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A Day in the Life of a J/24

There is at least one J/24 laid up for the winter in your local boat yard. It is a common enough sight, not the kind of attraction that most people notice. You won't find it parked out front next to the Farr 40s, OD35s or the Melges 24s. It will probably be parked out back quietly sitting on a partially rusted trailer, neatly tucked between an Alberg 23 and a Catalina 30. It is a lonely sight, a sight that might lead you to believe that the great racing legacy of the J/24 is over. But you would be wrong.

At the first hint of spring, a late-model Suburban backs up to the J/24 trailer. The door opens and the owner walks around back and pops open the gate. He pushes the baby-seat aside and fumbles around looking for a piece of cloth to wipe the winter grime off his J/24s bottom. His pants are covered with speckles of latex paint left over from painting the garage last weekend. As he works, he tries to remember where to position his mast butt. He first wipes down the bow, then the waterline, saving the flat spot just aft of the keel for last. That part always makes his backache. When he's done, he stands back and admires the smooth, fair surfaces. No excuses there, he thinks to himself as he connects the trailer to the Suburban. The money he spent five years ago on a professional keel and bottom job was worth every penny. A quick check of the tie-down straps and he's off to the first event of the season. It's a short drive but he wants to get there early so that he and his crew have time to catch up with old friends.

As he drives past the travel lift, he slows to avoid a small crowd of BNs, yard workers, and spectators who have assembled for the commissioning of the newest of offshore one-designs. It is easy to pick out the owner. He is about ten years older, wearing foul weather gear that still shows the factory-pressed folds from the boutique he bought them at yesterday. He is trying to feel comfortable with his latest purchase. The professionals buzz around the boat, tightening this and polishing that. The owner does not want to get in the way so he stands there and watches, a little awkward, a little uncertain, not quite smiling. There is a PHRF race this weekend. He bought this boat because it is a one-design, but the first of the two one-design regattas he will attend this year isn't until next month, and the boat has to be trucked over a thousand miles away for that. If things turn out well, there will be eight boats.

Our Suburban circumvents the spectacle without attracting so much as a glance from the crowd. A few hours later, it arrives at the regatta site with its ten-year-old J/24 in tow. It is met with the customary waves and salutes of friends and acquaintances. The crew is there to help untie the boat. Most of them have been able to sneak out of work early on this Friday afternoon, but the foredeck person could not. He will arrive much later this evening. New arrivals and their obligatory welcomes occasionally interrupt the work. They are always happy to help another team step their mast because they will need the favor returned later.

The topic of discussion eventually turns toward crew weight. "The scale seems to be a little heavy," someone mentions. A short silence follows as they size each other up. "Better skip lunch and dinner until the whole crew weights in," the skipper announces. There is a communal groan. When the foredeck arrives, the boat is rigged and ready to race. They march as a team toward the registration desk. With hearts full of trepidation, they line up to be weighed. Shirts, belts, wallets, shoes, eyeglasses, anything that might tip events against them are shed before the dreaded physician's scale. They hold their breath, still dressed in nothing but boxer shorts as the female volunteer tallies the weights. Two pounds to spare! High fives all round as they make their way quickly toward the free pizza and beer.

Spouses, kids, and babysitters start to arrive. The atmosphere is friendly. There is a great shaking of hands. Old-timers, newcomers, and professionals mix with eager anticipation of tomorrow's race. The party slowly dwindles as most head back to their housing for a full night's rest. A few of the younger teams remain in a futile attempt to empty the beer truck of its precious cargo. Eventually even the most dedicated abandon their task and head off to bed.

The morning is cold with a brisk wind, reminiscent of the season recently endured. The first crews arrive at daybreak for some last-minute tweaking and tuning. They notice that a few more boats have complemented the fleet's number during the night, their crews hastily slurping steaming hot stimulants as they rush to get their boats wet. More and more teams arrive. The mood is somber. No kidding around now. This is serious business. Everyone wants to give it their all. Mumbled discussion about current and forecasts saturate the air. Shrouds are twanged, masts are sighted, and sails are bent on. "Looks like our old rival bought a new set of sails over the winter," the tactician notices. The owner looks down, shaking his head and shuffling his feet. A loud bang! Coffee spills and heads duck as the harbor start echoes across the parking lot. Thirty-some odd outboards, new and old, sputter to life.

