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Team Weasel Goes to the Worlds

Bill Jenkins

October, 2001

The day before the 505 World Championships last month in Cascais, Portugal, Dan Merino and I finally sailed our boat out into the Atlantic Ocean beneath the turrets and towers of a thousand years worth of castles, forts, and palaces.

Three years ago, Dan and I were sailing buddies who occasionally raced his old 505 in the handicap fleet on Mission Bay. A trip to Spain together showed us how much fun that part of the world could be, and when we saw that the 505 World Championships would be in Portugal in 2001, it seemed natural that we make a run at it. Dan found a boat hiding out in the garages of San Diego that turned out to be one of the first built with modern materials and techniques. It was still very stiff and dry, but required all the systems to be modernized and lightened.

Besides fixing up the boat, we went to work to improve our sailing technique. As soon as we started travelling, all illusions were lost as to where we stood skill-wise. Some of the best 505 sailors in the world live on the West Coast. So we ramped up our travel schedule to include all the regional and national regattas possible, shifted our training area from Mission Bay to South San Diego Bay, and joined the 2001 edition of Team Tuesday.

Team Tuesday consists of the most committed 505 sailors in Southern California. They meet each Tuesday evening at Alamitos Bay Yacht Club for intensive training and debriefing sessions with Jay Glaser as the coach. The program was credited with propelling Mike Martin and Howie Hamlin to their Worlds victory in 1999 and separate standings of 2nd and 3rd in 2000. For Dan and me, with jobs, families, and a weekly commute between San Diego and Long Beach, it was a grueling experience. But we stuck it out until August when we finally loaded the boat for Portugal. Of course, we learned a huge amount about making the boat go fast and made some great friendships with people who really understand 505's and are at the top of the class.

The Worlds themselves were a lot of fun, but not exactly in the way I expected. The wind, which had been blowing 20+ knots for months, shut off the week before the regatta started. According to the locals, that happens every year after the second week of September. They couldn't figure out why we had scheduled our regatta then. So we never raced in more than 10 knots, and sailed more than one race in the rain. As a result, the racing was more tactical than usual, and still interesting for the drivers. But the crews found themselves alternately crouching under the boom vang or staring up at a sagging spinnaker. Not that any of them ever complained…

On the other hand, the Portuguese people, and especially the people running the regatta, are very friendly. And the setting was very beautiful and historic. We spend a lot of time in the evenings wandering the town just looking around. But the highlight of the regatta was meeting all the other sailors. There were 105 teams from 12 countries, including several past champions and industry professionals. It was great fun to walk into a bar full of carousing sailors and swap stories and sing songs until late at night.

The main difference between sailing against 100 other boats and 10 is how many are ready to pass you as soon as you make a mistake. Fortunately all the races began with gate starts, so that part wasn't too hectic. We found that if we kept our wind clear and stayed more or less in phase with the shifts, we'd come to the weather mark around 30th. From there, whether we moved up or down depended almost entirely on our attitude and concentration. And we managed to do both in about equal numbers. The biggest thrill was taking fourth in the last race, duking it out with our teammates, Howie and Mike, and five-time champion Krister Bergstrom.

In the end, Wolfgang Hunger and Holger Jess won the regatta: the first victory for a German team. Dan and I placed 34th, well above our goal of top half, and Team Tuesday took 3 of the top ten positions. Go to the regatta web site for all the details.

There are some great photos right here on this site as well.