Managing the impact of professionalism

Published on March 24th, 2019

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
Nobody could have anticipated the explosive growth of the J/70 Class. What was deemed a dumbed-down sprit boat was in fact what the market wanted, which was a boat with decent performance that could be mastered by a wide swath of the boat buying public.

Having the solid J/Boats brand gave it the legs for growth at the local, national, and international levels. But this growth also created opportunity for skilled pro sailors to increase boat performance and regatta budget. Even multi-talented Jud Smith was writing his crew checks in route to winning the 2018 J/70 World Championship.

The influence of pay-to-play sailors has led the Class to test some initiatives, the first of which was the inaugural Corinthian US Nationals in 2016. This no-nonsense event required all competitors, including the owner/driver, to provide proof of a valid World Sailing Group 1 (i.e, amateur standing) classification at the time of registration.

Interestingly, the top performers at this event are generally the same skippers that compete with pro crew, but for the Corinthian Nationals they get back to the roots of recreational sailing. After titles held in Maryland, Massachusetts, and Texas, the 2019 edition will be August 8-11 in Harbor Springs, MI.

The latest move by the J/70 Class is a change in 2019 requiring all sailors in any J/70 event who do not hold a Group 1 Classification to be members of the Class Association.

The rules on Class Membership are now as follows:
1. Any driver of the boat (regardless of Classification) must be a Class Member;
2. Any crewmember not classified as a Group 1 (i.e., a Group 3 or someone not holding any Classification) must be a Class Member.

These changes were made to bring more consistency and accountability to the Class by making sure that the professionals sailing in the Class are as committed to the Class Association and have the same level of responsibility as boat owners and drivers.

In addition, the January 2019 Rules specify that all members of the crew must be listed as part of the registration, entry list, and results for all J/70 events, whenever the skipper or owner is identified. No longer can owners seek an advantage by hiding who they have hired, with the change offering an overall benefit of increased recognition for all crew.

I give the J/70 Class a lot of credit for advancing these initiatives. One design classes succeed based on the common interests and involvement of its members, with these positive bonds helping to create growth and maintain equipment value. For any class feeling the impact of professionalism, it will depend on the contributions of all members to remain attractive.

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