Written by Marblehead Viper Fleet
Twenty six Vipers raced in the Viper 640 North American championships in Marblehead that finished on Sunday. The number of competitors has increased by 45% for two consecutive years mirroring the growth of interest in this modern 21 foot sportsboat. The Class Association has grown from a mere 20 boats 2 1/2 years ago to 100 boats in North America today. What makes this growth particularly interesting is that it occurred without the extensive marketing and promotion that is usually associated with the launch of one-design sportsboat classes. The Viper class pursued a different formula.
“It was back to the future” says Justin Scott, Viper 640 Class Association president. “The great classes of yore like the Lightening and the Etchells and the Star were not launched with a large marketing campaign and expensive advertising budgets, They were beautifully designed, well built boats and the classes grew by word of mouth because they were fun boats to race and sailors told other sailors about them”.
The growth of sailing media and the attraction of well organized, well promoted events has produced some very successful new builder promoted classes. However as Justin points out “It seemed to us that the age of the internet made ‘word of mouth’ possible again, and that we had come across a beautifully designed, well built, modern equivalent of those great classes”. Justin and the other founders of the Viper 640 Class Association believed there was a place for such a boat and furthermore that if existing owners spread the word and if sailors could buy the Viper directly from the builder, costs could be kept down and the Viper could provide a much needed value for money modern one-design boat for the North American sailing community.
It is still early days but so far, so good. The record attendance at the Viper North American championships included participants from 5 new fleets that have formed in the last 12 months and exactly half of the skippers were new to the class since the last North American championships a year ago.
There were a few other things that the Viper class did differently at their North American Championships. For one thing, the sailing instructions amended Rule 41 to read:-
41 OUTSIDE HELP
A boat shall not receive help from any outside source, except:- (f) The Viper 640 Class Association appointed coach boat
The coach boat was a bright orange rib flying the Viper Class Flag. Paul Young, Managing Director of Rondar Raceboats had flown out from the UK to act as chief coach (from the UK). Paul is a world class sailor and focussed his coaching on boats in the second half of the fleet, his team were motoring behind boats providing advice and tips on tuning, and taking photographs for post-racing debriefs.
The post-racing debriefs were enlivened further by online, interactive replays of the racing played on large screen television. Felipe Payet from the Texas Viper fleet had provided 15 Velocitek GPS units which stored the move by move action of each boat in the regatta. They can still be seen at http://www.sailhack.net/gps_replays/2008_viper_na/
“Our number one objective at this regatta” said Paul Zimmerman, Fleet Captain of the host Marblehead Viper fleet, “was to make sure that every participant had fun. We wanted to make sure that the boats that finished in the last five spots had at least as much fun, if not more, than the boats that finished in the first five spots. The newcomers to the class raved about the coaching. Brian and Paul did a fantastic job.”
The post race debriefs and the race replays were instructional and often incredibly funny, including a classic moment when the replay recorded for posterity Timi’s sudden change of course when the skipper fell overboard and pulled himself back on board with mainsheet still in hand.
All of the competitors gathered for dinner at the infamous Maddy’s Sail Loft, the night before the regatta started and the bonhomie continued on shore throughout the regatta until the final awards ceremony at the Corinthian Yacht Club. Families and children of the sailors were made welcome as part of the week’s activities, with trips to the beach and tide pools for hermit carb collecting expeditions. Paul Young from Rondar summed it up by saying “This is as much a rendezvous regatta for our class as it is a championship regatta. We’re all here to do some yachting, share some boat handling tips and hang out with a great bunch of people. What better way to spend the last weekend in July ”
The regatta saw a full range of New England’s summer weather. The practice day on Thursday was abandoned in torrential rain as thunder storm cells moved through. The first day of racing consisted of light air 5 to 10 knots, with the winning boats focusing on keeping their boats in pressure. The early leader in the regatta was the team of Alan Block, Simon Strauss and Mer Block who scored a first and a second. Not bad, given they were sailing a Viper for the first time in a borrowed boat.
Saturday brought more breeze with 10 to 15 knots where shifts upwind and downwind planing speeds played a larger role. By the end of the second day, there was only one point between the first and second place boats, with Daan Goedkoop and crew in second place with a very strong discard situation. Their worst result was merely a fourth.
The final day of racing had oscilating breeze and a tidal change that created many interesting opportunities for places to change. The key was to keep the head out of the boat and watch out for the lanes that the local skippers chose. The final results were very close.
The nominations for the Ronstan Sportsperson of the Regatta included Rick Martin. This award is voted for, one vote per boat, for the regatta participant who most contributed to the overall fun of the regatta. The overall winner of the award, receiving a top of the line Ronstan watch, to a standing ovation, was Felipe Payet. Felipe had organized the Velociteks and had stayed up each night until the wee hours loading the race replays on to the Internet for our subsequent viewing. Then he had enough energy on the race course the following day to put most of us to shame. Without a doubt every Viper agreed it was a pleasure to be sailing with and against Felipe.
Meanwhile on the race course, the new North American champion was the team of our very own Justin Scott, Putnam Chambers and Sean Davis. Without discards, they had only beaten Daan Goedkoop and team by one point. It had all came down to the last race. Daan’s team have only been sailing Vipers for just over one year and will remain a force in the future. In third place was local Paul Zimmerman, who excelled in consistency and sailed smart on the last day, but only finished one point ahead of complete newcomers to the class with no local knowledge, AspHat (Alan & Mer Block and Simon Strauss) in fourth place. In fifth place was the class treasurer John McCormack and team.
A final word on the achievement of the Block/Strauss team. When the results were first posted, they were tied for third place on points and would win the tiebreaker. The results showed that they had been scored 2nd in a close finish in the penultimate race. They went to the scorer and volunteered with the agreement of the crew of Rattler that they had finished 3rd and Rattler had finished 2nd. The scores were adjusted accordingly and AspHat dropped by 1 point from third overall to fourth. Not only were Team Strauss/Block the top performing visiting boat but they represent a standard in Corinthian sportsmanship that this class will try and live up to.
Full thanks to the NOOD organization, Marblehead Racing Association and Corinthian Yacht Club for hosting a wonderful regatta, with especial mention of Maura Powers from MRA and the CYC principal race officer, Tom Tompkins.