INTERVIEW WITH J70 TEA DANCE SNAKE
North Sails caught up with Todd Jenner and Peter Bowe from “Tea Dance Snake”, winners of J/70 class at the 2017 NOOD Regatta in St. Pete.
You managed to win half the races in the series and were one of only 2 boats with all top 7 finishes. What was the biggest contributing factor to your consistency?
Todd: Without question, it was having Jackson Benvenutti (JB) on board. As our bowman (Mike Mann) put it, we were merely extensions of him. We have as much or more water time on this boat than any team I know. Most of us are on the water every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and a lot of weekends during our local (Annapolis) April to September season, and have a fairly heavy travel schedule as well. Getting accustomed to the routine of racing and traveling (with the myriad of logistics), allows us to focus (and remain focused) on what’s important. Peter (skipper), Mike (bow) and I (trimmer) know the boat well, which enabled Jackson to step on and coach without touching too many lines. He helped us all, the chemistry was excellent and it was quite apparent his goals for the Regatta changed after our first windward leg with us rounding the first mark with a nice lead.
Peter: It is hard to believe we started so strongly, with Jackson just stepping aboard before that first race. However, as a Corinthian team, we had a couple bullets in the 2015 East Coasts, so experiencing that again was invigorating but not unprecedented for us. For consistency, getting a decent start followed by clean air got us either to the front or close enough where we could work on moving up. We did have good upwind speed with Jackson’s careful and frequent tuning.”
We left a few points on the table at the end of race two, right at the finish, largely due to lapse in driving concentration. A bit frustrating. We knew they would matter, but not how important each one of them would be!
St. Pete lived up to its reputation for being dynamic with big shifts, and wacky breeze. What was your pre-race strategy for staying out of trouble and putting yourselves in the right place at the right time?
Todd: Again, Jackson handled most of our tactical and strategic calls. All four races were light. We spent a lot of time looking for pressure. JB knew which side he wanted to protect (based more on pressure than shifts it appeared), and our starting strategy was to get to that third of the line, port approach, find a hole. Our starts were solid and that enabled us to get going really well.
Peter: We paid attention to weather forecasts, and were out early enough to track wind trends. We tried to postpone tactical decisions as late as possible to take new observations in to account. We didn’t get every weather leg right, but we (Jackson!) got most of them.
I know you guys are pretty serious tinkerers when it comes to tuning! What sails were you using, and how did you determine your set up for the difficult conditions? How often were you tweaking your setup?
Todd: Funny you should ask about sails. We have the crosscut main and brought two jibs. A J2 and a J2H. We laid them out on the ground, and it was apparent the J2H was crispier, but we went with the J2 because of the light forecast. Jackson took over tuning duties, and what I learned was our settings up and down were different than the tuning guide (especially the lowers). JB was constantly looking up at the rig pre-race.
On Saturday morning it was blowing nice enough to get up on step, then dropped quickly. This gave us light and lumpy race conditions (which was different than the light and flat we had on Friday). I think we changed our rig tune six or seven times Saturday morning before we started. I also learned (LOL) that the main window is not cut in the right place for light conditions. JB wanted my eyes on the upper jib leech tail, and the only way to see that is down low (the window shows the 2nd, lower leech tail). I was actively trimming upwind the whole regatta. The sheet was rarely cleated.
Peter: The stripes on my back from the whipping on driver improvements (e.g., minor heading corrections) are almost healed by now. But I was indeed tweaking my driving constantly. Somewhat draining emotionally. But clearly effective.
Tell us a little bit about your road to success in the J70 class for the last couple of years. Tea Dance Snake has always been competitive, but what were the tools and methods you used that really helped you get to a point where you can win on the highest level?
Todd: I love this question, because it is a process, and that process starts with the team. I truly feel we have a very special team. I enjoy sharing a story of several years ago when we were racing J/22’s at the Downtown Sailing Center in Baltimore. Kristen Berry was the Executive Director there at the time, and he asked several members of the fleet what our single most important aspect of racing was, and what we wanted to get out of it. Those responses were quite different and very illuminating.
Fairly simple lesson – assemble a team with the same expectations and goals (which resulted in the merger of two DSC teams). Each and every one of us on our team is 100% committed to continuous improvement. Our team also consists of our family and friends who understand the passion we have. Without their earnest support, we wouldn’t be able to have the aforementioned water time.
Peter: A lot of time together, and, as Todd says, substantial shared commitment.
What was it like to be the leader in the clubhouse on Saturday night? Was it standard operating procedure, or did you guys order room service and hit the sack at 8:30?!
Todd: Sorry to disappoint here, but our evenings were non-eventful. We would try to find a quiet spot and debrief the day. The buffet at the club was our dinner, and it seemed we were all back at the Airbnb and in bed by 9. I, for one, tried to stay focused. I found it difficult to turn it “off”, so sleep was a good thing for me personally.
Peter: Our team has never been drama queens. So, business as usual. But, more satisfying to be sure.
How about leaving the dock Sunday morning knowing you were tied for first but not knowing if there would be any racing? Were you guys nervous? Excited? I’m sure you were itching to race!
Todd: JB kept us focused. Every one of us knew we were going to get a start on Sunday. JB was confident, and that feeling was contagious. When we heard the 3 horns (not too long after the start), I must admit, the emotions came out a little bit.
Peter: The forecast was terrible! But as Chesapeake Bay sailors, we are used to floating around waiting for the sea breeze to fill in. (Four hours in this case!) And the RC gave the predicted afternoon breeze every possible benefit of the doubt, going into a sequence with literally less than 5 minutes to spare before the cutoff, then abandoning right after the gun. We were ready either way.
What’s it like to look back at the results and see your names on the top of a list of some of the World’s most decorated J70 teams?
Todd: One word… Humbling.
Peter: Not only humbling but feels darn good. Our two bullets were wire-to-wire, and in all the other races we improved our position from the first weather mark. We know as well as anybody that those top boats are hard to reel in. So, good to know it can be done — and by us.