2018-07-26 / Front Page

Town sailors leave rivals in the wind


ABOVE: Skipper Steve Benjamin steers Spookie around Castle Hill during the final day of racing Sunday to capture the IRC 1 title. ROLEX/DANIEL FORSTER ABOVE: Skipper Steve Benjamin steers Spookie around Castle Hill during the final day of racing Sunday to capture the IRC 1 title. ROLEX/DANIEL FORSTER Spookie, Challenge XII and Impetuous have three things in common — they’re sailboats owned by Jamestowners that won Sunday.

More than five dozen yachts competed during Race Week at Newport, a New York Yacht Club event that features four consecutive days of sailing offshore from Fort Wetherill and Beavertail. The racing culminated with familiar faces on the podium, including Walcott Avenue resident Jack LeFort, skipper of Challenge XII.

“It was a fabulous regatta; terrific racing,” said LeFort, the reigning North American champion in the 12 Metre modern division. “There’s not a lot of difference between the boats. We’re all finishing within a minute of one another, and sometimes just a few seconds. It could be a shift here or there, a little boat speed here or there. It’s a toss-up.”


BELOW: Jack LeFort’s Challenge XII tears through Narragansett Bay en route to victory in the 12 Metre modern division. BELOW: Jack LeFort’s Challenge XII tears through Narragansett Bay en route to victory in the 12 Metre modern division. With the fleet’s world championship looming next summer on Narragansett Bay, the class has become increasingly competitive. The four boats in the modern division have undergone extensive modifications and renovations. For race week, however, LeFort’s Challenge XII took the wind out of the competition’s sails, winning five of seven races for a six-point victory against Dennis Williams’ Defender. LeFort remembers a particular race Friday that was crucial to victory.

“Defender did a wonderful job closing us out on the starting line,” he said. “We worked our way back into the race and that ended up being a really important race to us. There’s not a lot of room for error. It’s hard to separate.”

Since buying Challenge XII during the 2016-17 offseason, LeFort has dedicated time and money into restoring the 1982 sister ship of Australia II. Despite a successful maiden season in the bay, however, last week was the first time he actually experienced 12 Metre sailing in all its glory.

“This is the first time we had great sailing conditions since I’ve been involved with the class,” said LeFort, who sailed alongside his wife, Lisa, and their two sons, Alec and Bryce. “To get out in the ocean is great; that’s a first for us on Challenge XII. They’re very cool boats. They go upwind like there’s no tomorrow and the crew work is so important because they’re complicated boats. For me, it’s a real combo platter. There’s some complexity, and there are very few boats that are more fun to sail when it blows 12 knots on the ocean.”

As the 12 Metre with the most impressive performance during race week — there were six 12s in the three divisions — LeFort earned himself a Rolex timepiece.

A second timepiece was designated for the most impressive yacht among the boats racing in the four IRC classes, with worthy candidates across the divisions. Paul Zabetakis, the Westwind Drive resident who helms Impetuous, won IRC 3 in the final race, nipping Chris Culver’s Blazer by a single point. Ultimately, however, the Rolex was given to Jamestown part-timer Steve Benjamin. Aboard Spookie, the 1984 Olympic silver medalist won IRC 1 after a nine-round slugfest with Victor Wild’s Fox. With the two boats entering the final race tied, Benjamin and his team needed to solve a crucial problem. In the day’s first race, they experienced tacks in which the winches weren’t working perfectly.

“We had to get the morale back together and correct what was going on,” Benjamin said. “We went right to the source of the problem.”

No small task on a TP52, the Spookie crew rebuilt the winch before getting the better of rival Fox in the pre-start maneuvers. Benjamin’s team then sailed to a solid lead around the first mark.

“It was all positioning,” he said. “It’s just fantastic competition.”

The third Rolex timepiece was awarded to Bill Sweetster, whose J/109 Rush finished first in the eight-boat one-design fleet.

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