North Sails NEWS

July 11, 2019


Interview With Stuart Sawyer’s Black Dog, 2019 IRC National Champions

irc sailing nationals
📸 Paul Wyeth /

The IRC National Championship in Cowes, UK, attracted over 100 boats and twenty-two boats in IRC2, the most competitive fleet . Stuart Sawyer’s J/122 Black Dog scored four bullets in eight races to secure the IRC Performance 40 division win and the Overall IRC title by 15 points. Stuart has been racing with the same team for the better part of nine years, but this was their first time competing in the IRC Nationals. It was an idea that came to him after the Dartmouth Royal Regatta race last year, when North Expert Jeremy Smart was onboard calling tactics; “we may have a chance to do well if we keep this up,” Stuart realized.

“It was encouraging racing with Jeremy,” he told us a few days after the IRC Nationals victory. “That planted the seed—maybe this year, we should go a bit further and push ourselves. Jeremy was pleased with how the boat was running, and that was very encouraging. Believing in our boat, and our sails, was all the positivity we needed.”

Stuart was “over the moon” with his crew’s hard work over the course of the weekend, which required every bit of the team’s attention. He grew up racing dinghies with his brother Andrew and windsurfed professionally for many years. In 2007, after a hiatus, he came back to racing sailboats. “I’m a surfer at heart,” says Stuart. “So I like asymmetrical sailing, the A2 is great, you can play all the waves and soak better, it just suits my style of sailing.”

Stuart had a J/97 for three years, and after winning the Nationals he upgraded to a J/111—where he also won the Vice Admirals Cup and National Championships in his third year. He says the J/122 is a “significantly stiffer boat,” with more displacement, and goes upwind very well. “It doesn’t plane like the J/111, but for a 40-footer it sure can surf and is responsive downwind. The best part about racing J boats is that the layout is mostly the same. The loads are greater as we increased our waterline, but we were able to quickly adapt and connect with the boat as a team.”

j122 sails
📸 Paul Wyeth /

Stuart claimed the 2019 title with his long-time team of friends: Mainsail trimmer Garth Weaver, also known as “company secretary” as he handles all the logistics, Roger Ford in the pit, aka the Terrier for pushing everyone to hike harder and never let up; jib trimmer Josh Redgrave, who joined the team when he was 16 years old and now runs the boat; kite trimmer Jonathan ‘JB’ Barnicoat; Tom Redgrave (Josh’s brother), pit #2 for the Nationals and also covered navigation as normal navigator Simon Boote didn’t race; bow was run by Sandy Proctor, who has been sailing with Stuart for 11 years; mast Hans Wehmeyer; and mid-bow/grinder Jack Elsby. Two new crew also joined for the regatta: floater Ruby Dent [daughter of J/111 World Champion Martin Dent]; and tactician and North expert Shane Hughes.

“There is something special about sailing with friends,” says Stuart. “I think that’s why we’ve come so far and done so well over the years. The crew work was spot-on, and we know each other very well. When we get into the moments where we felt slow we are happy to change gears, if we have a bad start or there is an issue we are able to shout ‘reset!’, and everyone knew to work harder to improve boat speed.”

“One of our best moments last weekend was race 2 on the Saturday: we didn’t get off the line well, and we were buried at the start. We were outside the top 15 around the windward mark but we kept working at it, making huge gains on the downwind leg. Shane focused on keeping our air clear and the crew worked the boat really hard to keep fast and deep. We were able to get ourselves ahead of a pack and into a place where our tactician Shane had some freedom to make decisions, and we had a great second beat, a pulled out a 4th in that race. Being able to fight back helped us win overall.”

“It took a lot of time to get the rig right on our 11-year old boat, he adds. We put new rigging on the boat in 2017 when it was refurbished, but we weren’t happy with the set up. Dave Lenz then analyzed some photos and we went about a re-set before Dartmouth last year. I feel our settings now are good and we have found a sweet spot for performance”.

Shane Hughes says it was a pleasure to join this team. “The event went very well for us—better than expected in many ways. We had a lot to figure out, in a very short period. Stuart and the guys were great, very welcoming, and open to taking on a few new ideas and suggestions. The team (other than me) has been together for 9+ years, which makes them quite a cohesive unit. They sail the boat well and know how to get the most out of the boat. So it was easy to step in and add a little extra value to that.”

There is something special about sailing with friends. I think that’s why we’ve come so far over the years.

The effort that the team put in was impressive, Shane continues. “They wanted to get a good result at the event. The whole atmosphere on and off the water helped their performance. I have been lucky enough to sail with some great Cornish sailors in the past, and there is always plenty of banter flying around, which helps create a relaxed and inclusive team culture. There is a good mix of experienced, very keen, and talented younger guys too. It was a fun process and a successful regatta.”

After the regatta, the boat went home to Falmouth, where it will do some local sailing before competing in the Dartmouth Regatta later this summer.

“I look forward to joining the guys again in the future,” Shane concludes, “but in the meantime, keep an eye out for them as I’m sure there will be more great things to come from this team!”

North Sails expert Dave Lenz delivered Black Dog‘s new 3Di sails in 2017. “I have been working with Stuart for a few years now and we’ve done quite a bit of work with various J/122s, so we were able to pass some of the lessons learned. I’m very happy for Stuart and his team.”

j122 sailboat
📸 Paul Wyeth /
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