With Rover still ashore getting the final touches put on our winter projects, we have been doing quite a bit of local racing! In addition to Wednesday nights on the Beneteau 36.7 and a few weekend double handed races, Lisa and I have teamed up with our friends Lynda and Craig to race a rented yacht club J/22 on Thursday evenings. I am driving the boat while Lynda does tactics, Lisa does foredeck and Craig trims.
I did some racing on a successful J/22 in the late 1990s as foredeck crew, but I have never driven these boats in a race. And although I did pretty well as a helmsman “back in the day” on our J/29, my race helming during the last 20 yeas has been very sporadic and consisted mostly of open ocean racing on the Hylas 56. That’s a little different than a tiny little keelboat racing around local buoys!
I think it’s fair to say that Thursday nights off Annapolis literally could not be a more challenging venue for re-entry into local buoy racing! The courses are very short, which results in extremely crowded mark roundings with spirited “conversations” about who has inside rights each time – and even a fair amount of boat-to-boat contact. To make things slightly more complicated, many of the trimming and driving techniques that served me so well on the J/29 all those years ago backfire pretty badly when applied to the J/22. Fortunately, Lynda and her husband Todd have been extremely successful on these boats over the years so I have been receiving excellent coaching from Todd (who is deployed oveseas) over Zoom chats.
We have a couple of other advantages as well. The entire crew is highly experienced on J/22s, so the spinnaker maneuvers have been excellent. And our little club rental boat is a champ! She was built by Waterline and so far we have found that she has plenty of speed and point , which is seriously appreciated by a rookie J/22 helmsman lining up against competitors with 20-30 years’ worth of experience driving these boats.
So far we’ve been doing pretty well on the upwind legs until we arrive at the top mark and find ourselves having to duck a bunch of boats when we’re on port tack. So we’re going to work on positioning ourselves for the rounding earlier and more proactively. We’ve also got some significant challenges with downwind performance but we’re pretty sure we know how to coordinate better to address them.
During the first two race evenings we’ve been finishing in the lower third of the class but we all feel there is a ton of potential for us to move up and everyone is having a lot of fun. For my own part, although I would like to be finishing better, I have to remind myself that no one comes into a competitive one design class and finds themselves finishing at the front from the get-go. In our first J/29 regatta in 1997 we literally finished dead last in every race. But we stayed focused, met some really great crew, and over the course of the next four seasons we became the J/29 to beat. So our question now is: how many finishing places can we move up during the next month before we leave for the New England cruise on the Hylas, and how much fun can we have doing it?