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2015 Easterns: Eight is Great
Johnson prevails in light-air squeaker on Chautauqua
By Glen Dickson
Light, shifty winds from an unusual easterly direction created challenging conditions for both the sailors and race committee at the 2015 Eastern Class E-Scow Championship (ECESA) Regatta, hosted by Chautauqua Lake Yacht Club in Lakewood, N.Y. from Aug. 6-8. In the end, defending Eastern champion Erik Johnson of Toms River narrowly prevailed over local hero Rick Turner in a tight, six-race series that saw only seven points separate first from seventh overall.
The best breeze of the event was enjoyed by early arrivals on Wednesday afternoon, who got to tune up and plane around in a solid 15-18 knots from the typical westerly direction found on Chautauqua. But the 25 competitors already knew they were in for a light-air regatta, with the forecast for the next three days showing NE-E breezes in the 4 to 8 knot range due to a stationary high-pressure system. Johnson, who grew up sailing on Chautauqua before moving to New Jersey in his early thirties, said he had only raced there in an easterly once or twice before this regatta. Apparently, it didn’t make a favorable impression. In an article in the Summer 1988 REPORTER previewing that year’s Nationals on the lake, he had only four words to say about an east wind.
“Stay at the bar.”
That would have been a smart plan on Thursday, as competitors were greeted with sunny skies and crisp morning temperatures but very little happening on the water. After the obligatory postponement, followed by the ECESA annual meeting, several skippers attempted practice spins in random bursts of breeze but were soon left to paddle or tow back to CLYC. After a leisurely lunch, a prolonged shot of easterly wind prompted PRO Bob Stevens to drop the postponement and give it a try at around 3 pm. But before all the remaining boats on land could be launched, the breeze disappeared and racing was abandoned for the day.
Conditions were more promising Friday morning, as a steady 6 knots from the East streamed down the lake—though it was barely discernible due to a recent algae bloom that left the water’s surface looking like a dead calm. Fortunately, that “oil-slick” condition was mostly gone by the first gun, which saw Johnson and some other contenders start by the pin and head straight for the left-hand (north) shore. The breeze was very spotty in pressure, and while boats on the left generally did well the leaders were able to hook into some righties filling from the center of the lake. Chad Hillyer (T-17), last year’s Easterns runner-up, took the race followed by Bobby Koar (BH-22) with Johnson in third.
The second race was a bit breezier, perhaps 8 knots on the first beat with maybe a 10-knot puff or two. A hot Hillyer took this one as well, edging out Johnson, who recovered from being over early at the pin by making some big moves downwind. Turner (CH-6) was a close 3rd.
To the consternation of some competitors, the fleet now beat back to the docks in a solid 8 knots for the mandatory bathroom break. And as the racers rested, the breeze decided to take a break too, with the fleet running back down to the line in much lighter conditions. After some postponements and recalls, Race Three got off in about 5 knots, with Jeff Bonanni (T-73) taking an early lead over Charlie Igo of White Bear Lake, Minn. (W-9) but losing it on the run by gybing out from the north shore.
The next beat saw the wind drop to true drifting conditions and the RC shorten the course from four legs to three. Igo drifted far better than the rest on the left, while Bonanni, now around fourth or fifth, gamely plodded to the right and the southern shore. Bonanni got the breeze first and took the win, with Igo hanging on for second and wily veteran Dick Wight (MA-10) charging through the fleet to grab third. Johnson, second at the gates, limped in seventh followed by Hillyer in eighth.
The breeze did not improve much but increased just enough to convince the RC to attempt a fourth race, perhaps with the view that Saturday’s forecast didn’t look much better. This reporter doesn’t remember much of Race 4, except that it was long, was postponed several times by recalls and windshifts, and finished after 6 pm. And the middle of the lake was really bad downwind. And upwind. Did I mention it was long?
Igo continued to show his light-air prowess by taking the bullet, followed by Kyle Rogachenko (T-76), who had been up there all day but suffered some unlucky last legs. The ever-smooth Wight coasted home in third. Hillyer pushed in another 8th while Johnson tumbled to 10th.
As the fleet rallied to shower up for dinner and dancing, it was clear that a very close regatta was on tap for Saturday—provided there was ample breeze for racing. Hillyer led with 18 points followed by Johnson with 22, Turner with 26 and Bonanni and Wight both with 27. But if two more races could be held and a discard provided, Igo would theoretically be in the pole position counting a 4-2-1 and dropping a 22 for 7 points, followed by Hillyer with 10 and Johnson with 12. Using the same math, Koar and Turner with 13 points were also close with Bonanni and Wight having an outside chance at 16 points.
