A GLIMMER OF HOPE
North Sails Experts Team Up For J/70 Tuning Session
Since the pandemic hit, many sailors around the world have resorted to day dreaming about sailing. Regattas were cancelled or postponed, goals were pushed back, and boat work was no longer a chore, rather it was a way to pass the time by. That is until Bruce Golison and Jim Murrell put their heads together to create a “group sailing session” out of Marina Del ray. This was an opportunity to get back out on the water and train and race with some great teams and coaches while still observing all the local health regulations.
During the first weekend of August, when the California Yacht Club was supposed to be holding a 100 boat world championship regatta, the local Fleet 4 J/70 class took to the water to prepare for what is now the 2021 J/70 Worlds. North Sails experts Alex Curtiss and Eric Doyle joined up with other prominent industry professionals for three days of extensive training and racing. 11 J/70 teams from Southern California showed up for some tuning and long course racing. Coaching was given during tuning sessions and racing and everyone learned some things about the race course and set up. Here are some of our big takeaways:
A Challenging Venue
Santa Monica Bay has all the necessary elements to create a very challenging race course. While not known as a particularly windy venue in the late summer months, there are plenty of wind shifts, holes, kelp, current lines and sometimes even fog to keep everyone on their toes. The wind usually dies at night in Southern California and doesn’t build again until after mid-morning when the rising temperatures on land push the marine layer back out to sea. The water temperature is between 60 and 69 degrees which allows a high thin cloud layer (the marine layer) to come in at night as the land cools. Races are not scheduled to start before 11am as a result. The first race is generally in a light building sea breeze in flat water unless there is an underlying groundswell to mix things up.
Play Your Side
During the racing we had typical Santa Monica Bay conditions– 5 to 11 knots, lighter in the morning and generally building sea breeze in the afternoon. It almost never paid to cross the middle of the course. Regardless of fleet size, in light air the breeze will typically fill from the sides first. Getting caught in the middle can be death. Usually there were left puffs on the left and right puffs on the right. Sometimes you would need to duck several boats to get to the side you wanted. It is painful at first, but on long beats it took a lot of patience in order to see long term gains.
When sailing in Southern California, the clouds will often tell you the story on what might happen next. In general, cloudiness will keep the breeze more to the south. As the sun comes out and the land heats up, look for the breeze to go more to the west. The natural sea breeze direction is more in a westward direction. Also pay attention to the clouds that form over the mountains. If the clouds start to form, generally that means the thermal is starting to form.
There is some thought that if there is a 25-30 degree difference between temperatures in Palm Springs and Marina Del Rey, the chances of a solid sea breeze increases. That’s not the bible, but it is something that local sailors look at during their morning preparation.
Potential For Light Air
In order to be successful at the world’s, speed in very light conditions is going to be a requirement. We raced all day on Sunday in conditions where a race might not have started but the wind can drop out at any time so we have to be prepared to finish races in 3-5 knots of wind. Smooth tiller motions, keeping the weight forward, full team kinetics, lots of time and room for acceleration at the and good patience were the primary keys to success.
Once the sea breeze does establish itself the sailing is awesome. 11 to 14 knots is the afternoon norm with everyone hiking and the waves tend to come up rather quickly with the breeze. 100 boats will also create lots of chop. The boat is fastest when tracking straight and this can be challenging as the wind rotates right and the swell becomes more side on when sailing upwind. More twist to accommodate the constant change in the apparent wind angle at the top of the mast is necessary but full power to get through the chop is required as well. Trimmers and drivers must focus constantly and yet have the boat set up to do the work and track easily. The crew will have to be on their toes to steer the boat with their weight and heel angle in order to minimize tiller movement and maximize speed through the water.
Off The Wind
Downwind there are lots of waves to surf and over 13-14 knots of wind there are plenty of good rides available. This is also prime conditions in which to sail wing on wing, it’s just important to identify the flatter spots and the ideal times to utilize. It will certainly be challenging at the world’s in a 100 boat fleet to get clear lanes and smooth water to keep the speed up.
Overall the weekend was a great success. Teams had lots of time on the water to shake the rust off and develop teamwork while under the watchful eye of some great coaches. We had plenty of practice starts and some boat handling drills and while the long course racing in under 5 knots of breeze was a bit painful at times, I am sure that everyone came away from the weekend with new skills and ideas and looking forward to next time. It is being discussed to have the same format during September, the 11th-13th are penciled in at the moment, see if you can join!