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Preparation Tips and Racing Lessons from the J/24 Midwinters

February 20, 2017

Just because you live in a northern state doesn’t mean you have to stop sailing for the winter. Quantum’s J/24 expert Travis Odenbach traveled to Indian Harbour Beach, Florida for the 2017 J/24 Midwinter Championship this month. He shares his tips for a successful on-the-road regatta, as well as some lessons learned.

Downwind Sailing at the J/24 Midwinters - Photo by Chris Howell.

Texas, Florida, and California-based sailors get to enjoy the water year-round while others – like New York resident Travis Odenbach – spend more time shoveling than sailing during the winter. That doesn’t mean they have to sit on the sidelines, though. Odenbach traveled to Indian Harbour Beach, Florida for the 2017 J/24 Midwinter Championship February 9-12. He prepared for the Midwinters the same way he would for any major regatta, but he did make a few adjustments to make the most of his time and race.

Before Leaving

“First, I make sure I’m sailing with at least four of my normal crew,” said Odenbach. “I’ve learned that sailing with the same team pays off. It makes planning for an event and sailing together easier.” 

Each crew member plays a specific role on the boat, but they don’t wait until they’re racing for the teamwork to kick in. From measuring the sails to checking the rigging to knowing who’s making the lunches, their team to-do list keeps everyone on task. “It’s great because we have our checklist, and we’re usually done in an hour. Then we’re ready to go,” said Odenbach.

Having traveled to many regattas in the past, he’s learned a few things to make traveling easier. “I mark all of my settings,” he said. “When the rig goes up, I have caliper numbers to set the shrouds to and a base position to put the mast. Rarely do I have to site the rig anymore.”

Another time-saving trick that lets Odenbach spend more time on the water – pack everything. “Most winter regattas are far away for us Northerners, so we pack everything we may need, from sleeping bags to epoxy, extra battens and tape,” he said. “I bring everything we need, except lunches, so I don’t have to make trips to the store.”

Onsite

Time is an asset – the more time a team has to set-up and practice, the better their chances when the race finally starts. That’s why Odenbach and his team arrived two days before the event started. “I use the first day to get the boat together and clean up and loose ends,” he said. “I use the second day to sail and knock the rust off.”

Arriving early is especially helpful when traveling to a new location, like this year’s J/24 Midwinter. “Indian Harbour was a new venue for most of us, so some surprises popped up,” said Odenbach. “The first surprise was how small the venue was. We had to shift our mindset, making sure we had the best speed and focusing more on tactics. The second surprise was the six-leg courses. Although short in distance, the sixth leg proved to be just as challenging as a long, last fourth leg.”

Take-Away

With 75-degree weather and wind speeds from 6-15 knots, 31 boats competed in the 2017 J/24 Midwinter Championship. Winning two heats, Odenbach’s Honeybadger finished second overall. Though already a seasoned and successful J/24 racer, he continues to learn, taking extra wisdom and tips with him after each event.

“One thing I learned was that we must eat, even if we’re not hungry,” he said. “Food and water are a must to stay sharp. We found this to be a struggle at times, and we saw the disadvantage to being dehydrated and hungry.”

Another big lesson involved the yellow flag.

“When we hit a boat that gybed onto port right after the offset mark as we were on starboard, we were all so frustrated with ourselves that we pulled the yellow flag without really considering our options,” said Odenbach. “Whether I believe I was fouled or not was not the problem. We pulled our penalty flag very quickly, and we had to take our penalty, regardless of whether we were right or wrong. In a situation that’s stressful, take a minute to understand what happened, then make the decision. Rushing into a decision can cost you, as it did for us.”

Results

Overall, Quantum-powered teams finished strong, taking second, sixth, and ninth in the top ten. “I consider this a great finish for us,” said Odenbach. “There were many professional boats there. That made it a tough regatta, but we placed well considering.”

Next up for the J/24 class is the Easter Regatta in Columbia, South Carolina followed by the North American Championship in Houston, Texas. For full results from the 2017 J/24 Midwinter Championship, click here

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