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Pyewacket leads Day 1

Stark Raving Mad, skipper Weisman of Newport Beach come close, but top yacht ahead on handicap rating.

June 12, 2009

The start of the third biennial Invitational Regatta for the Hoag Cup loomed as a gray and lazy day with overcast skies and breeze so fluky to frustrate the best of sailors.

But, as often occurs, that didn’t prevent high-class talent from creating some classic competition — notably, the boat-for-boat battle between Pyewacket III, driven by Roy Pat Disney, son of Roy E., and Stark Raving Mad, with North Sails president Gary Weisman at the helm.

In south winds wallowing between four and, briefly, eight knots, Stark Raving Mad, an upgraded TP52, beat Pyewacket III, an elderly Santa Cruz 70, to the finish line in both races, once by only five seconds. But the latter was close enough behind to score victories based on its Offshore Racing Rule (ORR) handicap rating by which the other dark blue boat owed it about two minutes in each race.

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Thus, at day’s end Pyewacket III topped the eight-boat fleet with a pair of bullets, while SRM shared third place with the other TP52, Andy and Camille Rasdal’s Valkyrie.

Too bad the owners couldn’t have been there to enjoy it. Roy E. Disney, although a lifelong racer and the honorary chairman of the event, is recuperating from recent surgery, while SRM’s Jim Madden, one of the founders of the event, also was sidelined. His absence put Weisman, usually the tactician, at the helm.

Three races remain — two today and one Sunday, starting at 1 p.m., on a course set near Newport Pier.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t near enough for spectators Friday. Principal race officer Kevin Hawkins set windward-leeward courses of 1.6 and 1.4 nautical miles, twice around, but the persistent southerly forced him to move the action about a mile west of the pier because a proper upwind course from the pier would call for the windward mark to be dropped in the middle of the notorious 800-foot-deep trench that marks one end of the Newport-Inglewood fault. No way.

What the pier people missed was an interesting duel that saw Pye III consistently faster upwind, while SRM glided away.

"We configured this boat to perform downwind, and that seems to have worked out OK," Weisman said. "But of all these old sleds, [Pyewacket] looks more powered up than all of them. I’d like a little more breeze."

The rival Disney noted that "we were designed in 1983 and they were designed two years ago. We carried a lot of crew for stability, but we paid for that on the downwind legs."

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