Harken Derm

The Road to Winning the J/111 Worlds

Published on July 7th, 2015

Since its launch in 2010, the J/111 class has been on a roll. After gaining International Class status from ISAF, 18 teams attended the inaugural World Championship in Cowes, England in 2014. Now with over 115 boats launched, the 2015 Worlds in Newport attracted 25 teams to vie for the title on June 15-19.

Dominating that series was George Gamble’s My Sharona from Pensacola, Florida, whose team had secured the championship prior to the final race. Quantum Sails’ Scott Nixon, tactician for the team, provides this update…

Did the team start the season with a game plan to win the Worlds?

George Gamble has been a great client for a number of years in the Melges 20 and the J/111. For one reason or another we never raced together but stayed in touch over the years. He approached me last fall with a plan to do the full J/111 one design season on the East Coast with the goal of winning the Worlds in Newport. When I saw how excited and focused he was on this, I was all in. I love long-term, focused projects and George was very vocal with his desire to win the Worlds. He was amazing to work with and gave us everything we needed to win and out-prepare the rest of the fleet.

Tell us about your training and racing schedule.

My Sharona did every one design event possible this year leading up to the Worlds. Key West Race Week in January was the first-ever J/111 Midwinters, which was our first event together as a team and my first J/111 experience. We showed up five days early to train and prepare for the event. We were very green as a group but improved every day in practice and during the regatta. We sailed well in Key West and were able to pull off the win on the last day versus some very good teams that have been doing a lot of J/111 racing in the Midwest and around the US. This gave us a great start to the season and some added motivation to keep working hard.

Next up was Charleston Race Week in April. We teamed up with the great Ruhlman family’s Spaceman Spiff team to train for the year. We trained and tuned together before the events to get faster and share ideas for improving at a faster rate as a group. Charleston was a great event, and while we struggled a bit the first two days, we put it together on the last today again to win the event. A few weeks after Charleston, the team came to Annapolis where we did a few days of sail testing with our Worlds sails and training before the NOOD Regatta. The team was starting to gel and we were able to win the event.

After Annapolis the boat went to Newport and we trained three days before the New York Yacht Club Annual (J/111 Pre-Worlds) with Coach Ed Adams. We trained with the Kashmir team from the Great Lakes for a few days in beautiful 15 to 20 knot conditions and got our confidence up in breeze. We had an okay pre-regatta going but needed to win the last race on Sunday to win the event. Our goal was never to win all the events but to focus on the process of improving and getting better to be a top and consistent team at the Worlds. George and our bowman Keith Glynn pulled off a sweet start and we were launched and went on to win the race and the event.

What did you think of the Worlds format?
It was a four day race schedule, which I prefer as five-day events seem to drag on too long for the teams. The Ida Lewis YC did a fantastic job all week and raced the fleet offshore in open water three of the four days, with a short distance race held on day two inside the Bay in flat water and shifty conditions.

I think the owners and J/111 teams really liked the short distance race. We do so many windward-leeward races all year that it’s great to mix it up. The race offered all the out-of-town teams a great way to see Narragansett Bay as we had to round six marks on the way to the finish off Forth Adams. More one design classes should look at holding a short distance race during championships to mix it up and give the racing some variety. Good fun for sure.

Are there crew restrictions in the J/111 class?
My Sharona sailed with eight and close to class maximum weight for all the events. The J/111 allows for one ISAF Group 3 professional for class racing. I think this is perfect for this class to keep it low key, fun and allow the owners to sail with their family and friends. However, I do think the class should adapt a max of eight people and no weight limit, which would help to keep it low key so no one has to worry about dropping weight. The owners and Group 1 sailors will have more fun, which I have seen in the classes that have adopted this philosophy. They all seem to determine what weights are okay to race with.

Tell us about the winning team.
George Gamble is an amazing guy and was not afraid to roll up his sleeves, go to work, practice hard and give us all the assets we needed for this great season to happen. We had a talented team including George’s 14 year old son Kyle who was our hardest worker. We sailed with a variety of very good local Pensacola Yacht Club sailors and some friends I brought along to fill-in during the year. Our success is due to how our crew out-hiked and out-worked the other teams this year. Our winning Worlds team, besides George and myself, consisted of Keith Glynn on the bow, Scotty Raines on the mast, Kyle Gamble in the middle, Mike Pedersen on offside trim and navigation, Keiran “Sirloin” Searle in the pit and tactical help, and Ian Coleman on jib and spin trim.

How progressed is the one design racing for the class?

The teams that have been racing in the class for a few years are quite good. There is a large group of first-time one design campaigners that are new to the traveling race circuits, and from what I can tell, these are the teams really embracing the class and having the most fun as it is all brand new to them. Great to see and fun to be involved with these owners and team that are learning so quickly and having a blast. The largest and most competitive fleets are the Midwest and San Francisco in the USA. There are small pockets of boats in Newport and Annapolis and hopes of these fleets growing for 2016 and beyond.

Where does the J/111 fit in the landscape of boat buyers?

I think the boat is perfect for the owners looking to get into a bigger, newer, and faster one design after racing the J/70, J/80, J/105 and J/109 classes. The boat performs well upwind and is relatively simple to sail with a nice sized asymmetrical spinnaker. If the class keeps growing in a few different areas of the country, you could see some Farr 30 and 40 sailors getting into the fun.

Are there any class rules issues being discussed?
The class is growing fast so it would be good to tidy up the worldwide class rules soon. At the first Worlds last year, the class chose to not use the mandatory Facnor head foil and furler. It would be good to keep the boats the same around the World whether they decide to keep the furler or lose it. Right now all the top teams use horizontal jib battens and drop the jibs downwind so there is a question if the furlers are needed or not.

2015 J111 World Champions team pic

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