Class legend wins Caribbean Championship spot

The ace of the fast single-handed catamaran class has won her classic division and receives an invitation to the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Championship in the British Virgin Islands.

Class A Fleet Champion Ben Hall en route to victory and a place in the Helly Hansen Regatta Caribbean Championship
Paul Todd/Exterior Pictures

Final results

Single-handed Class A catamaran sailor Ben Hall will have his hands full in the British Virgin Islands this fall once he recruits fellow A-cat skippers to help him compete in the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series Championship . Hall won the A-Class Catamaran Classics division in St. Petersburg and in doing so secured the regatta’s Caribbean Challenger spot.

The A-catters, as they are called, compete against very technical and physical 18-foot multihulls. It’s an even impressive feat considering that many of the fleet members are card-carrying members of AARP. Hall, at 76, demonstrates that age is just a number.

Perhaps Hall could invite young Olympic hopeful Ravi Parent, who won the A-Class Catamaran Foiling category. At times Parent nearly overtook the entire fleet of A-cats he was so far ahead of. Parent says he has been working on his upwind foiling technique, which, when successful, provides an unrivaled advantage over the fleet.

“The 10 to 12 knot breeze and flat water yesterday was perfect for me to work upwind,” said Parent. “I could just lower the bow and let the boat go, reaching 18-19 knots of windspeed.”

A former A-catter, Pete Merrifield, from St Petersburg, was transferred to the Weta trimaran about four months ago, in part for the 14ft boat’s ability to be easily rigged. Merrifield won the class by 15 points.

The Hobie 33 and S2 7.9 classes also contested their respective Midwinter Championships. Steven Attard’s Rhumbline took the Hobie 33 crown and Tom Bryant’s Matros took the S2 7.9 title.

This is the 11th time Bryant and his crew have competed in the St. Pete event and every year they enjoy the chance to escape the winter cold in Holland, Michigan. Bryant races with his wife, Mary, son Tanner, sailboat Perry Lewis and their friend Tracy Brand.

“It’s been one of the best years yet,” says Bryant. “We had a wonderful breeze all three days; pretty much always full and hiking, and we didn’t have to do any light work. Over the course of the series, we managed to recover from two early starts where we finished fifth in each, so the top spots saved our you-know-what.

The class winners that cemented the victories today were the J/24 Bogus, owned by George Braddon; the J/88 Team Exile, skippered by Andy Graff; David Starck of the Lightning class; Mike Schroff of Melges 15 on Electric Pickle; and Chuck Ullman in the L30 class. Kevin Holmberg repeated as the winner in the Level class, which combined Sonars and J/22.

The J/70 and Lightning fleets also introduced the Mixed-Plus trophy splits which require teams to be at least 50% female. The Lightning class had three of the 17 qualifying teams, with Debbie Probst’s Infinity taking home the new trophy.

The J/70s head for the finish of the Helly Hansen Sailing World St. Petersburg Regatta
Paul Todd/Exterior Pictures

Seventeen of the 31 J/70 entries qualified and the Power Play team skippered by Beccy Anderson of San Diego not only won the Mixed-plus division, but the class as a whole. J/70 owner Peter Cunningham generously provided his boat for Anderson, Stephanie Roble, Hannah Lee Noll, Beth Whitener and Willem van Waay to race.

“Our team came together from all walks of sailing, so we initially focused on communication and making sure everyone knew their job on the boat,” says Roble. “We got better with every race and had a great time.”

Racing in the J/70 fleet this weekend was a fun change of pace for Roble and Tokyo Olympics teammate Maggie Shea in 49er FX. Shea raced another J/70 in the Mixed-Plus division.

“Maggie and I started out as professional sailors and came together with the Olympics,” says Roble. “It is an objective for us to help promote and encourage women sailors, whether they are professional or weekend racers. It’s an important mission that we are passionate about helping to champion.

Selects from the third and final day of the Helly Hansen World Sailing Regatta in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Paul Todd/Exterior Pictures

The Helly Hansen Junior J/70 team, skippered by Ethan Danielson, won the all-amateur Corinthian Division and finished seventh overall in the competition fleet.

Steven Boho and his Midwest-based Melges 24 team handily won the seven-boat Melges 24 division. “We arrived two days early and we trained a lot. This weekend, we had real opportunities to put everything we practiced with transitions into action.

Two ORC fleets included 21 larger keelboats split across two divisions, and the use of the handicap rule produced close races in both ORC A and ORC B. The J/111 Fireball, helmed by Bill and Jackie Baxter, won six of seven races, however, the moderate winds suited their well-sailed boat. Peacemaker, a Nelson Marek 30 owned by Jeff Sampson, won four races to pass the Express 27, Eagle One, piloted by Timothy LaRiviere and his crew.

The next stop in the National Regatta Series will take place in San Diego, March 25-27.

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