Feb. 24-26, 2012
New Orleans, LA

Minimal photographic evidence exists at press time to indicate that Mardi Gras Race Week actually occurred.  Perhaps this is an effort to protect the innocent — whatever happens in New Orleans, stays in New Orleans, lest you find yourself lost in the bayou and show up the following MGRW married to a nutria and sporting a wicked sunburn and Cajun accent.  In any case, we’ve seen the results, and we’ve seen a couple of other accounts of the regatta, and know that 15 Vipers made the trip for the 2012 Gulf Coast Championship for the first stop on the EFG Pan American Championship as one of the regional regattas.  Wisconsin sailor Tom Peterson and his team won over California road warrior Jim Sears and his Ullman Sails team, with fleet newcomer and local boy Lee Eikel showing his speed to take third. Thursday’s practice day was blown out by winds gusting over 30 knots, as was Friday’s first race day.  Conditions eventually moderated to allow for 7 races over the final two days.

The NOYC post-regatta interview with the winners on Widespread Panic

The Ullman Sails video from on board F.N.G.

Full results and report from road warrior Jim Sears after the jump

Viper 640 1 throwout(s)
Place Sail # Yacht Skipper Club Race 1 Race 2 Race 3 Race 4 Race 5 Race 6 Race 7 Points
1 106 Widespread Panic Tom Peterson South Shore Yacht Club 3 8 2 1 5 1 2 14
2 148 the F.N.G. Jame s Sears Alamitos Bay Yacht Club 1 2 4 6 1 3 16 DNS 17
3 153 Last Call Lee Eikel Pontchartrain Yacht club 2 1 3 8 2 8 4 20
4 178 Play Station Paul Zimmerman 8 7 7 2 6 2 1 25
5 152 Seco tu pelo pat gibson Houston Yacht Club 9 5 8 3 4 6 3 29
6 11 Jackpot Tac Boston Port Huron YC 4 9 1 10 7 4 5 30
7 100 Ice Melted Craig & Deborah Wilusz FWYC 5 3 11 9 3 9 7 36
8 26 Giggity Robert Miller Rio Grande Yacht Club 7 4 5 5 10 10 8 39
9 23 Farley Fontenot Houston Yacht Club 6 10 9 4 9 5 6 39
10 168 168 Robert Williams Houston Yacht Club 12 6 6 11 12 7 12 54
11 134 Catapult Brad Robbins GBCA – Houston 13 13 10 7 8 11 11 60
12 103 Duck ‘n Dive Simon Thomas GBCA 11 12 13 12 11 13 9 68
13 55 White Snake Dave Furna NYRA 10 11 12 13 13 12 16 DNF 71
14 77 Brad Dumas 14 16 DNF 14 16 DNF 16 DNF 14 10 84
15 91 Touch of Grey David Oliver Columbia Sailing Club 15 16 DNF 16 DNF 14 14 15 16 DNS 90


Report from Jim Sears:

Mardi Gras Race Week in New Orleans on Lake Pontchartrain is one of those “bucket list” regattas.  The promise of great weather, 4 days of racing, and lots of competitors were enough to entice us to drive almost 2,000 miles from the west coast.  Now, if only there were something to do at night, we might get more boats to make the drive with us!  But seriously, this is really a great “destination regatta” that is worthy to be an annual vacation for the whole family.  While we were racing, the non-sailing members of our group were having fun visiting the aquarium, zoo, plantation tours, river boat rides, even a swamp tour – complete with real, live swamp people & gators.  Y’all should put this regatta on your list for next year.  New Orleans Yacht Club had a live band playing each night!

Arriving Wednesday afternoon, we checked-in to our block of rooms at the Marriott (only 4 miles from the club), then headed to regatta sponsor Hotel Storeyville for the first of many parties planned for the week.  We were eager to finally meet some of the non-west coast Viper sailors that we’ve only known through the forums, and hotel owner Barbara put on a great shin-dig with free beer, wine, mint-julep and some amazing hors d’oeuvres.  The party eventually migrated to Bourbon Street, and even though Mardi Gras was officially over, there were plenty of folks that apparently had NOT given up “having fun” for lent!

Thursday morning brought warm, sunny weather with 25-30 kt winds – almost felt like a cool day in Hawaii.  Even though practice racing was cancelled, I was in paradise as it gave us all day to tinker with the boat.  With a busy life full of work, sailing, Little-League, and AYSO… it was nice to just hang and do nothing… except mess with my boat.  Most of the Viper crews milled about the boat yard, checking out the various setups, mast mounts and beer holders made of duct tape.  My team went for an early afternoon gumbo quest for lunch, which led us to the French Quarter, then a cigar lounge, then Harrah’s Casino… then later, the family met us at House of Blues for dinner – Damn, this town is great!

Friday was much colder and even windier… again, no racing.  I went out on one of three VXs that went for a thrill-ride.  Two of them broke… Found our way to Bourbon Street a little earlier tonight.

Finally some great racing!

Saturday was another blustery day, so all the crews had on their best frostbiting gear as we headed out to the race course.  We would finally get our chance to see how we measured up against the east-coasters, gulf-coasters and great lakes sailors.  Sailing up the first beat in a shifty 15-kt breeze, we were happy to see that we were among the top 5 boats around the first mark.  Then came some great news for us: we were super-fast down wind!  We would often pass 4 or 5 boats on the runs.  This was a big surprise for us, as downwind has been our weakness back home.