The race committee boat at anchor bobs and rolls as each team sails by on starboard tack to announce their presence. Sail numbers are shouted. Somebody's mother, in a director's chair, clipboard in hand, answers the shout with a smile and a slight wave of the hand. The stern-faced chairman stares into the wind, talking confidently into a microphone. About a mile or so to windward, the mark-boat drops its load and heads back toward the gathering. Guns and flags! There is a deafening flutter of sails before the final report. The first race of the season is underway!

It isn't the new sails or the custom keel job that determine the day's heroes, although every little bit helps. It is the strained lifelines, the groaning bodies, the finesse of the helmsperson that are tested. Victory is squeezed slowly and painfully out of every square wave and every missed winch. Nylon demons thin the ranks. The race marches on, cruelly, mercilessly, until the unruly mob finally finds order at the finish line. The flood of emotion is overwhelming. For some it is the exhilaration of surviving their first J/24 race, or maybe it's the sound and smell of gunpowder for the victors. Others fight off frustration and insult, vowing to do better next time.

By late afternoon, the wet and weary throng turn their bows toward the harbor, bodies draped over the lifelines like laundry. Some huddle in the cramp spaces below deck for a short snooze, a content expression on everyone's face. As the fleet enters the harbor, they begin to form small rafts. The rubberized outer layers of clothing are peeled. The sun warms the steaming bodies as someone arrives with a tray laden with plastic cups filled to the brims with golden liquid. Wide smiles and laughter are everywhere.

The pasta dinner is delicious. Young children gather in small groups and play games that only they understand, adolescents practice their flirting skills, and everyone else gestures with hands at improbable angles.

In another part of the club, old and new rivals play out emotional dramas in front of a jury. Scores are posted and there is a great rush to see in print what they already know to be true. A more organized assault on the beer truck is underway. Late in the evening just when it seems that victory is at hand, a new keg is tapped and even the heartiest are vanquished.

Early the next afternoon the last boat crosses the line. The fat lady has sung. The visiting boats are hauled and the awards are dispensed. Photos are taken. Plans are made, and eventually good-byes are shared. Our Suburban returns to the yard. The J/24 is parked next to the Catalina. Someone has made progress stripping its bottom paint over the weekend, but there is still a lot more to go. It is hard to concentrate on work Monday morning. Phone calls and e-mails carry reciprocal thank-you's.

The sailing magazines don't wrap their contents with color pictures of J/24s anymore. Their advertisers are happier with more extravagant vessels. New J/24's are rare. They aren't the fastest, the most comfortable, or the least expensive of one-designs, but most weekends all across North America and in many places throughout the world, there is a J/24 event with a larger-than-average number of entries. So it should come as no surprise that the greatest sailors on earth have learned their craft from the people who sail J/24s.

Pentax's Championship Performance

Pentax®,or Polyethylene naphithaiate, is an Allied Signal product that is a close cousin to regular polyester. Fibers made from Pentax® polymer are more resistant to flex fatigue and UV radiation while maintaining more of their original strength for a longer time. The higher modulus, or lower stretch, of Pentax® make it ideal for use in sailcloth.

We didn't create that burning desire to succeed…we just satiate it.

The problem with striving for perfection is that the closer you get the more daunting the challenge. Such is the case with our J 24 sails. No matter how successful our sails, we keep searching for ways to improve them.

This year, we are proud to announce significant progress toward making all our sails smoother, faster and more forgiving to trim. Since Pentax® sail material will be legal in the j 24 class in 1999, we tested multiple genoa materials and shapes to guarantee that our sails will be fast right out of the bag. The mainsail and blade have been overhauled to extend their wind ranges and to make them smoother. Even the spinnaker has undergone a series of experiments and tests to achieve the absolutely perfect balance between maximum projected area and stability.

Faster sails do not always equate with results. At Shore Sails, we feel it is our job to keep you current with all the latest tips and techniques that slowly creep into J 24 racing. Our old tuning guide "How to Win in a J 24" was an excellent resource for many years. This year we decided to create a new booklet that covers all the most recent developments in rig tuning, sail trim, boat preparation, boat handling and driving techniques. Every J 24 should have a copy aboard. Download yours today, J 24 Tuning Guide.

 

Contact: Bill Shore

J 24 News
J 24 Tuning Guide


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