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Forty Years of J/24 World Wars

Published on August 24th, 2018

The first J/24 World Championship took place in 1979 in Newport, RI. It was a memorable event. For four days, crews from around the world in the 72-boat fleet fought for world supremacy. However, there was a “special race” that made it especially memorable for all participants that first year.

On the last day of the event, the J/24 Worlds had their famous “long distance race”. In Rhode Island, there is ONLY one long distance race – the infamous 21nm “Round Island Race” of Jamestown. It was a benign race to start off with; a mid-teens genoa windward beat to the first mark off the end of Beavertail Point Lighthouse. However, from there on end, the Worlds would forever go down in infamy as one of the craziest races ever in the history of the J/24 class.

The weather forecasts were a bit odd that day, sunny, partly sunny, but rapidly-building winds from the SSW. By late afternoon, possible thunderstorms and squalls were forecast. As it turns out, the Low/ depression grew considerably in strength as it hit the New England coastline.

On the downwind run in the West Passage of Narragansett Bay, the winds rapidly increased from a benign SSW 12-18 kts to gusts well into the high 30s from the WSE! Boats were broaching everywhere, spinnakers blown out, crews hankering down for more severe gusts as squall after squall rolled over the race track.

What?? Narragansett Bay?? Cannot be! Nevertheless, the entire fleet reduced to 100% jibs and finished the race off Fort Adams in 20-30 kt winds from the SSW.

What no one expected was the jaw-dropping events for the awards ceremony held at the Newport Yachting Center that evening. As everyone was enjoying their drinks and reminiscing about the past week, a huge black, ominous squall rolled over horizon from the west across Narragansett Bay.

Before everyone knew it, “white water” was blasting across the Bay underneath Newport Bridge and Newport Harbor, the tops of wavelets blown into a white froth, as the wind blast hit the regatta tent, it lifted it up nearly 5 feet! Then, it settled down as everyone just about freaked out, then realized they had experienced a “hurricane-like” blast front and survived intact. The drinks, and awards continued on that night, though a bit more subdued than one might expect.

Later, as everyone realized at that first J/24 Worlds in Newport, that Low/ depression became a “super depression” with 70+ kt winds and it devastated the RORC’s Fastnet Race 1979 with the most horrific sailing conditions imaginable for many unfortunate teams; many boats and lives were lost that year in “Fastnet Force 10”.

The J/24 class has endured “winds of change” over the course of time but fleets around the world continue to enjoy close, fun, one-design, family racing, week to week in far-flung places around the world such as Sydney and Melbourne, Australia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Williams Bay/ Tierra del Fuego, Chile; Tokyo, Japan; Seoul, Korea; Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, & Valle de Bravo, Mexico; and, of course, across the USA, Europe, and the United Kingdom.

As a result, it is not surprising that a huge turnout of nearly 100 J/24 teams are preparing for the 2018 World Championship at one of the most hallowed waters of one-design racing in the world – the northern end of Lake Garda, Italy. Hosted by the Fraglia Vela Riva on August 27-31, the J/24 teams are in for a real treat of amazing sailing on what many consider to be one of the most spectacular bodies of water to sail- bar none.

Here are the 15 nations from around the world and the leading skippers from each:

• Australia (6 teams)- Simon Grain and Hugo Ottaway
• Brazil (1 crew)- Rento Catallini
• Denmark (1 crew)- Fabian Damm
• France (2 teams)- Brice Pelletier and Garcia Aorelian
• Great Britain (14 teams)- Ian Southworth
• Germany (14 teams)- Laura Hartje, Stefan Karsunke, Frank Schonfeldt, Peer Kock, Manfred Konig,
• Greece (5 teams)- Nikolas Kapnisis
• Hungary (9 teams)- Farkas Litkey, Peter Szabo
• Ireland (3 teams)- Finbarr Ryan
• Italy (29 crews)- Fabio Apollonie, Ignazio Bonanno
• Japan (4 teams)- Kazuki Kumagai
• Korea (1 crew)- Gyeongwon Jo
• Netherlands (1 crew)- Dirk Olyslagers
• Sweden (2 crews)- Per-Hakan Persson
• USA (5 teams)- Will Welles, Travis Odenbach, Keith Whittemore, Bill Allen, Mike Ingham

Notably, the USA crews all have world-class talent on board. In fact, all five teams are at least World Champions or North American Champions in various classes. Given the tight quarters, emphasis on boat-handling, and acceleration/ boat speed, the American teams are likely to excel on the Lake Garda race-track.

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Source: J/Boat News

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