Written by Drew Harper

– by Tripp Westbrook  (crew on #129, “Animal”)

As I sit here typing a few weeks after returning from Miami Sailing Week and competing in the 2010 Viper640 North American’s, I can’t help but notice that I’m still grinning from ear to ear. This wasn’t my first time on a Viper, but it was my first time at a major Viper event.

As my blistered hands, sore body and battered liver will attest, it did not disappoint.

This years’ event was sailed out of Coral Reef Yacht Club on beautiful Biscayne Bay and sponsored by Bacardi Rum. Twenty-one Vipers from as far as Great Britain, Canada and Bermuda lined up to vie for the title of North American Champion.

Walking around the dock, you’d get the impression that this was almost one big Wednesday night beer can event. Teams helping out one another with rigging, others telling stories about the last event and more than one cooler of beer was violated. But on the water, this is one seriously competitive class. In fact, up until the final races on Saturday, the top 8 spots were far from decided.

The racing started on Wednesday with winds out of the east at 8-12 knots and gusts to the mid teens. And while it wasn’t glaringly obvious, the left side of the course was nearly always the way that paid. Lee Shuckerow, Somers Kempe and Barry Parkin all set the pace for the event with a strong set of races.

Thursday offered more of the same but with more hangovers. One crewmember in particular (who shall remain nameless) was observed shouting at the keel and strangely wearing the very same gear that he left the dock with the day before. The racing was still tight however as the mid-packers started asserting themselves occasionally sneaking a place or two from the top teams. But overall, the best teams were still at the top.

Friday was a washout. Rain, and lots of it, hit the area. Not good for racing, but good for letting the Advil catch up on the aches and pains. Until the evening that is. The hospitality tent was still in good working order despite the weather and many Viper sailors were seen taking full advantage. I continue to ask why I do this to myself only to be handed another cocktail and told HTFU.

It’s been said that Viper sailors like their weather like they like their women: wet, nasty and blowing like hell (ok, maybe not, but it makes an awesome t-shirt). But Saturday saw Biscayne Bay do its best to show the fleet who’s boss. And by “show” I mean kick the living crap out of. The wind did a 180 and increased to a steady 25+ with gusts sneaking into the 30’s (after racing it got worse as we headed in). As I mentioned earlier, there was still a lot of potential shuffling yet to do in the standings and the day’s weather would be a real test to see which boats could keep the wheels on.

Hammering upwind legs in lumpy seas and surfing downwind rides at 15+ knots made for one heck of a final day. Wipeouts, blown up kites, sailors overboard (recovered safely) we’re all in a days work on the race course. Good times.

At the end of the day, congratulations go out to Team Shuck the Viper North American Champion as well as Team Kempe and Team Parkin rounding out the top three after an incredible week of racing.

Special thanks as well to the race organizers and sponsors, committee boat crew, our PRO and Viper class reps. for putting on a great event. And personally, thanks to Jeff Jones and Geoff Arnold for including me on this ridiculously fun week.

Here’s to seeing everyone at the next one.

–Tripp Westbrook

crew on sail #129, “Animal”