To say that the J/70 North American Championship — raced Sept. 26-28 in Annapolis, Md. — was popular would be an understatement.
Twenty-eight hours after registration for the NAs opened on June 3 the 90-boat limit had been reached, and 89 of those 22-foot boats turned out for the first-ever event with a starting line that stretched nearly half a mile.
“It’s exciting to see the J/70 take off as quickly as it has,” said boat-designer Alan Johnstone of Stonington, who raced in the NAs with his dad, J/Boats co-founder Rod Johnstone, also of Stonington, and two other crew aboard Rod’s boat, Ragtime.
Since the first J/70 was launched 18 months ago, nearly 400 have been shipped. Another 100 are on order.
“Everyone wanted to be the first North American J/70 champion,” Alan explained of the rush to register for the event hosted by the Annapolis Yacht Club and J/70 Fleet #1. Teams came from the U.S., Canada, Bermuda and Mexico.
The J/Boats chief designer had the honor of having the seven-race event’s trophy named for him and of presenting it to Bostonians Heather Gregg Earl and Joe Bardenheier, who sailed on their co-owned boat, Muse, with two other crew as Corinthians, compared to professionals.
On Sept. 21, Alan coincidentally had sailed with Heather on a J/22 in a Memorial Regatta for Helen Johnstone, his cousin and her good friend, who died in 2008 at age 47.
The Johnstones were thrilled that the J/70 NA champion is not only a woman, but an amateur sailor.
“Anyone who had a boat could enter this regatta,” noted Rod, saying that he could not remember another major one-design championship that had been won by a woman skipper.
In a Sailing Anarchy online forum, names of world-class pros had been tossed around as favorites.
Rod, who had what he called “the dubious distinction” of being — at age 76 — the event’s oldest skipper, dubbed the NAs “a huge success.” (The youngest helmsman was a 13-year-old from Ohio.)
“We didn’t do very well, but we had fun,” Rod added. The father and son were joined on Ragtime by Rod’s nephew, Andrew Sheriff of Magnolia, Mass., and Sue Mikulski, wife of a former J/Boats dealer in Annapolis.
Area sailor John Brim of Fishers Island, N.Y., scored a 38th place (14th in the 30-boat Corinthian fleet) on his boat, Rimette.
Brandon Flack of Stonington, sailing with three friends with whom he attended URI 20 years ago, placed 43rd aboard Torqeedo. “While not great, it was probably the best we could have done,” he said.
Crewing were Tim Hotchkiss, a professional sailor from Stonington; Peter Colby, of Newport, director of production for North Sails; and Geoffrey Ewenson, a professional sailor from Annapolis.
“It was really challenging,” said Flack, who noted he had not raced in a 90-boat fleet in 10 years. “You don’t get a chance to experience that very often.”
The regatta had three light-air races Thursday, none Friday due to lack of wind, and four Saturday in 15- to 18-knot winds that leveled off to 8-10.
Flack said most of the boats had professional tacticians and that they walked off their boats at the end of each day shaking their heads and saying, “What just happened?”
He calculated the winning boat had an average 10th place finish, which included a 55th place. The regatta had no throw-out races or weight limits such as those imposed in competitions for J/22s, J/24s and J/80s.
Rod Johnstone explained J/70 class rules require a crew of three or four. In this regatta, he said, combined weights ranged from 580 to almost 800 pounds. “The winners were in the range of 650 pounds. Light weights had an advantage,” he said.
“You had to get good starts in a big fleet like that,” he observed.
Rod said he asked event PRO Sandy Grosvenor about protests and learned the only ones filed had to do with the race committee and were not competitor against competitor, leading the sailor to assess the sportsmanship level as very high. “People were out there to have fun and the whole scene was very positive.”
The class, the Johnstones say, is “off and running.” An international status application is in the works, and, says Rod, “I expect we’ll have our first J/70 World Championship next year.” In the meantime, the class’s next big showing will be at Key West in January.
The J/70, at 22.75 feet, is the company’s first ramp-launchable keelboat, featuring a lift keel. Alan says the versatile boat’s appeal is diverse, that the boat is stable, easy to handle and comfortable. “A lot of people were waiting for a boat like this,” he said, adding that he hopes to have one himself next summer.
Watch Hill 15s
Light and extremely shifty winds prompted a lot of sail changing Sept. 28 during Watch Hill Yacht Club’s (WHYC) Fall Series races on Little Narragansett Bay. Six Watch Hill 15s took part.
First race: Bill and Sue Lester and Jason Gefaell, all Weekapaug, Tsana, first; Bruce Avery, Noank, Bahama Gal, second; Scott Schneider, Watch Hill, Hi Toots, third.
Second race: Avery, with Sher Hertzler Pfund of Weekapaug and Justin Dieckerhoff of Mystic crewing, Bahama Gal, first; Lesters, Tsana, second; Bob Audette, West Thompson, Conn., Goose, third.
Third race: Avery, Bahama Gal, first; Schneider, Hi Toots, second; Lesters, Tsana, third.
Seven boats turned out for a race Wednesday night, with a finish in front of WHYC. Results follow: Avery, Bahama Gal, first; Audette, with Kearsley Lloyd of Shelter Harbor at the helm, Goose, second; Lester, Tsana, third.
John and Almedia Livingston headed the race committee.
The fleet’s season wraps up this week with a Wednesday-night race and a Columbus Day Race on Saturday, beginning at 10:30 a.m. on the bay.
Mark Steinmetz of Pawcatuck won all three Greenhaven Sailing Club races Sept. 28 on Little Narragansett Bay. Five Highlanders raced on WHYC’s Watch Hill 15 course, with separate starts given by the race committee.
Among the fleet was new member Dante Gulino, a Westerly oral surgeon, out for the first time racing on his recently acquired Highlander, #827.
Steinmetz drove his boat, Git er Dun, with Dan Crowley of Pawcatuck as crew.
Other finishers were as follows:
First race: Tom Greene, Charlestown, sailing Mac Cooper’s Wild Goose, second; Rick Brown, Westerly, fleet boat NOTO, third.
Second race: Jeff Curtin, Westerly, Al, second; Brown, NOTO, third.
Third race: Brown, NOTO, second; Greene, Wild Goose, third.
Overall, Steinmetz was first; Brown was second; and Greene was third.
The fleet was invited to WHYC after racing.
One more Saturday race is planned this week.
Tim Desmond of Stonington was the winner Sept. 28 of Stonington Harbor Yacht Club’s (SHYC) frostbite racing. Eleven Lasers had five races in light south-southwest winds on Stonington Harbor.
Parker Colantuono, 13, of Portsmouth, placed second and Hugh O’Brien of Mystic was third.
Five Ideal 18s completed four races, with Eric Irwin, Brenda Mitchell and Mary Beth Marshall placing first; Ed Dear and George Bernhard, second; and Kathy Sinnett and Brian Griffiths third.
Tucker Bragdon and Chris Sinnett were absent, attending a six-race 29-boat Ideal 18 regatta at Indian Harbor Yacht Club in Greenwich, Conn.
“We learned a lot,” said Bragdon, of Stonington, noting it was the first time he and Sinnett, from Ledyard, Conn., had sailed an Ideal together.
PRO Warren Shuck ran the day’s SHYC races from Galatea II, aided by Deb Dodds, scorer, and Chris Errichetti and Denise Easton on Acis, a support boat.
Helen Jankoski lives in Pawcatuck and may be reached at 860-599-3014 or firstname.lastname@example.org.