Lessons From Winter J/70 Racing

By Quantum Sails' Travis Odenbach

The J/70 Class winter season in the US has been busy so far. It kicked off in December with Davis Island Event #1 followed by Bacardi Winter Series #1. So far in 2023, we’ve raced Davis Island Event #2, Davis Island Event #3, and Bacardi #2, not to mention upcoming events, including Bacardi Cup and the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series, both of which Quantum is partnering with this year. This first venue of the Sailing World Regatta Series in St Petersburg, FL, will have plenty of tough competition as this is also the venue for Worlds in October 2023. Meanwhile, our friends across the pond have been busy, too. Monaco has hosted two winter events so far with great breeze. Riva Del Garda will be hosting the Corinthian Worlds in June, which should be an amazing event as this venue never disappoints.

The best part about working at Quantum Sails is the network of knowledge and resources we work so hard to develop and make available to sailors in the class. My colleagues and I at Quantum have learned a lot in a short amount of time. I’ve worked closely with Carlo Fracassoli on the last two generations of Quantum J/70 sail designs, which have powered us to the podium multiple times last year. Our European team, led by Carlo, Adrien de Belloy, and Marco Savelli, has done a great job sharing their knowledge of sport boat racing and sail design with J/70 sailors in their respective regions. It’s been excellent to work with them and to see the class grow and improve. In the United States, I’ve also had the privilege of working with Brett Jones, Mario Trindade, and Scott Nixon, who all have a wealth of knowledge on our sail designs and growth of this class. All this is to say that we have some of the best people in the business who are constantly testing, tweaking, and testing sails again to make the absolute best products for the J/70. We’re also dedicated to supporting J/70 sailors everywhere with our refined trim and tuning guides, coaching, tuning, and other onsite regatta support. 

This winter I’ve crewed on Very Odd 1513, but I’ve also driven my own boat twice. And I have to say driving in this class without much time on the tiller is challenging - more challenging than any other boat I have driven. There isn’t much feedback, if any, on the helm, so that means the crew has to be on their game if they want to make the podium. From the recent sailing I’ve done, and having the perspectives of driver, trimmer, and tactician, here are a few tips that have rung true on the water. I hope they can help you prepare for Midwinters and summer sailing. 

Assign a Mainsail Trimmer

If you have a tremendous tactician, let them trim the mainsail. Having just finished a very breezy and puffy event in Tampa, we realized there is a delay when both driving the boat and trimming the mainsail that can be significant and affect how precisely you drive. I am used to trimming my own mainsail when I drive, but because the boat can stall so easily, it is best to focus on the driving and let someone else trim the mainsail. 

Mark Your Settings and Communicate About Trim

As a trimmer, make sure you and the tactician have great communication about your trim settings and why you are at those settings. The trimmer runs the boat speed unless the tactician needs a different mode to execute a tactical move. I have learned a lot about jib trim on these boats in the last six months and I think the most common mistake made when trimming the jib is losing track of how much weather sheet you have on. Here is a simple way to keep track: Make three separate marks on the cabin top. I recommend 9-, 10-, and 11-degree sheeting angle marks (Reach out if you need a measurement to get these marks.). On flat water, between 7-14 knots, we live on the 10-degree sheeting angle. As it becomes windier, we start to ease that weather sheet based on how much the mainsail is getting eased and what mode we’re sailing in. The higher you need to sail, the more inhauler is needed, and the faster you need to sail, the less inhauler is needed. As the wind softens, not only can you move your car forward, but you can also adjust the inhauler to get the correct shape in the jib due to wave state or pressure. In lighter air with a little chop, I like to keep the weather sheet in and just play the leeward. The flatter the water, the more I play the weather sheet.

As you make any of these adjustments, talk them through with the team and talk about how the boat is feeling after those changes. Just as a driver should talk about the feel of the helm, the trimmer should talk about why they are changing the jib tension or trim. 

Be Precise with Body Weight Placement

When sailing upwind in light air, slide everyone forward to the shrouds with the main trimmer always sitting in front of the winch. Sailing downwind in light air, slide everyone forward to the shrouds and maybe put the bow person in front of the shrouds and behind the mast. Sailing upwind in heavy air, everyone on the rail can shift back a bit, but the mainsail trimmer should still be in front of the winch. Downwind in heavy air, slide weight back and rip! The other objective with body weight is the body movement. In light air you must be dynamic. Never let the boat get too flat or too heeled over. In 6 kts-10 kts of wind, the optimal heel angle upwind should be 6°-12° degrees. In 10 kts-15 kts of wind, 10°-15° degrees of heel, and in 15 kts-25 kts of wind, 12°-18° degrees of heel. It also depends on the driver and what feels fast, which is why there is a range of optimal heel angles to work with in each breeze condition. At the end of the day, be dynamic, smooth, and communicate when and why you’re moving. 

Please get in touch if you have any questions or would like to discuss your J/70 program. You can also find tuning and trim guides on our J/70 OD page as well as other class resources. I hope to see you on the water at the upcoming events. With Worlds approaching, it’s clear everyone is ramping up, and the competition will be stiff. I hope these small pointers help your team dial in your sailing and get closer to achieving your goals in this year.

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