Saturday dawned chilly and cloudy, with a decent easterly breeze of around 8 knots. Some racers hoped the clouds would hold back the westerly thermal breeze from Lake Erie, 20 miles distant, which may have been the culprit behind Friday’s dying easterly. Racing got off on time with Johnson again winning the pin and leading to the left-hand shore. Bonanni, starting near the boat, had better breeze in the middle and footed fast to lead at the first mark, followed by Koar and Johnson. Though the course was short the fleet quickly spread out and the leaders extended further downwind. Bonanni took the win wire-to-wire while Johnson found a rare righty on the second beat to pass Koar and barely hold him off to the downwind finish. Past national champion Peter Hurley (MA-11) took fourth and Turner fifth, with Hillyer placing eighth.
Johnson’s second put him in the lead over Hillyer, but counting the drop he was only two points ahead of Koar, 14 to 16. Igo’s 15th and Wight’s 12th in Race 5 took them out of the running, but three other boats were still very much alive heading into race 6: Bonanni with 17 pts and Turner and Hillyer, each with 18.
By the start of Race 6 the pressure seemed a bit more even across the lake, with perhaps slightly less pin favor. Johnson got a good start boat-third and played the middle-right to round fourth behind Igo, Derek Packard of Minnetonka (M-87) and Hurley. No other contenders were close heading down the first run and after Johnson passed Hurley he was looking good to defend his title.
By the gates, however, the fleet had compressed a bit. Johnson took a hitch into the middle on the second beat but fell out of breeze after tacking back to port. He soon watched Hurley, then Bonanni, sail by far to leeward in better pressure along the south shore. At the next mark Hurley had a nice lead over Igo with Bonanni close behind, followed by Packard and Johnson. If Bonanni could work his way into second and Johnson failed to move up, Bonanni would win his first Easterns title on a tie-breaker.
The run was high-stress, as Bonanni held far to the north side of the run while Johnson gybed south into the middle of the lake. When they converged near the gates Johnson crossed Bonanni and gybed in front, effectively ending the threat of a three-point gap between them. But that meant losing touch with Turner, who rode a nice northerly puff into the left-hand mark and soon was a close second to Hurley going up the last beat.
Johnson had a new concern. If Turner won and Johnson stayed fifth, Turner would beat his former clubmate on a tiebreaker. But Hurley held firm and took the bullet ahead of Turner, Igo, Packard and Johnson, giving Johnson and his "Showtime" crew of middleman Clay Johnson and jibman Glen Dickson a one-point win, 19 to 20, over Turner and his crew of middleman Stuart Strother and jibman Eric Hall.
Bonanni finished sixth and took third overall with 23, while Hillyer placed 7th and beat Igo on a tiebreaker for fourth at 25 points. Hurley’s win gave him low points for the day and the sixth-place tiebreaker at 26 pts over Koar, who was 10th in the last race. Packard, Rogachenko and Wight rounded out the top 10.
The awards ceremony opened with a moment of silence for class stalwart and former Eastern champ Dick Turner, who died last year at 90. Top Rookie went to Igo, Top Master to Wight and Top Boat 2000 or older to Ragus, skippered to 15th place by Joseph Meade IV of Keuka. Packard won the Travel Award for making the long trip from Minnetonka. The Sam Merrick Service Award went to tireless volunteer Chris Norman of Lake Hopatcong.
Many thanks go to the Turner family, regatta co-chairs Dan Evans and Mike Hogan, and the rest of the CLYC volunteers and staff for putting on such a fun event. Kudos also to Bob Stevens and his team for getting off six quality races in less-than-optimal conditions.
Johnson’s 2015 win gives him a record eight ECESA titles, edging Wight and the late legend Runnie Colie. His son, Clay, has also won a record seven titles as crew, just ahead of Runnie’s son Henry.
In his acceptance speech, Johnson said it was special to win again with his son. He also noted it was odd to win an Easterns without winning a single race. “But we hung in there,” he said, “and that’s all that counts.”
The thing about sailing regardless of boat class is the action never starts until the wind gods say so. On light air days, sailing near a sea breeze on the Jersey Shore or elsewhere brings at least a back up plan to less than reliable August air. Although not a sea breeze, Chautauqua Lake inland E boaters enjoy a similar effect from the proximity of Lake Erie. When high / low weather systems fail us, Chautauqua Lake delivers reliable westerlies either N/NW or S/SW as the cool air over 9,990 square miles of Lake Erie race in to fill the void around Chautauqua Lake 737 feet higher and only 12 miles apart. OK, we’ve got this, right? Not so much.
