One year ago, when St. Francis Yacht Club decided to host the C420 North Americans, my crew, Nathan Sih, and I decided to stop sailing 29ers and start sailing Club 420s. We saw it as a wonderful opportunity to become familiar with the Club 420 and become proficient in heavy air sailing, which we’d need on the San Francisco City Front in July. We had two summer goals: to finish top 10 at North Americans and to do well at the Chubb US Sailing Double-Handed Junior Championship, the venerable Bemis Championship, also to be held in San Francisco.
A year flew by, and it was time for the North Americans. We had spent close to two weeks training up in San Francisco, so we were definitely ready for what could potentially be one of the windiest events of the year. The tide was also going to be ebbing during the event, which would create massive chop and frothy current lines. Although Nathan and I are both from So Cal, those are our favorite conditions.
Day one of the event was pretty nerve racking because we had trained for a year. Also, there were 93 boats, making it the largest West Coast C420 event ever. It was very cold, so I put on my two wetsuits, hiking pants, spray top, ski goggles, beanie, and shoes. Nathan did the same, and then we went in the water for a fun swim, because there were so many general recalls. The first race was light for San Francisco. We got a good start, sent it right, and we were in third – until Nathan fell out of the boat. We managed to salvage a sixth. The next race we were winning almost the entire race. Then the Callahan brothers, i420 Youth Champs, rounded the opposite gate and passed us. On the final reach leg we decided to roll them, but they stuffed us, and Nathan slipped a bit into the water. After finishing the race, we realized that our batton had fallen out, so our coach hopped in the boat with a needle and thread and helped sew in a spare batton. By the time he finished, we were hurrying to the start. As soon as we got there, we saw the wind was picking up, so we hurried to adjust our boat. After finishing the adjustment, we had two minutes to the gun, and we hauled toward the pin. We port tacked the fleet and we were launched. We rounded the mark a full minute ahead of everyone. Unfortunately, we were not able to check the course due to the time constraints before the start. So we just kept sailing the previous course in hopes that the others would follow, but when we rounded the reach mark no one was near the weather mark so we could not tell whether people were following us. By the last leeward gate, we saw people not following us so we hustled back upwind, and we managed to salvage a sixth. Although we had a problematic day, we were in fifth and 6 points out of first.
Day 2 and 3 were atypical summer San Francisco conditions, light, between 12-15, with many general recalls. Unfortunately, this combination didn’t pay for us and we moved down to 10th place.
The final day of the regatta the wind remained light, and the currents were shifting. We managed to grind back to 8th place overall. This was a year-long effort, and Nathan and I met our goal of top 10.
After North Americans, five knots at C420 Nationals in Newport, Rhode Island was a different story, perhaps a little less exciting. Nathan sat in his hole to leeward and I stared at the compass. There were no freak 30-knot gusts or steep waves to plow through. This made our regatta very simple; all we did was get a good start, go fast, and then tack on any shift. Every morning, the main priority of our pre-start routine was to get our average angles. Whoever was fast and could stay on the lifted tack would be to the mark in the top three. We were always in the top three, except for the race I wrapped the spin sheets around the boom and we had a deep race. At the end of the regatta, we lost a three-way tie breaker for fourth and finished sixth, out of 158 boats.
Next, we were on our way to Hyannis Regatta. This event was completely different. The pin was favored by nearly 40 degrees and the mark was skewed 30 degrees right. Anybody could lay the mark from the pin. This resulted in half the fleet trying to port tack the fleet and the other half starting on starboard near the pin. The aftermath was a large pile up of 420s near the pin. The two boats that made it off the pin would be first and second. Heavily biased lines are not our specialty. Add to that, a beginner port tacker holed our boat, so we played it conservatively and had a tougher regatta. We managed to finish the regatta in 12th out of 118 boats.
After Hyannis, we headed to Buzzard’s Bay. The wind was way less stable, swinging through about 30 degrees. Throughout the regatta we had decent starts, but we mis-timed the first tack off the line, repeatedly, putting us out of phase. This cost us many points during the regatta, resulting in our worst finish of the year, 21st of 150 boats.
After a day of much needed rest, we were on our way to San Francisco for our ultimate challenge – the Chubb US Sailing Double-Handed Junior Championships, the Bemis. We had qualified, along with Jack Egan, SDYC and current high school national champ, to represent Southern California in this US Sailing national championship. Eighteen other teams from across the country had also qualified to represent their regions. We were excited because it was the biggest regatta of the summer, and it was out of one of our home clubs, Peninsula Youth Sailing Foundation, in Redwood City, Ca. We knew there was going to be wind and we were pumped after a summer of East Coast light air sailing. Our expectation of wind was correct because the first two days blew a solid 18. We finished the first day in second, but still in reach of first. We had to have a good Day 2 because there were only one or two races scheduled on the last day, with the forecast calling for light air. We had a good Day 2 in the breeze: we finished with a 1, 3 and 2. This launched us into first, going into the final day with a three-point lead ahead of our Southern California friends Jack Egan and Jack Plavan. Both teams had a large point gap to third place. There was a very good chance that Egan would pressure us the final day with match race tactics, so the night before, we spent a lot of time preparing for the showdown, i.e., I even read the “Inner Game of Tennis.”
In addition, there were many symbolic games that were played in the final 24 hours. The first game was between my dad and I on the night before the last day of competition. He told me the only way I could win was if I could beat him in ping pong – for the first time ever. Long story short, I beat him. The next game was between rival Jack Egan’s team, Nathan, and me. Jack thought whoever won a game of spike ball would win both races. Again, we won both games of spikeball.
Regardless of the mental games we triumphed over, the last day was still nerve wracking. With just three points separating us, we knew Jack would match race us. Considering he’s won high school fleet and team race nationals twice, he is the last person I would ever want to match race. The first race he did not match race us, but he port tacked the fleet, and was first to the weather mark. Nathan and I, on the other hand, were fifth to the weather mark. Rounding the leeward gate, I said, “Oh my!” as we had seen a lefty nobody else saw, split gates with Jack, played the left, and won the race. I knew the final race, when Jack was trailing us seven minutes before the gun, would be a struggle. The first start of the last race was a general recall, but I was happy because Jack got a better start than me, allowing us another chance. The next start, we managed to turn the tables on Jack as he hunted us. When he looked away for a moment, I quickly headed up, gaining leverage and positioning us to nail the start.
We ended up winning both races that last day and, with that, the Bemis Championship – a huge honor. I would like to thank my crew Nathan who is a great friend and talented sailor, PYSF for putting on such a professional regatta, and the BYC Maritime Sciences and Seamanship Foundation for the support it provided for the events leading up to the Bemis. Without the Foundation’s support, training and events like this would not be possible for Nathan and me. Finally, after traveling for 48 days this summer on our quest, I’d like to also thank our parents and all our host families who opened their homes so warmly while we trained and raced.
Nathan and I are looking forward to spending the next year on the water, pushing our abilities to the next level.