Most of the races were sailed in 15-17kt shifty winds that had the top 7 boats taking turns in the lead.  Really close racing with packed starts, crowded mark roundings, and even some photo finishes!  Most teams had their share of glory at some point in the regatta.  Paul Zimmerman would often hit the right to round first, but Tac Boston found magic on the left to find the lead a few times.  The Wilusz boat showed some brilliance in race 3 and 5, while Pat Gibson from Houston was fast when he wasn’t over early at the start. The big boys on Last Call were blazing fast in the breeze, getting a 2,1, and even managed a 3 in the last race of day one in little to no wind.  We sat in 2nd with a 1,2,4 and Tom Peterson on Widespread Panic had a 3,8,2 to sit in third for the day.

Jeff’s not here man!

After meeting the Animal / Sea Monkey group of Jeff and Carrie Jones, and Drake Borer at the Wednesday night party, we knew this was going to be fun, both on and off the water!  What we didn’t know was that Dr. Borer had a little groin mishap on the mechanical bull at The Bourbon Cowboy and couldn’t sail the regatta.  So, without crew, Jeff bailed out of the Vipers and joined Carrie on her VX.  This information wasn’t shared with us, so the whole first day of racing, we thought boat #106 was him!   An easy mistake to make: fast boat, usually ahead of us… good-looking, dark haired skipper with a goofy smile… of course, that must be Jeff!  Even called him “Jeff” all day out on the water at starts, crossings and between races…  Back at the dock discussing the day’s racing, Jeff mentioned that his finishes for the day were 2, 4, 1…  I replied that we had a 1, 2, 4, so we must be tied!  Yeah… except that we’re not in our Viper!  The implied use of the word “moron” wasn’t needed…  Turns out #106 is the Milwaukee team of Tom Peterson, Mike Sabinash and Mike Blackwood.  Extra embarrassing since I had spent the last 2 days sharing beers and rigging notes with Tom, Mike & Mike!

Small World…

Turns out, Viper 106 and us had a lot in common… We both spent a lot of time on Bourbon Street, and we both love us some goooood fooood!

Saturday night, the two teams found our way to R&O’s restaurant, just a few minutes from the club.  Anyone that makes this regatta next year, this place is a MUST stop for an amazing dinner.  It’s real family friendly, shorts and t-shirts will fit right in.  We had a large table and each ordered something different with LOTS of sharing going on.  Mostly known for their po-boys (roast beef or the R&O special probably the best), but also crazy-good gumbo, fried oysters, hush puppies, and a stuffed artichoke that was “to die for”!  Really, amazing food!  Conversation eventually drifted to Milwaukee and cheese and the Hook Race… and turns out we used to compete against these guys in the lake Michigan J/35 circuit back in the early 90s… 106 picked up the check before we could protest, which was a huge gesture since there were seven of us and only three of them!  Thanks, guys!

Failed spin halyard takes F.N.G. down, again!

I’ve had a lot of people ask me why we were DNS in the last race.  Well, for the second major regatta in a row, a spinnaker halyard failure would cost us a win.  Starting the regatta with a 1, 2 in the first two races had us feeling pretty good.  Ending the day with a 4 after getting flushed at the start had us feeling REALLY good!  We were sitting just a point behind the local Last Call team and there was a good gap between us and Jeff, er, I mean Tom in third.

First race of Sunday, we sagged to 6th and Tom got the bullet, which made things really tight on points, but then a wire-to-wire win in race 5 put us back in the driver’s seat.  Race 6, we led around the first 3 marks again, and had a VERY comfortable lead heading to the finish.  We were pretty happy, as this win would most likely sew up the regatta!  About halfway down the last run to the finish, the spinnaker halyard suddenly snapped!  In an instant, the kite was spread out, horizontal, about an inch off the water!  Thanks to a fresh coat of Holmenkol, it continued to hover as we quickly gathered it into the boat and tried to continue under main and jib.  Of course, it took us about 2 seconds to realize these boats just won’t go downwind without the kite as the rest of the fleet were quickly catching us.  I ordered, “Jib down, hoist the kite on the jib halyard”!  We had no idea if that would work, and worried that the whole thing would drag in the water since the hoist would be about 3 feet shorter.  We quickly hoisted, only to shrimp badly on our first attempt.  Had to go head to wind to stop boat enough to retrieve spinnaker from around the keel.  We had just about mentally given up, but 2nd hoist attempt was successful and off we went to the finish.  By then we had over-stood the committee boat by a bit, so we came in crazy-fast on port!  Peterson and Zimmerman had slipped by us, but we barely crossed a group of 5 boats to hold onto 3rd.  We hoped that would be the last race of the day, and just continued on toward the club under jury-rigged kite.  They did fire off another race, but we knew we wouldn’t be competitive without a spin halyard (we would have to finish better than 6th or it would just be our throw-out).

While putting the boat away, I discovered the reason for our halyard breakage.  I’ve kept a plastic stopper ball on top of the bowline at the head of the spinnaker.  Done this for years on my Lightning to keep the knot from getting sucked into the mast.  But this stopper had become chewed up from contact with the sheave and eventually started acting like a saw…

All in all, this was an amazing trip.  N’awlins has so much to offer and I’m glad we finally visited. Mardi Gras Race Week NEEDS to be on everyone’s schedule for next year.  I’m sure I’ll get a hand-full of the Left-coast boats to make the trip in 2013.  After packing the boat up and getting Keith on the road, we grabbed another dinner at R&O’s.  Flight home wasn’t till Monday night so we had a bonus day of sight-seeing!