Wednesday, registration day, the air was doing it’s thing. Looking strong from the NW, then W as the afternoon wore on. Erik Johnson T-18 in “Showtime” with crew Clay Johnson and Glenn Dixon hit the water as did T-76 Kyle Rogachenko in “Honk” for the post travel shake down. Others spent time completing registration, rigging and chatting about the races to come as the wind velocity was high enough that tuning time on shore proved the best use of time.
Chautauqua Lake Yacht Club looked it’s best thanks to Eastern’s Co-Chairmen Dan Evans and Mike Hogan. These two, their volunteers and Commodore Kirk Kelly had the club, staff and grounds organized for a great four day event. Sponsors Mount Gay and Southern Tier Brewery brought sailors, members and guests together for dinner from CLYC’s new menu by Chef Brian Kiendl and Club Manager Diane Wahlberg. Over Mount Gay Dark ‘n Stormy’s, weather for the next three days became the topic of conversation with predictions of E / NE, a direction so rare that locals had little to share in the way of insider knowledge.
The E / NE puts a real wrinkle in the thinking of heavy air sailors. Each team chatted about light air techniques, back breaking low side hiking, trying to get a line of sight to tell tales, changing the tell tales to super light air cassette tape, crews reminding skippers to tack less, no sharp turns, skippers reminding crews to re-tune shrouds and joked about sailing naked to let the hairs on the back of your neck find the air. It looked like the heavy air extra ration of Ibuprofen and the appointments with massage therapists could be scaled back. Even the crash boat crews relaxed.
Thursday delivered an foggy, drifting early morning air. The forecast accurately delivered the E/NE stir but not much more. PRO Bob Stevens conducted the 9:30 AM skippers meeting covering the details of the day. Having Bob’s patience and experience regardless of conditions was invaluable. Methodical, measured decisions in the face of no wind and sailors anxious to move on the water is no easy task. LE 13 “Blood-E” John McGlynn left the dock to test the hopeful NE stir. Chute up and drifting only so slightly, LE 13 gave the rest of the fleet some reason to believe that we might get a race in before noon. The stir became a whisper and eventually faded into a Chamber of Commerce Day suitable only for wake boarding. The day wore on with corn hole bean bag toss, bike riding, boat repairs, quick errands and eventually led to the ECESA Class Association annual meeting. Racing would not begin until Friday leaving the 25 boat fleet all tied for first place.
Rick Turner Chaired the meeting in Commodore Russ Lucas absence. Highlights were mirroring class number of races for future Eastern’s with some host club discretion and the election of officers Commodore Jeff Bonanni, Vice Commodore Pat Flinn and Treasurer Chad Hillyer. Thanks to these gentlemen for stepping up and bringing fresh energy to the future of the E Scow Class. John McGlynn from Little Egg encourage everyone to meet the registration deadline for E-Scow Nationals on September 10th - 13th. Chautauqua put on an awesome home cooked chicken BBQ and the band played on.
Friday’s prediction was more hopeful. Although still an E/NE direction, the velocity improved and PRO Bob Stevens pushed ahead with the 9:30 AM harbor gun hoping to get a 10:30 start. He made it clear to all competitors that the effort would be to get four races completed by days end. Lunches were packed and the fleet was on the water studying the temperamental air for pressure and soft spots. By 10:25 AM the race committee guided by Bob’s experienced hand was ready to move into sequence. Using the radio, PRO Stevens challenged skippers to obey the clock and avoid restarts. This communication, liberal use of the I flag and individual recalls made the difference. PRO Stevens had his committee Henry Kutschke, John Kelly, Cross Cordosi, Charlie Anderson, George Romanowski, Hunter Farris, Tori Lineweaver and, Ed Patton, Matt Hagburgh, and timer / daughter Dina Stevens in sync. The square lines were validated by the even spread of boats down the line on every start. If a temporary shift drove a group to the pin and over early, PRO Stevens reached into his tool box and used the General Recall to get it off right. You couldn’t help but be impressed by the show of respect for PRO Stevens and quick turn arounds between starts and re-starts. Judges George Hock & John Tracy followed the action.
