Best of times or worst of times…it’s still a regatta! Quantum Sails' Alan Woodyard recounts the trials, tribulations, and little victories he and his team experienced at the 2021 J/22 World Championship in Corpus Christi, Texas.
To us racing sailors, regattas are the culmination of our sport. They’re the reason we endure over the years all manner of conditions both on and off the boat. And no matter the class of boat, a world championship is as big as they get. After these events we all hear the rundowns from the top dogs about what worked for them and how they pulled off their respective podium finish. These are great lessons to learn, and the best way to learn them is by getting out there and mixing it up with the champions, pros, and Olympians in ways that aren’t even options in most other sports.
This year’s J/22 World Championship was my first Worlds, and our team’s expectations were slightly lower than the podium. My skipper, Phil Davis, had recently purchased a boat after realizing that his time in the J/22 fleet a couple decades ago held some of his fondest competitive sailing memories. We were aiming for small victories rather than large ones: a good start, good crew work, sensible tactics, and other brief moments of glory in a talent-stacked fleet of J/22 pros, experts, and diehards. I have sailed most of the J/22 Southwest Circuit over the past four years and can attest that, even in a regional circuit, the depth of knowledge and skill is immense in the J/22 class, which has a strong history here in Texas and across the Gulf Coast. To round out our crew, we were joined by Travis Grahmann, an avid weeknight racer from Canyon Lake, TX, who is new to the J/22 class. The three of us spent about a dozen hours sailing together on the boat before we splashed her for Worlds, tuned the rig, and headed out for the practice day.
We established our strategy before the start and immediately began making adjustments after a second row stall-out in a crowd. No worries, it was a practice race, right? Well, we were just getting started with our eventful week. While experimenting with a number of adjustments, we could not get our boat dialed into a mode that would allow us to point. Our forestay length was a likely culprit but we did not have a spare nor did we have enough adjustment remaining in the existing stay to allow us to experiment in the way we wanted to. As the real racing began, we stuck to our plan of little victories.
We had our best start in race four, but the day was cut short by a collision with a port-tack boat that was unable to free a jib sheet override fast enough for the helmsperson to turn down and avoid us. We limped back to the dock with a big two-foot shark bite hole in our gunwale aft of our port chainplates. During the collision, we also tangled rigs with the boat and were concerned about our spreaders. We inspected the damage, shot the hole in the hull full of expanding foam, and installed a fine patch of Gorilla tape that lasted the rest of the regatta. We proceeded to struggle upwind and make our gains downwind until the last race of the regatta in classic Corpus Christi Bay sporty conditions where we had some shifting in the rig that prompted our decision to retire from the race and call it a week.
Overall our regatta might sound like a disaster, but I can assure you that we had a great time, learned a lot, and will be back in the fleet figuring out the marginal adjustments and gains we can make on the long road to class mastery in the venerable J/22 fleet. Our regatta was one of perseverance, frustration, education, and understanding, and sometimes all you can do is laugh it off, rub some dirt on it, and “run what ya brung,” as they say in amateur motorsports. We finished the regatta in 36th place, with two races scored in letters rather than numbers, but the regatta was a success when valued in education, dealing with adversity, the strong camaraderie in the fleet, and the impeccable sportsmanship that we saw and participated in throughout the week.
We congratulate Jeff Progelhof with crew Rod Favela and Paul Foerster on his convincing win and Travis Odenbach with crew Kris Werner and Justin Damore on his consistency throughout the week leading up to his second-place finish. We also congratulate and thank every other boat in the fleet for showing up, competing at whatever level they found themselves, and pushing all of us to improve and learn while stringing together a week of collective memories that will keep most of us coming back regatta after regatta and year after year.
Whether you and your crew are on the cusp of immortality or narrowly avoiding the last rung of the ladder in your next regatta, just remember that when all of us − from race committee to volunteers, sponsors, and competitors − share our love for the sport in whatever way we can, the score line is just one summary of the regatta. Someone will win the regatta, someone will win the party, someone will win the race to the crane or ramp, and sometimes the win is just showing up, mixing it up, and accumulating a few tales that may become exaggerated over the years. So keep your expectations realistic, do what you can with what you have (crew, boat, sails, etc.), strive for YOUR success, and in your end-of-regatta debrief, make your plan for how the next one will be your best regatta yet!
Whether you are just starting out in your one-design class/handicap fleet or if you’re ready to make that run at the Worlds/NOODs/Race Week that you’ve had your heart set on, Quantum Sails has a sail consultant or class expert who can help you achieve your goals. So let’s go #ToTheNextChallenge!