Learning Curve: J/70 Lessons Learned at the Bacardi Cup


By Terra Lee Berlinski

The new J/70 has gathered a lot of momentum from coast to coast. Earlier this month, twenty boats competed at the 2013 Bacardi Miami Sailing Week making it the fourth major regatta in the short history of the class.

Participating in the regatta was Quantum San Diego’s Eric Heim who served as trimmer and tactician on board USA 98 owned by Al Poindexter. It was the crew’s first regatta together, resulting in a lot of lessons. Reflecting on the highs and lows of the regatta, the boat, what worked and what didn’t, Eric took away several lessons from the event.

During Wednesday’s practice, it blew 16-20 knots providing steady planing conditions. Upwind, the bowman and pitman hiked legs out while the tactician/trimmer hiked in ball form next to the winch, in order to make trim adjustments. This allowed the helmsman to focus on steering. It was helpful to cross-sheet the jib to the weathered winch and to foot rather then pinch through the waves. Downwind, the jib stayed open while planing to give more sail area in front of keel to help pull the bow down. 

Al Poindexter's US 98 also sailed in Key West before heading to Miami for the Bacardi Cup. Photo by Keith Brash.

Thursday the regatta kicked off in the southeast corner of the bay with 0-5 knots of breeze. The first race finished with boats still drifting on the course. In a dying breeze was crucial to keep the tiller centered in order to reduce drag. Sail trim and weight movement were more effective for steering than a slow tiller.

Friday and Saturday offered typical Miami sailing conditions, puffy and a moderate breeze with some inconsistent planing. The rig was tuned to base with the headstay at 58 3/8”, the uppers at 24 and lowers at 18. In flat water to short chop, we could inhaul the jib aggressively upwind. This helped shape the bottom half (power) of the sail, and the leeward sheet helped to shape the top half (twist). 

The traveler was an essential tool to keep the boat powered up and on its feet (controlling the heel). The leech is the most important part of the main sail. Leech tension controls how high or low you can point. When easing the main sheet you open the leech. By using the traveler instead of the main, you are able to maintain leech tension while depowering the boat and holding a higher point. The traveler system in our J/70 left something to be desired. The skipper had to use his foot against the lines to push the traveler into the ease and it gave back equal resistance with the trim. Such a key tool should be fluid in its functionality.

Downwind legs were a struggle for the majority of the fleet. Many of boats were not comfortable sailing optimal angles in marginal planing conditions. It was important to protect against the teams who went high, but stick with teams who went low even though it was not the fastest course. As comfort grows in the boat, the fleet will close the gap in the downwind making them more competitive. 

There were plenty of sketchy, close interactions on the course that came very close to violating some of the fundamental rules. Part of this can be chalked up to the learning curve of a new class and figuring out what the boat can handle, but safety should never be disregarded. Let’s avoid it turning into a cowboy class where people disregard the rules and think it’s ok.

Sailing upwind, the J/70 moves like a little big boat, providing an easy transition for skippers wanting to scale down. It’s not a muscle boat; nothing is overly loaded. A good team will be able to work it around the course by synchronizing body weight movement fore and aft, heel angles, and smooth transitions. More finesse than power.

No weight limit has been set yet, which is a perk. Weighing-in has some major drawbacks in regards to assembling a team. The J/70 does not box people into in a corner; friends and family are all welcome creating a warm atmosphere and a diverse class.

US 98 at Quantum Key West. Photo by Keith Brash.

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