2014 Series Piana Cup                 

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Report by John Payne (on Scuttlebutt)

­ The Etchells 2014 Jaguar Cup Midwinter Series kicked off last weekend in Miami, FL with the Louis Piana Cup on Dec. 7-8. South Florida once again proved to be the place to sail in North America in December. In fact, with most of the continent experiencing a deep freeze, the conditions on Biscayne Bay were just what the Chamber of Commerce would have ordered, with sunny skies, temperatures in the low-eighties, and a nice breeze of eight to fourteen knots.

 “The Jag”, as it has come to be known, is a four regatta series, spread out over four weekends between December and March, and brings together many of the best Etchells sailors in the world. Hosted by Biscayne Bay Yacht Club and Etchells Fleet 20, the series consistently draws forty or more boats to the good weather, great competition and even better camaraderie. No fewer than five previous Etchells world champions were amongst the sixty-four boats on the starting line for the first event.

PRO Dave Brennan and his race committee ran a total of five competitive races over the two days. The first race on Saturday, with East-southeast winds of about six to eight knots, saw lots of shuffling between the favorites and the rest of the fleet. Eight of the eventual top twenty sailed their throwout.

Commenting Peter Duncan, who had Tom Blackwell and former world champion Jud Smith as crew, “We pressed a little too hard on the start and were over early. From that point we did well just to get back to the front half of the fleet.” Reigning world champion Marvin Beckmann led a group of boats up the right middle of the 1.5 mile leg, rounded the weather mark in first, and never looked back, leading wire to wire. He was followed by Keith Whittemore and Mark Watson.

In the second race, a few boats, once again pushed the middle of the line, and were called over early, though all of the leaders started clean. By now the winds were a fairly consistent eight knots, still from the east-southeast. This race also saw a wire to wire winner with Peter Duncan taking his first of what would be three guns over the weekend. He was closely followed by Jim Cunningham. Tom Carruthers rounded out the top three, fresh off his recent win in San Diego.

In race three it was time for another former world champion to take the gun. Andy Beadsworth, crewing for Seamus McHugh, called a masterful race, and along with bowman Simon Fry they gave the fleet the weekend’s only horizon job, winning by several dozen boat lengths. “Sailing the Jag is always a pleasure,” remarked Fry. “I’ve been doing the series since 2004, and the talent in this fleet gets deeper every year. Besides the top skippers, there could be twenty or more guys with Etchells world titles as crew.” Continuing, Simon pointed out that “The perception is that all Etchells go the same speed in twelve knots, but small tweaks make all the difference in speed.” Coming in a distant second was Jim Cunningham, followed by Keith Whittemore.

Saturday’s racing was followed by the all-important social gathering under the sea grapes back at Biscayne Bay Yacht Club. This aspect of the regatta, having a few cold ones and a snack with friends after a tough day of racing, is one of the regatta’s biggest draws.

Sunday brought a bit more wind to the bay with speeds above ten knots. Race four got under way at 1100, with a 1.6mile first beat at a 115 degree bearing. Peter Duncan was first to the weather mark, a lead he would not relinquish for the remainder of the race. Jim Cunningham, sailing with Jeff Madrigali, Mark Ivy and Bryn Bachman took their third straight second place finish, in what had now become a two boat regatta. Phil Lotz on his boat, Arethusa, took third.

In the last race it all came down to Cunningham and Duncan. With a ten as a throwout, to win the Piana Cup, Cunningham simply needed to beat Duncan, or have Duncan finish lower than fifth. However, some technical issues undid Cunningham’s team. “We didn’t get a good start in the last race,” said Madrigali. “We probably should have started near him (Duncan), but we were a little out of whack. But all in all we sailed well. We never dropped boats, and always finished in the best position we were in in any given race. We’re happy.”

When asked about that fifth and deciding race, Peter Duncan said, “We noticed a bit of a right shift while practicing before the race. We decided to go that way, and it was still there. We pretty much stayed right all weekend, except for the last two legs on Sunday when the left paid better.”

Commenting Jud Smith, “We tried to stay in the top five all weekend. We screwed up the first race, but recovered in the next two. The right had good pressure all weekend except as it died at the end of the day, and then the left paid.”

Rounding out the top five for the regatta were, in third, Mark Watson, sailing with Dirk Kneulman and Andreas Josenhaus. Finishing fourth were Ante Razmilovic with Chris Larson and Mike Wolt. Fifth place went to Keith Whittemore.