North Sails NEWS
WILL WELLES J/24 CLASS LEADER
Two-time World Champion Loves to Share His Tricks
As a double world champion in the J/24, Will Welles has made good use of all the lessons learned over the years. “It’s pretty different than a lot of other boats,” he admits, adding that having a genoa changes how the boat is sailed (and tuned) compared to other small keelboats. Then he passes along a few other tips as well, because even during a winter office-bound interview he can’t resist sharing his knowledge.
Favorite job, favorite boat
Now based out of the Portsmouth, RI loft, Will learned to sail as a kid on Maine’s Mount Desert Island. “We always had a lot of boats around our place and were always fixing boats and working on boats,” he remembers. He sailed J/24s on and off but didn’t “fully get into it” until high school. After college, he bought a J/24 cheap and fixed it up himself.
“I just like driving boats,” he laughs. “One of my favorite jobs ever was working on the dock crew at Hinckley’s as a high schooler. I basically drove boats all day, in and out of the lift, to the dock, to the mooring. Powerboats, sailboats, whatever. I just loved it.”
As for the J/24, one aspect he enjoys most is the five person team, he says.
“It really is a little big boat, and you get on the road with a crew that you like. It’s fun on the water. It’s fun off the water. And I’ve been doing it a long time. It’s kind of what got me into all this with North Sails.”
Since his first job at North in 1997, Will’s worn a lot of hats. “I would sell big boat cruising and racing sails. I sailed a lot of events in larger boats, but always did the one design. That’s what I focus on now, one design sailing and selling.” In addition to the J/24, Will also sails Etchells, J/70s, Shields, and IODs. “I’m a strong believer in sailing what’s in your backyard, and the two biggest classes here in Newport are J/24s and Shields.”
North’s J/24 inventory has proved itself by winning the past five Worlds, but Will says “We’re always looking at different things. A lot of things have been tried numerous times over the years. We feel pretty happy with the upwind sails, the main, genoa, and the jib.” There are two genoa options, and he says most people choose the DX7TT genoa, which excels in waves. But “they’re both good,” he clarifies. “You can’t go wrong. We usually tell our clients to stick with the genoa that they’re used to using.”
For spinnakers, most people buy the FR2. “We’ve worked on that quite a bit,” Will says. “It’s a full radial sail and it’s great in zero to 40. So that’s definitely the sail of choice.” Spinnaker design has evolved a lot over the last several years, he adds,
“So that’s one sail we’re working on. We haven’t found anything better than the FR2 yet, but we’re still trying… always looking to make sure we’re providing the best product possible.”
Number one J/24 trick
Why does Will keep coming back to the J/24, even after winning two Worlds? “I like that it is a super technique boat,” he says. “Once you learn the little tricks, it can be pretty good.” Asked for specifics, Will talks first about sail trim.
“You really overtrim the main to get headstay tension once you’re going. There aren’t many boats where you trim the main that hard, so that’s a big thing.”
And his number one trick? That’s a question he gets quite often at regattas, so he has a quick answer. “The biggest thing is to get comfortable with sailing the boat flat—once you do that, you really have something. The helm feels awful, but it’s the key to getting upwind the fastest. So you gotta go out there and practice it and get comfortable with it.”
Dock talks and helping customers
Will does dock talks at most big J/24 regattas, because he feels so strongly that sharing information is a big part of keeping classes going. “You gotta put back, especially into classes that have been good to you. It’s good for the class. It’s good for North Sails.” And even beyond the call of duty, Will says he enjoys helping people get faster—especially when a customer is actively taking notes. “That’s what you want to see when you’re standing up there, putting the time in. It’s good.” So, thanks to his sharing ways, all of Will’s customers can make good use of the lessons he’s learned as well.