I was lucky enough to receive an invitation to sail with a George Gamble and his J/111 team from Pensacola, FL on My Sharona at the 2015 Quantum Key West Race Week. This was the first KWRW where the J/111's had a one design start; it was also the first J/111 Midwinter Championship. This event, along with the looming J/111 World Championships in Newport, RI, set the stage for a great start to 2015 for this exciting class.
This was my first J/111 regatta so I was the rookie on board. George Gamble selected a great, fun team from the Pensacola YC including his teenage son Kyle who was our man in the middle who kept the team motivated on the rail all week. The My Sharona team has put a lot of miles on their boat the past few years including a few races along the Gulf Coast of Florida and a race all the way to Mexico. They have also done a lot of local PHRF racing and even drove the boat out to the Great Lakes the last two years for the J/111 North Americans. When George decided to get me on board we knew a weakness would be time in the boat together so we set a goal of trying to get as much quality practice time in as possible in preparation for the Worlds in early June.
Doing the Pre-Regatta Homework
Working with the great team at Quantum Sails, my pre-regatta homework was not too hard. I started with our sail designer Kerry Klingler, who has done all of our J/111 sail designs that have won the last two North Americans. We discussed the standard class inventory and suggested wind ranges for the class sails. George ordered a new light jib and A1.5 light spinnaker for the event.
After ordering the sails, I spoke with Quantum's J/111 speed doctor Wally Cross (two-time NA Champ and European Champ in the J/111). He walked me through the rig set up, rake numbers, pre bend, mast butt locations and the full Quantum tuning guide for our class sails. We felt we had a grasp on the setup but needed a way to confirm this in KW. Who better to talk with than the winner of Key West last year!
I called Nick Turney who does tactics and helps run the great Spaceman Spiff programs. He was a wealth of information on sailing the boat. Nick discussed the importance of sailing the J/111 to targets upwind and downwind and to really keep an eye on the target TWA off the breeze. Nick runs Quantum Cleveland, a recent addition to the Quantum network, so both of us were new to the Quantum J/111 sail program and setup. We decided the best way to get up to speed was to team up and train together before racing started, and to also tune up each morning on race day to make sure we felt fast before the start.
Practice Like You Race
This homework really paid off for our teams during the week. We trained very hard for three full days before racing started on Monday. I don't think I was too popular with our team the first few days as we spent a solid six hours on the water each practice day! We would leave the dock each morning with our training partner and do a long, downwind tune followed by a long, upwind tune. At times we would stop and chat on the VHF to make sure the slower boat could adjust settings to match the faster boat.
The teams hiked hard and practiced like we were racing. After tuning, Spaceman's coach boat would run some practice starts and shore races where other J/111's would jump on with us. This gave us great, real-time racing situations to work on together as a team. Starting, close leebows, ducks and layline positioning were just some of the maneuvers we were forced to perfect. All of the J/111's would head in for a late afternoon cocktail after the short races but I made the unpopular decision to stay on the water "just a little while longer!"
Perfecting Maneuvers with Hot Laps
I introduced our team to hot laps, which are simple windward leeward laps where the marks are very close together so you just have time to set the spinnaker, gybe and then take it down before the leeward rounding sends you back around again. Our first few laps did not go very well as they rarely do! Everyone was tired and struggling to find their role individually for all these quick maneuvers. But after pushing hard and digging deep our team started to gel. We did three days of hard training, but the sweat and bruises were all worth it. After the training sessions we headed into the regatta with the confidence to pull off any maneuver required. The credit has to go to the team on board as everyone embraced the long, hard practice sessions and improved a massive amount in a very short time.
Heading out for race day one, our goals were to be safe and stay in the top four of each race. George and our bowman Derrick Riddle did a fantastic job of getting us off the line and we were able to sail each race the way we wanted. The week was fairly light so we were extremely fast with our new Quantum class light jib that we used all but the last day, which was over 15 knots.
Using Crew Weight to Help Steer the Boat
We also had great speed off the wind with the new A1.5 class spinnaker that we used in 11 knots and under. With clean starts and good speed, we were able to just stay ahead of the clumps of boats to make good decisions on which side to protect upwind. George focused solely on driving the boat at target speed and angle and the crew constantly moved their weight to keep us at the target heel angle upwind and downwind. This made my job easier as we tried to sail by ourselves in clear air and toward the next expected shift. This strategy worked well all week as we only had two races out of the top two and were able to win five of the ten races. The class was tight at each rounding, so having good sets, gybes and spinnaker drops perfected by our team during training really helped us stay out of trouble all week and kept the pressure on the boats around us.
As a team, we worked really hard all week to focus on our own individual jobs and come together as a group. It was great to see the team get better each day and come away from this regatta with a ton of knowledge to build on as we head to the next events in preparation for the Worlds this summer. I was very impressed with our team all week as they used two GoPros to record our races. They religiously watched them each night at our dinner/ debriefs to implement ways on improving their onboard roles.
Top Lessons Learned
Here are the top five things we learned in Key West about sailing the J/111 in a tight, one design fleet:
1. The boats take a while to build speed, so hitting the line at full speed and target angle are key.
2. Don't be afraid to inhaul the jib off the line to hold a lane or sail in a slightly higher mode, especially in light winds under 15 TWS with the light jib. On the flip side, don't hesitate to ease the inhauler when you want to sail fast or in bow-down mode for tactical reasons.
3. Having the crew hike hard upwind on the rail allows the trimmers to keep the leeches tight and keep power in the boat longer. Hike hard out of tacks and off the starting line to hit target speed faster.
4. Downwind, the stock class polars published by J/Boats are very good! We sailed to them all week with regards to target boat speed and target true wind angle.
5. Off the wind, use crew weight to help steer the boat, especially in over 11 knots with the Quantum A2 runner up. Hike the boat to windward to bear off and weight to leeward the helmsman head up. This helps minimize rudder movement so you can remain fast.
Thanks again to George and the My Sharona team for an outstanding attitude and effort in Key West. Also special thanks to Nick Turney on Spaceman Spiff and Wally Cross on Utah for sharing J/111 tips and tuning with us on the water. The Quantum sails and set up were very fast and easy to do. Q teams were 1,2,3 and 4! We all improved each day and had fun on shore sharing war stories at the tent and on Duvall Street. We are really looking forward to the next J/111 one design start this spring at Charleston Race Week. Hope to see you on the water soon.–Scott Nixon
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