‘Africa’ tops the field in Marblehead Race Week regatta

"Africa," with Swampscott native Judd Smith (in sunglasses) at the helm, was the top boat in the NOOD regatta in Marblehead this weekend. (© WWW.OUTSIDEIMAGES.COM)

MARBLEHEAD — Though early morning winds appeared promising, the breeze disappeared and never returned Sunday for the final day of the Helly Hansen National Offshore One Design (NOOD) Regatta at Marblehead Race Week.

Only the Laser and Laser Radial fleets were able to fit in a race.

As the winner of the largest, most competitive class in the regatta, J/70 skipper Jud Smith and his crew on Africa earned the coveted overall winner prize. In addition to new gear from Helly Hansen, the Swampscott native and his teammates earned a berth in the Helly Hansen NOOD Caribbean Championship regatta, hosted by Sunsail in the British Virgin Islands in October.

The team won by a considerable 14-point lead, but success didn’t come without its challenges. The big focus this weekend was to start well and consistently – and when that didn’t happen, the crew relied on good communication and teamwork..

Saturday,  Africa fell behind the majority of the 57-boat fleet, but the crew battled back to the weather mark and finish in 13th place.

“In a tough situation, we just kept going and we got to the weather mark in the top 15,” Smith said. “To me, it was the race we sailed the best, because those are the hard races. The easy races are the ones where you have a good start and you get clear and it’s pretty straightforward. The hard races are the ones where you have to overcome adversity, and I thought our team did a really good job.”

Smith has been sailing with Marc Gauthier (bow) and Will Felder (trim) for years; in fact, they won J/70 North Americans together in 2015.

But tactician Lucas Calabrese — a 2012 Olympic sailing bronze medalist in the International 470 class — is a recent addition to the team, and Smith said Calabrese has helped the crew step up its game.

“Now, everyone in the fleet is going close to the same speed and the top boats are sailing really well, so it all comes down to the team dynamic in the end,” he said. “I thought our team did really well.”

Team Africa also won the 2018 J/70 New England Championship this weekend, which had greater than usual significance for Smith and his crew. After taking the year off from driving in 2017 to sail with Peter Duncan’s team — and winning the J/70 World Championship in Italy along the way — Smith said he was “pretty rusty” when he returned to his boat in February. This win is a symbol of his progress.

“For me, it’s about getting back to the form I was in a few years ago,” he said. “And it was important for us as a team to get to work together better, feel confident about what we’re doing and trust each other.”

As an added layer of importance, the regatta was also the J/70 sailors’ opportunity to familiarize themselves with the venue for the world championship, which will be held in Marblehead this September, hosted by Eastern Yacht Club.

Smith said there was one key learning that will inform the teams’ championship performances.

“There’s more current out there than we were all aware of,” he said. “People might get the impression that we have some sort of local advantage, but we were just sailing well. That current we were encountering was new to us too. I’ve never sailed in that section of the water before.”

The Helly Hansen Caribbean NOOD Championship Regatta takes place Oct. 21-26 in the British Virgin Islands. Interested sailors can charter and compete against the five Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta overall winners at the championship.

The Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta at Marblehead Race Week also hosted the 2018 Town Class New England Championship. David Cooke of Harvard, Mass., and his crew aboard Aufblitzen took home the top prize.

Local Marblehead skippers topped two classes this weekend. Charlie Garrard won the J/105 class on Merlin, and Bruce Dyson and Norm Cressy—who completed his 70th Marblehead Race Week this year—earned top marks in the International One Design (IOD) class.

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