Published: Sailing World
Fifteen months ago Scott Tonguis and his longtime J/30 crew were gearing up to compete for their record fifth consecutive J/30 North American Championship win. Best of all it was to be on their hometown waters in New Orleans where they knew how to tackle the sometimes schizophrenic winds. Unfortunately, no one was prepared to tackle the weather that Hurricane Katrina wreaked on this city and region only weeks before the regatta.
From Tennessee, Tonguis was able to view his J/30, Zephyr, in the ruined marina using satellite photos, but knew this was trivial in the big picture as he began hearing reports from his crew on their losses. "These good friends of mine, many of who had taught me to sail, had their homes destroyed, businesses upturned and spouses losing jobs." He adds, "It was really rough."
It wasn't until after the military lockdown of the city was lifted that he was able to return and survey the damage. Zephyr, though properly and heavily secured, had risen up in her slip in the 24-foot storm surge, and eventually came down suffering a hole as she was impaled on a piling. Additionally, Zephyr's bow had been put under water by Hurricane Rita, which resulted in further damage to the boat's interior and sail stock.
Standing amidst the few salvaged halyards, the spinnaker pole and roughed up mainsail in his mother's garage and understanding full well that the 2005 North American's were cancelled was when his emotions finally caught up. "All of us racing Zephyr lost something in that storm. The seven or eight of us who raced that boat used it as an excuse for old friends to get back together again every year. It was tough and really emotional."
However, as the date approached in September for the 2006 North American's, Cedar Point Yacht Club made the incredibly gracious move of asking New Orleans Yacht Club to stand in as co-hosts for the event, and undaunted by the loss of their boat, Team Zephyr committed to attending the championship in Connecticut. They chartered a local J/30 and with nearly everyone from the previous year's crew sailing the regatta - they went to win.
Team Zephyr raced a 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 4, (6) against 16 competitors in winds ranging from 4 -25 knots to win the championship by a full seven points over their nearest competitor.
Adding to this unprecedented fifth consecutive J/30 championship and as a symbol of those who suffered and lost lives when the levees failed, the New Orleans sailors raced with Zephyr's surviving mainsail, stained and slightly misshapen from the weeks it was pinned under the murky Katrina floodwaters. Tonguis adds, "It was still the best main we had! We didn't even bother to clean it. We really wanted to sail with it as a symbol and show that everyone down there is still hurting."