All Viper regattas are special occasions. A chance to catch up with friends. A time to relax and enjoy time on the water away from the office. A chance to see what crazy spinnaker graphics someone has added. But some Viper regattas are more special than others, and everyone’s heart starts beating a bit harder at the North American Championship. A lot more boats. Folks you haven’t seen in at least a year. And in 2017, there is the added pressure of the largest regatta in class history, with approximately 54 teams from 16 states, 4 countries, and three continents. Seven of the top nine teams from the 2016 International Championship. The 2017 Gulf Coast, Atlantic Coast, Pan American and New England Champions. The 2016 Western Australia State Champion. Two of the top three teams from the 2017 Pacific Coast Championship. And that’s not counting multiple past Olympians, national and world champions in a variety of classes.
Ft. Walton Yacht Club was named the host of the 2017 Viper North American Championship in the Summer of 2015, just a couple of months before the Gulf Yachting Association member yacht clubs selected the Viper 640 to replace the Flying Scot as the boat of choice for Capdevielle interclub racing. The Gulf Coast has rewarded the Class’s decision with 25 entries, most of whom did not own Vipers two years ago, and seven of whom are from the home club. Event chairs Craig and Deb Wilusz have led the charge to organize an event that has Viper sailors drooling from coast to coast as teams pour in from around the country to enjoy the white sugar sand beaches of Northwest Florida’s Emerald Coast. “I’m just real happy everybody made it and everyone is having is having one hell of a time. The weather gods are shining on us and we’re looking forward to four days of exceptional racing…and camaraderie. That’s what makes the Viper Class special,” said Craig Wilusz.
Teams began arriving on Thursday, with new boats being unpacked from shipping containers and rigged for the first time. Sunday’s one-day practice regatta saw five-time North American Champion Brad Boston, Lee Shuckerow and Dave Shriner (Sarnia, Ontario) showing that they haven’t missed much time away from the boat, cruising to the win in a breezy, sunny day of sailing. Many teams enjoyed more Chamber of Commerce conditions on Monday for a clinic led by North Sails and 2016 World Champion Zeke Horowitz (Annapolis, Maryland), with 2017 NYYC Invitational Cup winner and Viper newcomer Marcus Eagan showing good speed. 2016’s top Corinthian team, Geoff Fargo and team from Santa Barbara, California, is in attendance, and will get a run for their money from several top amateurs, including Jay Rhame and Peter Beardsley (New York, New York). There are several teams competing for the Governor’s Trophy for the top masters team who are also capable of winning the overall title, including Dave Nickerson (Noank, Connecticut) who was fourth at the 2015 championship and Justin Scott (Darien, Connecticut) who was second at the 2016 championship.
Racing begins on Wednesday and ends midday Saturday. The early forecast calls for solid but shifty winds on Wednesday, followed by lighter winds on Thursday and Friday, before ending with what could be blustery conditions on Saturday. For more information, please visit the regatta site at https://www.yachtscoring.com/emenu.cfm?eID=2996