervous - Cherish and 2004 M24 NOOD Champion Fisher - if only for a moment believed they could possibly catch up.
Bertrand finally settled down, got the set only sacrificing a little stretch of his big lead. Bertrand sailed the rest of the race in confidence granting him the win. Cherish was second followed by Fisher in third.
The second race spawned another exciting turn of events as the fantastic weather conditions prevailed - blue skies and plenty of Florida sunshine, however the wind remained shifty prompting course changes throughout the rest of the day and subsided to a steady 5-8 knots. With the left side being the favored side of the course, Bob Dockery on Barracuda slid just in front of Bertrand for the lead at the top mark, followed by Rob and Laurie Bunn on Bettersailing.com in third, then Fisher, John Hyatt on Gone Mad in fourth and Martin Kullman on Tommy Bahama in fifth. On the first downwind run Bertrand proved to be too strong for Dockery. Bertrand easily rounded the leeward mark first heading right and Dockery going left. Proving that the right side was definitely the right choice, Bertrand rounded the second windward mark well ahead of Dockery.
Progressing throughout the race was Jeff Ecklund on Star and his Melges Performance Sailboats crew of Harry Melges, Andy Burdick and Sam Rogers shooting out of the fleet rounding third pushing Fisher into fourth. And for the big finish - Ecklund passed Dockery with flying colors and charged up the last beat challenging Bertrand's lead. Bertrand, noticing Ecklund's position decides to play hardball. He match raced Ecklund right up to the line, shutting him out of a contention for the win. Bertrand slips over the finish line with Ecklund on his transom.
The third and final race of the day started around 1:45 in the afternoon and having raced two high energy races, endurance would be a factor for the win. On the start, which entailed a couple of individual recalls, Bertrand launched a repeat campaign. He jumped the fleet, taking the center of the course with Dockery again edging him out, slipping just ahead at the first mark rounding. Paul Hulsey on Bumpin' Donuts came from behind in third. It was heavy contention for the fourth position back. Karen Gottwald on Cagey (one of the few lady helmswomen in the Melges 24 Fleet and USMCA Class President, with 2005 Key West Race Week winner Bill Hardesty on board) as well as some others teams chose the right side of the course hoping to grab a piece of the lead. Gottwald edged her way into the mark rounding safely managing fourth. With a pack charging in on port, the others on starboard including Ecklund were shut out having to settle with top twenty mark roundings.
Dockery put on a strong show downwind and back up again, still hanging on to the lead with bertrand right behind. On the last leg, not only did it seem as through the temperature had dropped and so had the breeze - down to around 5-6 knots. This definitely effected teams that had been doing really well. Both Dockery and Bertrand played it smart and finished first and second respectively. But for Hulsey, his third place position - a position he had maintained the entire race - resulted in a seventh place finish. And for Gottwald, fourth turned into a disappointing fifteenth. Geoffery Pierini "Gazoo" landed third and Ecklund's team worked exceptionally hard landing fourth with Kullman finishing fifth.
To bring an incredible day to an extraordinary end, the USMCA awarded daily Corinthian awards presented by USMCA Class President, Karen Gottwald; USMCA Vice President, Scott Gregory; Secretary/Treasurer, Travis Weisleder and US Midwest District Governor, Mike Dow. St. Petersburg NOOD Regatta Day One Corinthian winners are:
1. Bob Dockery "Barracuda"
2. Paul Hulsey"Bumpin' Donuts"
3. Scott Gregory "Team Satisfaction"
4. Ryan Hamm "When Pigs Fly"
5.Reggie Fairchild "Wireless"
Overall, as we move into Saturday's racing Bertrand leads the regatta by four points, Dockery is second with eight points and Ecklund in third with eleven.