Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Epic Key West J/70 Midwinters

J70 sailing at Key WestHealy Wins, Keane Close Second!
(Key West, FL)- "It felt like 1978 all over again – debuting a new class in Key West with top sailors and family teams from around the country participating. This time, 35 years later, it was the J/70 capturing the headlines, blogs, and video feeds beaming around the planet, though the J/24 was never far from mind.  At almost every turn, there was a J/24 champion from one of the past four decades walking by on the dock admiring the J/70, including several who happened to sail in that famous 1978 J/24 Midwinters like Mark Ploch, Bryson Hall, Dave Ullman and Bill Shore," said Jeff J.  Then, there were the "new kids on the block", like past J/35 North American Champion Bob Hughes and J/80 champions Bruno Pasquinelli keeping the fleet "honest" as to who knew how to sail sportsboats fast.

Most teams arrived over the weekend and all launching and hauling took place at the Truman Annex (former US Navy base) facility equipped with a super wide launching ramp (can launch three boats at a time) and two "cherry picker" hoists (bless, those guys) that tossed in/hoisted a boat every 5 minutes.  The industry showed up in force with about half a dozen rigging trucks, and suppliers like Southern Spars, Harken, Marlow, Torqeedo and the top sailmakers all on hand to support the owners.  Chris and Julie Howell, the new administrators of the J/70 Class had their RV onsite all week helping get folks registered for the class and equipped with member stickers and royalty tags. Saturday evening was a J/70 owner's reception at Kelly’s (Race HQ) where Chris and Julie and the founding group of J/70 Class officers were introduced to the sailors.

J70s sailing upwind- Key WestRacing was fantastic with 12 races in 5 days, including two 3-race days.  The first gun wasn’t until 11:30am and the fleet was usually dockside by 4. Half the boats dry-sailed out of the Annex and the others wet-sailed. Once people got into the rhythm of hauling and launching every day the dry-sailing went very smoothly and most thought they’d do the same again next year.   The J/70 program was by far the most affordable ever done at Key West and a big reason so many KW veterans came back this year. It was also the first time in years the event permitted a boat under 24’ to compete, a nice testimony to the confidence the organizers had in the ability of the boat to handle whatever Key West dished out for weather conditions.

As Craig Leweck, of Scuttlebutt fame, pointed out, "it's the right boat at the right time.  When nearly a third of the boats in Key West are competing in one class, and when that class is a one-design boat that has yet to celebrate its first birthday, the question that we ask is---what gives?  Already the magazines have heaped praise on the boat:

Sailing World - Boat of the Year
SAIL - Best Boat - Performance 30ft & under
Yachts & Yachting - Boat of the Year - Performance Boat under 30ft
BOOT Dusseldorf- European Yacht of the Year- Special Category

"The Key West J/70 fleet will represent about 1/3 of U.S. built J/70s to date," explained J/Boats' President Jeff Johnstone. "A Key West debut was a natural. Several owners competing had expressed their interest early on that it would be great to get 'back' to Key West in a smaller, more affordable program. There's also a portion of the fleet that are experiencing the event for the first time. This is all a bit of flashback when you consider that Key West is where the J/24 kicked off its first class event back in 1978. And in fact some familiar faces like Mark Ploch and Dave Ullman, who raced in the first J/24 Midwinters, are competing in the J/70 class this week."

J70s sailing off Key West downwindThe extraordinary growth of the J/70 class is a testament to the marketing ability of J Boats. "It's really exciting to see a class that has only been around for four months become the largest one design class at Key West RW by almost double,” said David Ullman, President of Ullman Sails International. "I jumped at the opportunity to sail in the class because it'll be the starting block for a new and potentially big one design class, which is exciting to be a part of. Plus, the popularity of the boat has attracted a field of first rate competition."

What could be most interesting is not only who wins, but how did they win.

"Most of the one design sailmakers will be there to see how well they have done with sail development and getting the most performance out of the boat," noted Jud Smith of Doyle Sails. "It will be interesting to see which teams and sail designs find themselves on the podium on Friday. The crew weights will be different among many of the teams and that may turn out to be a big factor depending on conditions during the week."

J/70 was the largest class at Quantum Key West 2013 with 39 boats and the boat was showcased with some spectacular racing. North Sails pro Tim Healy and his experienced team on HELLY HANSEN seized the lead on Thursday then held it by winning both races on Friday, which featured 14-16
knot winds. Geoff Becker (tactician), John Mollicone (trimmer) and Dave Reed (foredeck) comprised the crew on HELLY HANSEN.

"It was really fun to figure out how to sail the boat. Right up to the last race we were working on tuning and experimenting with techniques," said Healy, a J/24 World Champion who was making his J/70 debut. "We went out early every morning and tinkered with sail trim and rig tune. We made progress every day and the crew worked very hard at fine-tuning every maneuver."

After a slow start the first day, Healy's team took a top 15 position with a 23-14 after the first day of sailing and simply worked harder than anybody to put together ten straight races mostly in the top three, winning five of them.  It was an impressive debut for a long-time J/24 sailor, especially since this was Tim's first "sportboat" event, learning the ropes on the fly especially downwind on how to simply sail faster.  Everyone else was right there with him on steep, steep learning curves figuring out how to start, how to round marks with their newfound crew members and how to get going fast upwind and downwind in the planing conditions the fleet saw for four of the five days.

Chasing Healy all week was past Key West J/105 and J/80 Champion, Brian Keane on his renowned SAVASANA.  Like Healy, he also had a slow start out of the blocks on the first day, posting an equally impressive 15-25, a near mirror image of Healey's first day exploits.  Gotta love it, eh?  However, loving the breezier conditions as Keane often does (former College Single-handed Champion in Lasers, too), he and the SAVASANA crew took off and posted nine top 5 results!  Behind them from Ft Worth Boat Club in Texas was the team of Loring/ Pasquinelli sailing STAMPEDE who also shared a similar pattern to the other two leaders.  Starting off the first day with a blistering 18-33, the STAMPEDE boys shook off the cobwebs and sailed to mostly top 5 finishes for the next ten races to snag third for the regatta.  Rounding out the top five were Peter Duncan and Juddie Smith sailing RELATIVE OBSCURITY finishing 4th and first day leader, Dave Ullman and Tommie Lihan, sailing TEAM 69 to fifth overall.  Notably, class newcomer Bob Hughes (of J/35 and Farr 40 Heartbreaker fame) sailed his J/70 HEARTBREAKER to sixth place, just 6 pts out of 4th overall, the difference unfortunately being an OCS and RDG that materially affected his chances for a top three finish.

For the first time, a Corinthian Class was also sailed for by the purely amateur boats and the competition was hot in this grouping.  David Franzel (Somerville, MA), Founder and Executive Director of the Boston Sailing Center, captured the Corinthian portion of J/70 class sailing his boat SPRING and finished 8th overall in the main fleet.  Just behind him in 9th overall and 2nd in Corinthians was the brother team of Blake & Lud Kimbrough sailing NOSTALGIA from Newport, RI.  Finishing third in Corinthians and 14th overall was Bryan Elliott and David Hyer on B-SQUARED.  Thanks for the contribution from Craig Leweck/ Scuttlebutt.

Sailing World's Dave Reed Interviews of the winners:
Tim Healy-
Tim's Tricks for boat-prep-
Dave Franzel-

Sailing photo credits:
Onne Vanderwal-
Tim Wilkes-

For more J/70 Midwinters/ Quantum Key West sailing information