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J/70 North American Recap

Doyle J/70 Sails


Victor Diaz, Will Felder, Jud Smith and Marc Gauthier

Since the ’14 Newport Worlds, where we finished a respectable 9th overall, we set out to improve on that performance and hit the circuit pretty hard over the winter.   Starting in the Chesapeake, followed by Tampa, Key West, St. Pete, Miami and Charleston.  All were big regattas with plenty of competition and opportunity to improve our speed and technique. During that time, we developed our flatter J6 Radial Jib for the fresher seasonal conditions we encounter on the East Coast.  With our heavy air performance improved, we placed 4th overall at Key West without losing our good light air speed we had in Newport.   At Charleston race week, we moved up to 3rd overall and topped the Dynasty division; racing both major regattas with my daughter Lindsay, Will Felder and Marc Gauthier.  We race at 725 to 740 lbs depending on our team since I’m one of the heaviest drivers in the class at over 100 kilos.

OneRegattaAfricaDuring these travel regattas, we have refined our trimming and tuning techniques for the new J6 Radial jib.  Our high clew jib allows us to inhaul the jib to the cabin house nonskid, which powers up the main and generates more helm and point.   As the wind speed increases to the 7 to 8 knots max power condition, we start to depower by lowering the traveler toward center line and tension the outhaul all before touching the backstay.  We only start using the backstay once the outhaul is tensioned and traveler car is nearing centerline to keep from having too much helm.  Managing the correct amount of power while sailing close hauled is crucial for the Main Trimmer and Helmsman.

Jib development prior to La Rochelle Worlds

This summer we raced Africa in our local Fleet 9, only missing one race day during my trip to J/70 worlds in La Rochelle on Peter Duncan’s “Relative Obscurity”.   We tested our current J6 Radial jib design in mid-June with Roller Battens in preparation for the Worlds.  The Jib performed very well at the Worlds even though the experimental roller battens showed signs of fatigue by the end of a windy event, but overall performed well – winning the last race of the Worlds to place 7th overall.  (The roller batten jibs may have a future in the J/70 once the batten durability improves.)

After returning from the Worlds in July, we made a standard vertical batten version of J6R, which we used to win the competitive J/70 New England Championships during Marblehead Race Week, in a wide range of windspeeds a sea conditions. That was our first win in a sanctioned J/70 championship event since we had started racing in 2013.  So we were improving each regatta in 2015 with the NA’s fast approaching.  Meanwhile Team Hooligan, one of our training partners at the North Americans, won Cleveland Race Week (they placed 7th at NA’s using the same main and jib combo as us.)  At the end of August, we won the regional ONE Regatta in light air conditions that were a lot like San Diego.

Sail Selection for the North Americans

21694845472_a747137697_oIt’s unique to sail a big regatta in a venue where the conditions are so consistently light, but thankfully there was plenty of time to prepare for this.  Leading up to September, I got invited to do a two-boat testing session in San Diego with Joel Ronning and his “Catapult” team.  Joel had set up a two boat J/70 testing camp in San Diego for the month leading up to the NA’s and invited all the top sailmakers in the class to join in for a few days and test their designs at that venue.  I couldn’t resist that opportunity, since Ronning was second at the Newport Worlds and has been one of the top boats on the circuit since the outset.

From that 2 days of testing on the NA’s track we learned our J6R performed just fine even in the light air and was especially quick with crew on the rail.  What we also found was that our older Main from the 2014 NA’s in Rochester was a bit softer now and provided more power that would be needed for the light air anticipated for NA’s.   While we came away from the New England’s with a win, I felt like for us to be competitive at our weight range in light air, we would need a better downrange soaking kite if we were going to have a shot at the podium.21098589443_b8c69acdea_o

After returning from the San Diego testing session, we raced in our fleet on Labor Day weekend in perfect San Diego light air and had great upwind speed versus our competitive fleet; but of more significance, we tested a refined early VMG design from 2013 that had always been a good light air spinnaker.  We nicknamed it “Billy Baroo” after Judge Smails old wooded putter he used to sink his final putt in Caddyshack. That kite generated the most sheet load and would fly the most eased of any of our kites.  That performance difference was generally dismissed and we decided that I was too heavy to be fast downwind. Initially, we dismissed the design because we were also too concerned about its planing ability, but testing a spinnaker’s planing performance is not an exact science. There are so many factors when comparing planing performance, that it is hard to prove one kite is clearly better than another in those conditions.  One thing was for certain, since I am one of the heaviest skipper in the 70 class, and we would be one of the heavier crews, selecting the best spinnaker would be critical to our success.

21085390163_6a37f09239_oWe were able to test both days prior to the practice day and final day of measurement.   On Monday, we tested inside the bay in very light air with Hooligan and Savasana.  On Tuesday, we were able to test on the NA’s track with many top boats in 6-8 knots.  We had competitive speed upwind, and experimented with different tuning settings to see which one worked best.  We found that 2 settings below our base was the best for those conditions, that were unstable 6 to 8 knots.   Downwind we swapped between kites to see which we liked better and selected the “Billy Baroo” as our primary kite and AP as our back up.  At this point, most of the class has 2 viable spinnakers, and it makes sense to add in a specialized Light Air VMG spinnaker for regattas when you know the breeze is going to be under 10 knots and declare that as your primary spinnaker.

Regatta Strategy

Going into the NA’s, we knew that to be among the top boats at the end of the regatta would need good consistent scores and I didn’t think any one boat was going to  dominate the event.  There was plenty of talent in the fleet and with all the races counting, the outcome would come down to the last race.  The goal was to be one of those boats with a shot at the title going into that final race.

One thing that cannot be stressed enough that made a difference was having a consistent crew.  Will Felder and Marc Gauthier sailed with me for most of the regattas this year, and we worked Victor Diaz in for a number of practice sessions as well.  His knowledge with the San Diego venue proved invaluable and allowed all of us to work well together and keep our eyes on the prize throughout the regatta.  Having confidence in  your crew is essential to coming away from big regattas with a win.

Starting Strategy

The Velocitek ProStart does change the game, since everyone knows where the line is.  There are some teams that like to mix it up at the ends of the line, but it is hard to pull off good starts near an end over the course of a 10 to 12 race series.  Most of the fleet likes to start near the favored end, or in the case of San Diego near the windward end.  If it looked too congested at the weather end with a couple of minutes to go, we would often bail out and move down the line.  The times we started in a congested area, we would have been better off moving down the line.  If the line was 15 or more degrees favored at the pin, the fleet would move to that end.   10 degree bias seemed to be about the right bias to spread out the fleet across the line.J 70 Start

In a big fleet, we generally do a port approach (unless it is heavy air) and try to get on starboard between 1:30 and 1 minute to go.  I still try to approach the line with seconds and meters closely matching during that final minute on starboard. If it’s lighter, we have the jib deployed to be able to approach the line at a meter a second ratio and still have some time to scrub off.   When it is 8 + knots, we approach with the jib furled, since we can approach at a meter a second ratio with just the main only.  In that condition we generally deploy at 30 seconds but even later the windier it gets.  Once the jib is deployed, the J/70 accelerates quickly, except in the light conditions.  Deploying the jib in fresher conditions too early makes it hard to hold back and protect space to leeward.  Any time I find myself with a minute to go and only 30 meters from the line, unless it is very light air, it generally does not end well.

More information on Doyle’s J/70 sails here.

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