Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Women's View Sailing the J/70

J/70 SUNDOG- women's sailing team- skipper Kathy Parks (Annapolis, MD)- We asked Kathy Parks, proud owner of the J/70 SUNDOG from Annapolis, Maryland to offer her views on what it's like to sail the J/70.  Here's her commentary:

"I think it all started with the Rolex Women's International Keelboat Regatta in Annapolis in 2001.  I sailed all season with a friend on her J/22 in preparation for the big event in September.  Shortly after that regatta I realized I was hooked on big fleet one design racing and my husband suggested we buy a J/22.  I raced it for 12 years including five more Rolex's, two world championships and numerous North American Championships.  My husband, Paul, a great sailor in his own right has been a wonderful ground support for my sailing adventures.

Last spring I caught sight of the J/70 in the parking lot at Charleston Race Week and sailing around the harbor.  I began daydreaming about the sport boat with the asymmetrical spinnaker.  I had crewed for my husband on numerous sport boats we owned over the years but I was concerned that they would be too much boat for me.  The J/70 seemed to be a great option-- speed, ease of handling yet more stability than usual in a sport boat.   And, I loved the idea of sailing in a brand new fleet.  The next thing I knew I was ordering a J/70 and was asked if I needed it by Key West Race Week.  Guessing that it might mean I would get one sooner, I committed to KWRW which was a blast and provided a fast start to my learning curve.

I guess because I started out racing in a Women's Regatta I just kept on racing mostly with women over the years.  Every once in awhile we'd fit a guy in without going over the weight limit on the J22 but typically I raced with four women.  Now, the J/70 is "not your father's Chevrolet" and with no weight limit it requires bigger people.  In Charleston I raced with my good friend Nancy Haberland who has been generous in assisting me in learning the boat and getting up to speed.  Nancy is a former Olympic sailor and Offshore Coach at the Naval Academy and without her help I would have been overwhelmed.  In addition I had Regan Weaver and Lisa Simpkins, two wonderful sailors who have raced with me for years.  All three of my crew are fit, strong and competitive athletes (think "Triathlons").  They inspire me and I work out twice a week with a trainer at the gym just to keep up with them.

We showed up at Charleston Race week weighing a scant 565 pounds and hoping for light winds.  In retrospect, it just doesn't work in heavy winds like we had.  My crew handled the boat beautifully and we had literally no problems when others were crashing, losing chutes, rounding up, etc.  Their strength, fitness and sailing talent was impressive throughout the regatta.  The discouraging thing is that you just can't compete without more weight.  Since my women crew are not interested in gaining 50 pounds each it was easy to conclude that I need to get some big guys on the boat.

Fortunately with such a fun boat as the J/70 it's suddenly easy to find crew!  So, I've been adding one or two guys to the mix and we are all enjoying it.  My husband has encouraged me to increase my racing to take my sailing to a new level.  That is easy to do in Annapolis.  I'm racing Wednesday nights with Annapolis Yacht Club and Thursday nights with J/World plus the weekend regattas which come fast and furious.  With over 20 J/70's in Annapolis there are plenty of activities and lots of room for additional crew to fill out the schedule.

What I like the most about the J/70 is how well she handles in heavy air.  In Annapolis we typically have lighter air during the summer so I never really got comfortable sailing my J/22 in big wind.  This year between Key West, Charleston and some local heavy wind regattas I've had more experience than ever and the boat does amazingly well.  For instance, one day at Key West  before the first race we put that chute up and flew down the course in the heaviest air I had experienced under spinnaker.  It was easy to control the boat and I felt both comfortable and exhilarated.

The J/70 is attracting lots of women skippers and one day there will surely be a women's championship regatta held in J/70's.  Until then I plan to add big guys along with my women crew and I'm finding it's really fun!"