Chasing the Miles at J/111 Worlds

Published on August 26th, 2017

San Francisco, CA (August 26, 2017) – One of the marks of a world-championship-level sailing team is the ability to rapidly adjust to evolving conditions while also being fast at courses of all lengths and shapes. Such was the test today at the 2017 J/111 World Championships, which are being hosted by St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco, California and held on the waters of San Francisco Bay, as the race committee sent the eight-strong fleet on a 26.4-nautical-mile tour of the Bay that took teams from Alcatraz out under the Golden Gate Bridge to Point Bonito, then back into the Bay for some seriously fast legs that tested teams at all angles and all wind velocities, while also quizzing their ability to stay focused for hours.

“There’s a strong precedent in the J/111 class to have a distance race with their Worlds, so we’re including it,” said Jenn Lancaster, St. Francis Yacht Club’s Race Director. “It worked out great with our schedule, and we created a course that gave people good exposure to all corners of the Bay and a chance to sail under the Golden Gate Bridge, which is a Bucket List item for most sailors.”

Given that conditions outside of the Golden Gate Bridge are usually a different animal than conditions inside, the adventure quotient was high come dock-out. “Lead, cover, extend, come home early, and watch out for whales,” said Rod Warren, skipper of Joust (AUS 1110), which hails from the Sandringham Yacht Club in Sandringham, Australia, of his teams strategy. As for if his team prefers distance races or windward-leewards, Warren jested, “I’ll tell you after today!”

A 5-8 knot breeze greeted sailors at the starting line, however the days forecast called for gathering airs as the sun marched west. The fleet vied for position closest to the committee boat as the official clock wound-down to straight zeros, with Doug and Jack Jorgensen’s Picosa (USA 120) crossing first, followed by Peter Wagner’s Skeleton Key (USA 115) and Martin Roesch’s Velocity (USA 008).

The Golden Gate Bridge’s north and south towers were just emerging from the Bay’s (in)famous marine layer as the fleet headed for the Marin side of the course and some current relief. Here, the key to success lay in hugging close to the Marin Headlands’ rocky coastline, practically scrapping the bricks as rigs cleared the Golden Gate Bridge.

Outside of this world-famous landmark was a confused and sometimes-choppy seaway and even less pressure. Teams continued to hug the shoreline, their laminate sails and carbon rigs camouflaged against a backdrop of dark oceanic basalt cliffs and hills punctuated by redwoods, sequoias and juniper trees.

Sticky conditions prevailed until teams rounded a mark off of Point Bonita Lighthouse, popped their kites, and headed back towards Treasure Island, with Slush Fund leading the way, followed by Picosa and Skeleton Key, with Joust in hot pursuit. Whales flashed their fins as the teams fought to keep their kites inflated —an issue that would vanish once teams entered a re-invigorated San Francisco Bay.

Instantly, the Nantucket sleigh rides commenced as teams fought to control their steeds in 20+ knots. Come the second turning mark, situated off of Treasure Island, Picosa had snatched the lead, followed by Skeleton Key and Slush Fund, with Joust still skirmishing for a spot in the top three.

Next, the fleet aimed their bows upwind for Harding Rock as a flood tide pressed hard against the buoy. The top four boats held their positions as crews prepared for the next kite-set-cum-sleigh-ride.

The Berkeley Pier Ruins were the next turning point on the Bay Tour, and teams prepared for the final beat back up to Point Cavallo, where they would bear off and aim their bows for the finishing line.

While the boat handling wasn’t easy, Skeleton Key picked-off Picosa’s lead at the last mark, however both boats went low after hoisting their kites, setting themselves up to cross the finishing line under jibs and mainsails, given the angles involved. Joust’s position gave them time to study the leaders’ fortunes and they opted for a very different angle that allowed them to carry their kite all the way to a screaming first-place finish.

“On the last run down, Aaron Cole, my tactician, worked out that we shouldn’t hoist our kite right away but instead cross the current and then go up with the kite,” said an elated Warren at the dock. “We were in third place, but this queued us with the guys ahead of us, who we passed in that last bit, which I guess is the only bit that really counts.”

As for if Warren prefers distance races or windward-leewards, it’s safe to say that the jury is in on that decision, however there were several protests pending between boats further astern in the fleet, which will be addressed in the morning.

After seven races over three days, Joust is now topping the leaderboard, followed by Slush Fund and Skeleton Key. Racing continues at the 2017 J/111 Worlds through Sunday, August 26, when the race committee is expected to run two more windward-leeward races that will decide the class’ 2017 champions, so please stay tuned to for the latest news, as it becomes known.

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Source: St. Francis Yacht Club Communications

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