Sailboat racing is indeed a game of inches. Ask Wooton’s skipper Bill Smith, who continues to lead the J/111 North American Championship at the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta in Chicago, but now by only 2 points over Karl Brummel, Steve Henderson & Mike Mayer’s Kashmir. It was inches that made the difference in two of Wooton’s races today, and as Smith analyzed what went wrong after racing, he placed the blame squarely upon himself, not that of his hard-working crew. "It was my inexperience in critical moments," he says, describing one downwind finish in which they were overlapped with Kashmir. "There was a moment when we were on starboard and I could have heated it up, pushed them out a bit, taken control and then jibed to cross the favored end of the line. Everyone on the boat knew we needed to do it, but I didn’t. They literally beat us by 3 inches." Conditions were tamer than Thursday’s races for the J/111 fleet, which is now two days into its 15-boat Championship. The flatter water and more consistent breeze, says Smith, made it easier for them but also for other teams who posted good results, including Rob Ruhlman’s Spaceman Spiff, which finished third in the day’s first race and then went on to win the next two. "We did a better job of getting off the line than we had been doing," says Ruhlman, whose family team from Cleveland, Ohio climbed into third overall, only 5 points out of first. "In the second and third races, we just got away with good starts and sailed our own race." Downwind, he adds, their technique is to sail deeper than others. "We tend to do it a bit more efficiently," he says. "It’s our forte." It was anything but an easy day, however, as Split Decision battled all day with FOG, which engaged them in several tacking and jibing duels. "We started to get into it with them a few times, but we didn’t want to wear out our trimmer, so we broke away as soon as we could," says Norris. "Even downwind at times we’d be a half-length apart with them, and they’d start a jibing duel. But we just jibed away and tried to do our own thing. We do well in tight situations, but when we can be on our own, we’re much, much faster." Ruhlman’s daughter Meaghan, 31, is trimming mainsail, which is critical to the J/111’s upwind performance, and today, says Ruhlman, the two of them were in much better sync. "We worked on things after yesterday, and what we’re doing differently was driving the boat with fewer big adjustments to the main trim. Yesterday, in the really puffy conditions, we’d get out of sync. Today I was concentrating more on trying to maintain target speeds." With Ruhlman’s son Ryan trimming the spinnaker, they worked hard on sailing lower than anyone else on the run, "just one half-step down" he says, and unlike the first day in which they picked up a weather mark penalty, they sought opportunities to avoid high-risk situations. The results were dramatic, and they go into Saturday’s light-air forecast with momentum on their side. Complete results are available by clicking here.