In its first race of the season, the men’s lightweight crew team dealt with a peskier opponent than the rival crew — the weather.

Strong winds and choppy water made for less than ideal conditions at Saturday’s Eads Johnson ’34 Cup, which the Bulldogs won for the first time since its inception in 2004. In Mercer County, N.J., Yale’s first varsity eight defeated the Navy Midshipmen by less than three seconds in the lone win of the day for the Elis. Navy won the second and third varsity races in addition to the freshman and novice contests.

The Johnson Cup is contested annually between the two schools, which have won the last two national championships. Poor weather is part of the tradition — last year organizers cancelled the final freshman race after a boat capsized. This time, the fourth varsity four race was stopped midway through because water conditions threatened to swamp the crew.

“It was kind of choppy but it wasn’t anything extreme,” Dave Werner ’06 said. “We’re used to it being windy so it wasn’t completely unexpected.”

Yale head coach Andy Card said while he was disappointed with Navy’s program-wide dominance, he was happy that the Bulldogs could finally take the Johnson Cup home to Derby.

“My congratulatory phone call to Eads Johnson was one of the happiest I have ever made,” he said. “The cup is named in his honor, and he really wanted to see us win it.”

Johnson was captain of the Yale 150s in 1934. The Johnson Cup is the first traditional race of the season for the lightweights, and Card said it is a sea trial for the team rather than a predictor of final speed. Last year Navy won all five races, but lost the national title to the Elis at the end-of-season IRAs.

Lightweight captain Joe Fallon ’06 said Navy deserves credit for rowing fast and aggressive races and the Bulldogs will be working to match that speed.

“On the whole our team struggled to find the speed we’ve been working for,” he said. “We’re going to be continuing our preparations for the next races and tweaking things to get all the speed we can out of our boats.”

Card said he has not determined a final line-up for the first varsity boat because two rowers are still injured. They may be healthy before the Bulldogs return to competition with a morning doubleheader against Penn and Columbia followed by an afternoon race against Cornell on April 15.

At the IRAs last year, Cornell and Penn placed second and third, respectively. Card said all three teams have given the Elis problems in the past, but after racing Navy the lightweights know what to focus on.

“I do think that there were enough positives from the racing, and now we have a clearer idea of what we need to do,” Card said. “I saw enough good things to know that we are not done yet.”