Sunday, June 7, 2015

Sailing the J/88 JAZZ Offshore- Lessons Learned

J/88 sailing downwind under spinnaker (Stonington, CT)- Rod Johnstone’s report on sailing the J/88 JAZZ with Clay Burkhalter in the Storm Trysail Club’s recent Block Island Race is a particularly helpful primer on opportunities gained and lost while sailing offshore:

“The Storm Trysail BI Race on the J/88 in the doublehanded IRC division was exciting, fun, and exhausting. We (literally) had a blast all the way to Block Island from Stamford -- and got blasted all the way back on Saturday. We started off Stamford on a puffy port tack spinnaker reach at 1405 on Friday. We won the leeward start with the main and jib only in about 20 knots of breeze and decided to go with our heavy (80 square meter) spinnaker a few minutes into the race. I was worried about blowing up the big (95sm) chute in the occasional puffs over 25 knots. Control was no issue. We held even with the two J/120s for the first three hours and blew away everyone else in our class. When the wind dropped down to about 15 knots we switched to the big kite. We made it to Valiant Rock in the Race by 2130 hours and just got through before the flood began - 6.5 hours to cover the first 69 miles. Not bad for the smallest boat in the fleet. Wind dropped off and went ahead between the Race and “1-BI”. We rounded “1-BI" shortly after midnight and cleared around the south side of Block Island before 0200 on Saturday. Most of the big boats did not catch us until just before we jibed round “1-BI”. I think we rounded inside a couple of J/44s. Hard to tell in the dark. We were definitely winning our class big time at that point, because the two J/120s were not too far ahead.

The fan was turned up to about 25 knots with higher gusts as we thrashed our way upwind against the current from Block Island to Plum Gut. We did not have the right sail combo available for these conditions. First, we reefed the main then rolled up the jib as it blew harder. Waves were crashing over the boat.

From about 0300 to 0600, we sailed the boat like a Laser with a reefed main and no headsail. We were doing almost seven knots, but VMG was about 10 degrees lower than normal. Not good against a foul current. For doublehanded racing with no weight on the rail the J/88 needs a real "Yankee" jib with a short hoist and high clew.  In over 20 knots, I highly recommend a second mainsail reef that we do not have, but would have used. STC required this for this race or you had to carry a storm trysail aboard (which we flew "demo' before the start but would likely never use in a race!). Another option would be to have a longer jib sheet track which extends further forward so you can roll the jib to storm jib size and just pull the jib lead forward. We did this on our J/95 (whose jib track extends way forward) a few years ago and the boat sailed great (even upwind) with the jib half rolled up in 30-40 knots of breeze with no mainsail, or a full mainsail in 20 knot winds, or reefed main in between.

It was a beautiful beat with reefed main and jib from Plum Gut to Stratford Shoal in 18 knots wind when we shook out the reef. The wind dropped way off from there to the finish. Despite our relative upwind "slows " against the 35 to 46 foot boats in our class, we finished fourth boat-for-boat. The Morris 46 was the only boat to pass us on the 90 mile beat to the finish. IRC is definitely not recommended for the J/88, which gives time to the J/109 under that rule (huh?). Under PHRF, our corrected time would have put us in third place behind the two J/120s instead of fifth. This probably would have also been the case under any other handicap-rating rule other than IRC.

Clay and I were really beat as we approached the finish line at Stamford in light air and glass calm sea wondering whether the wind would completely die and leave us stranded just short of the finish line against a foul current. Clay leaned out of the hatch to adjust the jib sheet lead when his life vest suddenly decided to inflate on its own - appearing almost to choke him to death - a punch-drunk moment when you can't stop laughing - a great way to end an exhausting race. Clay could not let the air out quick enough. Even though our combined age (134 yrs old) probably topped all the double-handers in both classes in this race it was double-fun sailing with Clay and sailing on the J/88. I would do it again!”