Seventeen J/109s battled for One-Design victory at Cowes 2019, but in spite of assembling one of the mosts competitive fleets in recent history, the Dutch team aboard Jack Rabbit delivered another convincing victory, winning every race.
The J/109 entry list of seventeen matched the numbers of last year, but 2019 delivered a more competitive fleet with last years winner, Caroline Van Beelen and Rutger Krijger’s Jack Rabbit attending to defend their title; the return of Arjen van Leeuwen’s Joule after a year away from Cowes; John Smart’s Jukebox, the current National Champion; past National Champions Dave Richard’s Jumping Jellyfish and Jolly Jack Tar from the RNSA, past Cowes Week winner Neil McGrigor’s Boo with class veterans Mike Ewart-Smith and Ben Richards aboard and finally Chris Preston’s Jubilee and Simon Perry’s Jiraffe who have been battling out between themselves for the other big titles during this season.
The Cowes Week fleet is traditionally bolstered by the addition of a number of very competitive teams who charter for the week and this year saw the return of two teams from the Royal Yacht Squadron, Brown Teal under the command for most of the week of the current commodore, Jamie Sheldon, and Jazzy Jellyfish under the command of ex-commodore Christopher Sharples. Nick Southward also returned with his team of formerly Hong Kong based yachtsmen in Whiskey Jedi and Kevin Sussmilch chartered Jybe Talkin’ and renamed her Sunset Rum for the event.
This is the first year that J/109s have been one-design racing in a transitional period following a change to the class rules which will see the fleet drop their traditional overlapping headsails for a non-overlapping sail configuration which will bring the one-design rule into closer alignment with the favoured configuration for IRC optimised competition. During the transitional period boats can race together on a level rating basis with either the old or the new configuration.
All year, debates have raged as to which configuration will dominate in the round the cans racing of Cowes Week and many opted to stay with the additional reaching power of the old overlapping set up. In the varied conditions experienced at Cowes this year, it was hard to reach a clear conclusion on which setup is favoured. In the end, the winner was in traditional overlapping configuration, 2nd and 3rd on new non-overlapping sails, 4th and 5th on traditional and 6th and 7th on new. It didn’t seem to make a lot of difference.
Strong winds resulted in the first day of racing being abandoned for all classes in Black and White Group and the heavy winds continued to dominate the rest of the week. But in spite of the challenging conditions, the race committee did a fantastic job and managed to get the rest of the Black Group racing schedule completed.
Sunday’s start on the RYS Line in steadily building winds saw Jack Rabbit set the trend for the week with an early lead to the windward mark, followed by Jiraffe and Brown Teal. But Brown Teal struggled downwind with a young crew at the front in the heavy wind, now closing on 30 knots, and Jubilee lead a steady charge up through the fleet to finish third with Jumping Jellyfish in hot pursuit.
Monday saw less wind and after a delay to the start, racing got underway on the Bramble Line. Again, Jack Rabbit took an early lead with Boo chasing hard. Behind them, the fleet was settled into an established procession until the final leg, a long return from the Eastern Solent to the breakwater line where shifting winds caused opportunity for a shake up in the order. Joule held on for a solid third position and Jiraffe, who had been buried at the penultimate mark, took advantage of the shifts to claw back to fourth, just crossing ahead of Jubilee at the very finish.
Tuesday’s winds were more consistent and delivered the strongest challenge on Jack Rabbit’s supremacy with Jubilee raging up the first beat after a mid-fleet start, chasing them hard down the run, then showing tremendous speed up the second beat to cross within feet of the Dutch. But again, Jack Rabbit was able to extricate itself from Jubilee’s grip and execute their third straight bullet.
Then the wind arrived to deliver three days of very challenging, boat breaking sailing. The undeniable star of Wednesday’s race was Arjen van Leeuwen’s Joule. As the wind built and the fleet neared the end of a zig zag course up the Western Solent, Joule, then firmly mid-fleet, hoisted their green A4 in 28 knots of wind and screamed into the gybe mark, passing three boats, executed a faultless gybe and set out toward the finish, overhauling Jubilee to take a spectacular second from Jack Rabbit.
Thursday’s challenger was Jiraffe, who led Jack Rabbit around the first half of the course, losing out for the lack of an A5 on a short, tight reach, finishing just behind them after another opportunity on the final run when Jack Rabbit was forced to peel from their A5 to the A2 to avoid being overhauled.
Going into the final race, Jack Rabbit had the regatta sewn up but raced to keep themselves in the hunt for Black Group overall in the vain hope that Giovanni Belgrano’s Whooper, in Class 6, might miss a bullet (he didn’t). After a fifth on Thursday, Jubilee needed to beat Jiraffe by two places to take second overall. Jubilee sailed a strong first beat, quickly gaining second behind Jack Rabbit, with Brown Teal in third and Jiraffe in fourth. But after a long, port heavy beat away from the island shore, Jiraffe managed to squeeze past Brown Teal to snatch a third, one place behind Jubilee, which was all they needed to take second overall.
Ashore, the fleet enjoyed the delights and festival atmosphere of Cowes Week to the full. Jubilee hosted a fantastic Dock Party on Sunday, but moved the location from the dock to The Green in order to watch the spectacular SailGP event.
Then on Tuesday the class had over 100 helms and crew at a hog roast at Cowes Corinthian Yacht Club where Jukebox were the lucky winners of a new set of jib sheets, kindly donated by Caroline Van Beelen and Rutger Krijger of VB Ropes (and Jack Rabbit). In between mouthfuls of hog and sips of Dark and Stormies, there was much discussion on the difficulty of extracting maximum speed from a non-overlapping jib, the pros and cons of sailing your own boat to Cork for next year’s 300th anniversary regatta and of appropriate fender and flag etiquette. Fitting topics for such a crowd at Cowes Week.