In all four races, the north shore attracted a crowd. The few that worked the middle or went right failed to share the long starboard lift advantage with the fleet to the left. As the majority of the fleet tacked to port and kept the advantage, boats from the right side dropped back in a starboard tack header and lower less pressure. T 17 Chad Hillyer led the way with back to back firsts followed closely by BH 22 Bobby Koar, T 18 Erick Johnson and CH 6 Rick Turner. New comer W 9 Charlie Igo in “Big Fresh” was close behind with a 4th in race one.
Thoughtfully deciding to sail through a header or turning the boat and leaving the shore was in play by race three. As the wind improved so did the fleets ability to use shifts and not just rely on boat speed and clear air. This kept each teams skill in play searching for velocity, shore effect, shifts and tuning. T 73 Jeff Bonanni in “Limelight” moved to the top with a first, W 9 Igo was second and MA 10 Richard Wight broke into single digits with third place.
In race four, W 9 Charlie Igo continued to improve and won, followed by T 76 “Honk” Kyle Rogachenko and MA 10 “Rocinate” Richard Wight again in third. CH 6 Rick Turner continued his consistent single digit finishes with a fourth and Hopatcong’s HO 54 “Patches” Pat Flinn had a strong showing in 5th. At the end of the four race day, posted results revealed a regatta that was wide open. Competitors with the best finishes all had one bad race and only T 17 Chad Hillyer in “Hunter” had more than one first place finish. Saturday would prove to be even more critical to the outcome.
“Cats on Holiday” provided the evening entertainment. This great dance band got the crowd moving after a day of light air competition. Dinner of Poached Salmon or Prime Rib was followed by late night fun.
The N/NE air continued into Saturday. Each team knew what to expect and it was the team that made the best of this rare air that would bring home the hardware. Race five (5) brought almost identical air as Friday. T 73 Jeff Bonanni repeated with a first, followed closely by T 18 Erik Johnson coming in on a right side starboard lift. BH 22 Bobby Koar in “Koarsir” was third, MA 11 Peter Hurley in “Locomocoso” 4th with CH 6 Rick Turner in 5th. Stand out W 9 Charlie Igo was threatening the leaders until his finish of 15th in race 5 knocked him back.
However, race six (6) was different as the air picked up and moved to the north. Never one to compromise, PRO Stevens hoisted a postponement and notified competitors that the line would move to the south. The quick change by the race committee led to an immediate sequence re-start which now placed not the north shore in play, but the south shore of Chautauqua Lake. Instead of starboard to the shore, it was tack for clear air, get to port and look for the quickest way to get out front. As Buddy Melges once said when asked his secret to winning, “start first and increase your lead”. All the leaders were looking to do just that. MA 11 Peter Hurley met the challenge and brought home the victory followed by CH 6 “Muah” Rick Turner and W 9 “Big Fresh” Charlie Igo with a 3rd. Fourth place belonged to M 87 Derek Packard in “Port Approach” who had stand out consistency throughout the regatta. In 5th place T 18 Erik Johnson.
However, in the end the winner was not a team with any first place finishes. It was the defending champion without a first but the most consistent finishes with a throw out that rose to the top. T- 18 Erik Johnson in “Showtime”, son Clay Johnson and Glenn Dixon winner of the 2014 Eastern’s successfully defended their title once again. This is Erik’s unrivaled 8th Eastern’s Championship.
Second place was won by CH 6 Rick Turner in an interesting competitive rivalry with T 18. As some may know, T 18’s Erik Johnson grew up on Chautauqua Lake and began competing with CH 6’s Rick Turner at the tender age of five. The competitive spirit was fabulous. Neither boat had a first, yet they finished first and second separated by just one point.
Commodore of Chautauqua Lake Yacht Club Kirk Kelly opened the awards ceremony. A remembrance of CH 5 “Falcon” Dick Turner was observed by a moment of silence. Dick Turner sailed in the very first E Scow National Championships and is the father of Rick Turner and grandfather of Ricky Turner. Chris Norman from Hopatcong was given the Sam Merrick Trophy for Sportsmanship & Service to the ECESA. W 9 Charlie Igo took home the Top Rookie award, “Rocinate” Dickie Wight as named Top Master, Joe Meade in “Ragus” from Keuka received Top Vintage Boat (2000 or older) and “Port Approach” Derek Parkard from Minnetonka, Minnesota was recognized for traveling the greatest distance.
It was a special moment for everyone at Chautauqua Lake Yacht Club to host the 2015 Eastern E Scow Championship.