REMARKABLE RESULTS AT J/70 WORLDS
The 2023 J/70 Worlds in St Petersburg in Florida saw a remarkable clean sweep for North Sails customers, taking all three major titles and seven* of the top ten overall positions. The overall World Champion is Charles Thompson’s Brutus III, with North Sails UK's Ben Saxton on board. The Corinthian World Champions are Lee Sackett and Dave Kerr with USA 1516, and the One-Pro World Champion is Tim Ryan’s Australian entry, Vamos, with North Sails AUS’s Rob Greenhalgh on board.
These results took place against a fleet of 83 teams from 15 nations. A single title from such a competitive fleet would be impressive, but all three is a fantastic achievement for North Sails on the back of winning the overall title in 2022.
Ben Saxton, former Team GBR Olympian and World Champion in the Nacra 17, was doing the mainsheet and tactics aboard Brutus III. “Charlie Thompson is the owner, he does the bow with Elizabeth Whitener. Then we have Twiggy [Chris Grube, Team GBR Olympic 470 crew] trimming. He's super sharp on the jib and kite trim… So he's a lot of why we go fast as well, but I know he loves the spinnaker and the jib because we find it quite easy to use. I share some of the tactics with Twiggy. And then the driver is Tom Mallindine, he comes from an Optimist, 420 and 470 background, and he's a friend of Twiggy and mine from growing up.
2023 J/70 WORLD CHAMPIONS POWERED BY NORTH SAILS
Brutus III, GBR 1123
1516, USA 1516
ONE-PRO DIVISION WINNER
Vamos, AUS 1667
“We used the F1 mainsail, a J2+ jib, and AP1 Airx kite. They are all North stock one-design sails. I've used these sails for two years now, and I've just become really comfy with them. They seem to have no weaknesses across the wind range.
“In theory, this was supposed to be a light wind event, so we made some test sails that were optimized for light winds and proved to be absolutely rapid in those conditions. We changed the design and some details of the sails and learned a lot from the process."
In the end though, and with the forecast ahead, Saxton could not achieve the same confidence in the development sails across the wind range that he had with the stock designs, so he opted to go back to those. It was a good call, with most of the racing taking place in glorious 12-18 knots, along with the compulsory Floridian bright sunshine and blue water. “I was happy with the sails we chose. I never looked at the forecast and went, ‘I wish it were light, or I wish it were heavy.’
Given the results, North could be forgiven for resting on their laurels, but that’s not the case. “There's a lot of work going on from North Sails in the background,” said Saxton. "Our testing program will continue this winter so, there's loads of work going into it.”
Two new test mainsails came to St Petersburg with former J/70 World Champion and North Sails designer Ruairidh Scott for a week of organized testing ahead of the Worlds. “All the mainsails in the fleet are currently crosscut in design and have been for a few years… We did two new mainsails designs, the one I used was a crosscut, and then I did a full Radial version of the same mold shape to see the differences that the construction would make in the flying shape. So same design, two different constructions, and some really neat detailing changes within the sail. Rob [Greenhalgh, One-Pro World Champion] used the Radial sail on Vamos, achieving 3 top 10 results and a race win in Race 3. Clearly, it's visually very different from anything else out there at the moment, and it's certainly the smoothest-looking J/70 mainsail I've seen and shows some great potential. Note this is a brand-new radial design based on the latest thinking and lessons learned in other classes. Watch this space for further developments!”
“In the week of pre-regatta testing, we compared the new mainsail designs versus our standard designs,” continued Scott. “We've been very happy with our sails for the past few years but are always looking to make improvements to make faster sails. We were in the loft most evenings making changes and working with a tuning group of a few boats daily. We were able to put the sails on different masts, swap them around, and learn a more about the masts that are out there and the tuning required to change the sail shapes."
“We certainly learned some really valuable stuff, especially how the sails could go up the wind range. We were still just as quick in 18 knots with those sails as we were with the standard sails… sadly, we just didn't do a very good job of the racing at the regatta!!” he admitted.
“The J2+ jib [that all three North champions used] was designed for the Los Angeles Worlds a couple of years ago,” Scott added. “And that design has proved very all-purpose for a lot of teams over a number of years. And the AP1 spinnaker is amazing, it was our original spinnaker design for the class and it's been the gold standard ever since.” It is not easy in a class where only one spinnaker can be measured for the regatta, and it has to do every angle from light air, wing-on-wing to high-speed planing."
Ben Saxton thought that the flexibility of the sails was vital to their win. “The North Sails tuning guide is a great place to start from, and we were very close or exactly on it. There are always slight tweaks. The mast we had on the boat in America was quite stiff, so we set it up ever-so-slightly softer on the lowers and tighter on the shrouds to get the pre-bend that we wanted. That’s at the lower end of what was in the guide for the sail, and then we sailed pretty much on the guide.”
“We're very picky with how we set the boat up, but we know that if it's not perfect, we still have 99% speed. Our setup isn't on a knife edge, so it's really quite easy to use. If the jib trim's not quite where we thought it was, we're normally still going pretty quickly, and then we change it, and we're really quick. That's one of the nice things about the jib.
“In terms of our approach, I looked back at all the [World Championship] results, and I saw the average points that it took to win the Worlds for each fleet size, and then we set about a strategy of trying to achieve that – actually, we overachieved our goal by about 10 points. So that was great. We thought it'd be about an eighth, or ninth average to get there, which involved not getting to laylines early and sailing safely. But also, you can't come 30th in every race, so you've got to do the right things.”
Despite their preparation, Brutus III started the event with a 53rd after picking the wrong side on the first beat – sometimes, an opener like that can derail an entire event. “ We had a process to make sure the five of us reset. So, finish, chat about it, get some food and drink on, go about getting the start line transit pings, working out the bias, and make a strategy for the next race. And then we went and got a third in the next race. Everybody makes mistakes, and everybody does great things, and that's part of the team philosophy. We just stuck to the processes, trusted ourselves, trusted each other, and yeah, it was good.
"Brutus III went into the final race just needing a top 30 to win. “We were already up around 15th by the first mark, I think.” They finished seventh in that race and after discarding the 53rd, posted eight of their nine results in the top eight. “We didn't lose a lane all week... Once we got going and into the beats, only one boat half-rolled us at one point,” said Saxton. “And that was Emperia, another full North Sails boat. And there's more speed potential to come. We were quick as the result showed, but I guarantee that at the next Worlds, we will be faster than we were this year.”
* full or partial North Sails inventory