After 41 years in the class, Tony Parker on Bangor Packet finally won the J/24 Midwinters in Melbourne, FL—by one point. After eight races, only two points separated the top four teams, indicating unusually close racing among the top group including John Mollicone, Mike Ingham and 2019 World Champion Keith Whittemore.
We caught up with Tony after the regatta to get his insights.
You’ve been sailing J/24s for a few years. How have the class and boat evolved?
To say “a few years…” is an understatement. My first major regatta was the 1979 Worlds. We sailed with 4 people, weighing in at most 600 pounds, with a reefable mainsail. The self-proclaimed “family cruiser” had the required cushions below. If only I had known then 25% of what I know now!
What was your team’s strategy to pull off this win?
We just tried to get off the line clean, look around about halfway up the first leg to see how we stood, and then started to play against the others up there. Our tactician, Zeke Horowitz, called a great regatta. He was very patient, probably more than I would have been. Because of that we never got too out of phase and when we lost distance, we would gain it back in the next shift.
The top people were all very close. The fourth place boat averaged a 3rd for the regatta out of 33 boats. I haven’t seen such a tight top group in years – and all the top five boats at the Worlds were there, so the competition was really tight.
The fun part was that this was the first major J/24 regatta I have ever won. I bet I have over a dozen 2nd places. I never thought it would take me until I was 74 to get there!
Tell us about everyone’s role on your boat.
Each person has an assigned role. We are quite good about keeping the talking down and we are quite gentle when one of us screws up. I screw up more than anyone else but most of the time they don’t yell at me. Our second person back, Emmet Todd, was really helpful because he was very active calling puffs. So many who do that job just never stop talking and finally I start ignoring them. He was particularly adept at not “overtalking”. It really helped me anticipate puffs and lulls. We have a terrific team.
Zeke Horowitz, our tactician, is as good as anyone in the world. He is patient, clear and never panics when it gets tight. We are very clear who has the “con”. Sometimes it is our spinnaker trimmer; sometimes it is me; most of the time it is Zeke. The transitions are very seamless.
James Niblock, our jib and spinnaker trimmer, has been sailing with me for over a decade. He is as good as they get. We know each other so well that we almost don’t have to say anything to each other. He always anticipates what is needed in terms of trim, besides being a wonderful shipmate.
Will Bomar, our bowman, does everything. He makes sure the boat is in perfect condition. I am a man of leisure before and after the race because I know he and James have the boat perfectly set up.
We were lucky to have Emmett Todd, who usually sails with Finn Hadlock, act as our twing man, replacing my “go to” forever shipmate Ross Dierdorff. We all miss Ross, but Emett did a first class job and I will always be on the lookout for him if Finn can’t make a regatta. They are really good.
You sailed some races in the Genoa and some races in the Blade jib. How did you decide on which sail you used?
That ultimately was very simple: we looked at our competitors. If all of my major competitors were sailing with a particular sail, we just followed suit. The price for being wrong is too high!
A few of your team members had flown straight from sailing J/24s in Argentina. Can you tell us about the 2021 Worlds venue?
It was very different. They sailed with 4 people at that regatta and the venue is too narrow to be able to sail to a layline, so there was much more tacking. The breeze is quite consistent but the shifts are not. The hosts were very welcoming and will put on a fun Worlds next year.