Etchells World Champion crowned

Skipper John Sommi leads Veracity to AON 2023 Etchells World Championship

John Sommi met Victor Diaz de Leon about 15 years ago.

Sommi was chairman of the youth sailing program at Shelter Island Yacht Club when Diaz de Leon was hired to serve as an instructor. He was immediately impressed with the young Argentinian who was an All-American at St. Mary’s College.

Sommi and Diaz de Leon would never have imagined at the time that they would join forces to capture one of the most prestigious championships in the entire world of sailing.

With Diaz de Leon calling tactics, Sommi skippered Veracity to overall victory in the AON 2023 Etchells World Championships. Will Ryan trimmed the jib and Beccy Anderson worked the bow as the New York entry posted a low score of 50 points —- 10 better than runner-up Steve Benjamin and the Tons of Steel (USA 1511) team.

Veracity (USA 1477) displayed remarkable consistency over the course of the four-day regatta, entering Friday’s final day with no result lower than 12th. That gave Sommi and Diaz de Leon the ability to cover Benjamin most of Race 8.

Veracity pushed Tons of Steel back to 39th, which was costly because Benjamin had previously dropped a 31st. Veracity finished 41st in the last race and used that as a drop after having set itself up with seven strong results.

Sommi steered Veracity to victory in Race 3 and also posted a runner-up result and a sixth, an impressive performance for an owner making his Etchells World Championships debut.

“It’s literally a dream come true and I’m just so happy and grateful,” Sommi said. “My team is incredible and we’ve all grown together. This just culminates all the work we’ve been doing for the past year.”

Sommi has been racing in the Etchells class for four years and had pegged as the first worlds he wanted to enter. He has steadily built a program capable of competing at the highest level and last year captured the North American championship on home waters out of Shelter Island and the National Championship in Miami.

“My target four years ago was to come to Miami for the 2023 Worlds,” Sommi said. “I’m so proud of winning this championship because this is the pinnacle of my sailing career because it’s bar none the toughest competition.”

Sommi downplayed his lack of experience at the world championships, noting that Diaz de Leon is a multi-time national champion and Ryan is a two-time Olympic medalist. “While this is my first worlds, those guys are accustomed to competing at this level. They’re the ones who get me around the racecourse,” he said.

Sommi sensed that Veracity had reached the next level after bringing aboard Ryan, an Australian who has won a gold and silver medal in 470 class as crew for Mathew Belcher.

“I cannot speak more highly about my team. Will Ryan instantly raised the performance of the boat when he got on last February. Will and Victor as a team make each other better,” Sommi said. “Will gives Victor conviction as a tactician and Victor trusts in Will’s judgment around the racecourse.”

Diaz de Leon was most happy for Sommi, who took a methodical approach to climbing the ladder in the highly competitive Etchells class.

“This is very special because I have known John for 15 years and we have become close friends. To be able to pull this off together is a great feeling,” said Diaz de Leon, a Miami resident who noted it was “super-special personally to win here at home.”

This was the seventh world championship for Diaz de Leon, who previously has captured crowns in J/70 (twice), Melges 24, J/80, Sonar and Match Racing. While the tactician gets a lot of the credit and the owner gets the glory, Diaz de Leon said this was truly a team win.

“I think we have really good chemistry and really enjoy sailing with each other. We worked really hard and took one race at a time. We took a low-risk approach, which showed in our score line,” he said. “We were very consistent over the course of the regatta and that allowed us today to sail Steve Benjamin back. That is what we decided to do in the middle of the race and it was the right call.”

Sommi had not even considered whether he will travel to Perth, Australia in 2023 to defend the Founders Trophy he received as World Champ. “I haven’t even gotten that far. This regatta was the target and the goal and I just want to enjoy this with our team,” said the 60-year-old, who also earned the Masters Trophy.

Friday’s lone race was held in 5 to 8 knots of breeze from the east-southeast. Principal Race Officer Dave Brennan shrunk the course considerably, moving every mark on every leg, as the wind steadily reduced.

Skipper Tom Carruthers led Louise (USA 1481) to victory in Race 8, coming from behind to overtake Andy Cumming (Blackadder II, CAN 1451). There were seven different winners of the eight races at the AON 2023 Etchells Worlds.

Brennan tried to set a course for the second race, but was unable to sound the warning gun before the class-imposed time limit.

Benjamin, who was leading by nine points going into Friday, was understandably disappointed with the runner-up result. The 2017 world champion was the only skipper to win two races and posted four other Top 10 results. It was the third runner-up finish at worlds for the Miami resident.

“We are very pleased with second place. Obviously, we would be more pleased with first place. We congratulated the winner John Sommi and his team. They had an excellent performance,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin, a longtime professional sailmaker and past Rolex Yachtsman of the Year, expected to be repeatedly tacked on by Veracity. He felt a foul was committed and lodged a protest afterward.

“Of course we anticipated those tactics, and we also anticipated they would sail fairly,” Benjamin said. “In our opinion they did foul us on a windward-leeward. We were definitely luffing, we never tacked and there was contact.”

Skipper Jim Cunningham and the Lifted team finished third in the overall standings. Steve Hunt served as tactician, while Erik Shampain trimmed the jib and Serena Village handled the foredeck as Lifted (USA 1504) won Race 4 and posted four other single-digit results.

“We’re very happy with third. We’ve worked all season to put ourselves in position to be on the podium. Coming into today there were probably five boats that had a legitimate shot at winning and we were one of them. I think we wound up where we deserved to be,” Cunningham said.

This was Cunningham’s fourth world championship as a skipper and third place was his best finish. He previously placed fourth on San Francisco Bay in 2017. The California native was pleased considering Lifted posted back-to-back results of 24th and 17th early in the regatta.

“We had our worst race on Day 1 so we had to sail cleanly the rest of the way to make sure we did not take another bad result. We sailed consistently and smartly and over time ground our way to the top,” he said.

Skipper David Huck and his crew aboard Encore received the Corinthian Cup after placing 31st overall and first among amateur teams. Steve Girling and Colin Foster crewed for Huck, an Atlanta resident who finished 18th and 15th in back-to-back races.

Skipper Peter Duncan and the Oatmeal team received the Grandmasters Trophy for crew with a combined age of at least 150. Andrew Palfrey and Mark Mendelblattt sailed with the veteran Etchells owner.

Shannon Bush was presented with the award for being Best Female Helm after steering La Tormenta to an 11th place result. Joe Morris, Charlie Hibben and Emory Williams crewed for Bush, whose best finishes at the worlds are a pair of ninths.

“I was pleased and pleasantly surprised. I did not expect to finish 11th with a crew I’ve never sailed with before when we only had one and a half days of practice,” Bush said. “I’m out there racing against the boys and it’s always good to see where you stack up. It’s even better to look back through the results and see all the world champions and Olympic medalists who finished behind you.”

Meanwhile, skipper Malcolm Lamphere and the Big Dawg (USA 926) crew received the Next Generation Trophy as top youth team (29 years or younger). Greiner Hobbs, Key Becker and Sonia Lingos-Utley completed the crew, which had an average age of 25.

Big Dawg placed eighth overall on the strength of a victory in Race 5 and two other single-digit results.

“Overall, we’re happy about the result and for the journey. We’ve sailed the boat for a year and a half and learned a ton. We got so much help from older guys in the class with so much experience,” Lamphere said. “It was just a real privilege to be able to compete at this level. I haven’t seen the list of past winners of the top youth award, but my Dad said the names are amazing, so it’s cool to be on the trophy with those guys.”

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