The sizeable spectator fleet on the waters off Newport was treated to another pair of engaging, exciting races on day three of the inaugural J Class World Championships, witnessing the return of one of the pre-regatta title favourites, Lionheart.
Having recorded a trio of third place finishes, Lionheart were prowling — poised only three points behind regatta leaders Hanuman going into Races 4 and 5 of the championship. The team led by Bouwe Bekking won the first windward-leeward and then battled to third place in a second race which saw Hanuman, skippered and steered by Ken Read, dramatically penalised during the top mark approach of the second beat.
Hanuman's resulting fifth place costs them their clear overall lead in the no-discard championship series, which finishes on Saturday (August 26), and now sees them tied on 13 points with Lionheart, winners of both J Class regattas during the America's Cup in Bermuda in June.
With the owner-driven Lionheart winning today's first contest and Topaz taking the second, half of the six-boat fleet have now scored a race win. With local Newport ace Tony Rey aiding Ross MacDonald with the big-picture strategy, Topaz's second race victory of the regatta promotes them to third overall, four points off the lead.
Patience and conservatism are proven, necessary virtues of the Lionheart afterguard, often contributing to their numerous regatta titles. Even so, their patience was slightly tested by their arch-rivals on the first beat of the second race. On a right-favoured upwind, Bekking and the Lionheart crew had to sit pinned by Hanuman until both title rivals lost out significantly to the pack on the right, Lionheart rounding the top mark in sixth.
But Lionheart's opportunity came around when Hanuman fouled. Taking full advantage of their place gain, they pressed hard and smart down the last run, pipping Svea to third on the approach to the finish.
"It's all on now, isn't it?" smiled Bekking as he hosed down the black hull of Lionheart back at the dock in the Newport Shipyard. Of their inherently low risk philosophy which sometimes contrasts with the gambles taken by the pro-driven teams, the seven times round-the-world racer said:
"The thing about risks is that I don't want to take them. If you put yourself in a difficult spot then sometimes it will come back and bite you on the ass. We maybe sail safe and a bit conservative because I have an owner-driver who sails the boat beautifully, but there are positions I just don't want to get us into."
"On that first beat second race we just had to be patient. If you tack away, you get slammed and you cannot afford that in these boats," Bekking concludes. "You have to be conservative and wait, minimise your losses."
Lionheart won the first race of the day, contested in 9-10 knots of southwesterly breeze. Along with Svea they gained on the right, chasing Hanuman around the first windward mark. Lionheart executed a smart gybe set and came in from the left of the downwind to make an equally tidy gybe drop and establish themselves on the preferred right. They led Hanuman through the finish line by 21 seconds, with Svea holding on to third all the way through the race.
Ranger lead Topaz around the top mark of the second race, which enjoyed perfect 13-15 knot sea breeze conditions with pleasant sunshine enhancing the viewing pleasure for the spectator boats. But after the leeward gate, Topaz got right earlier and were able to lead at the final turn. Hanuman, coming in on port and looking to consolidate a small gain, tacked in front of third-placed Svea and was judged to have fouled them, the umpires calling a penalty.
Local knowledge has clearly contributed to Topaz's two wins, strategist Tony Rey — on his first ever J Class ride — reports: "The sea breeze here is a tricky beast. I have a pretty good feel for the breeze. A lot of the time you can't physically get the boat to where you want to be, but the sea breeze here is different depending on how the clouds are setting up. Today I was surprised that it came good an hour earlier than I thought it would. During the second race you could not go right hard enough. We are having some challenges with our upwind boat speed. By Saturday we will be ready to race this regatta."