Seven J/109s made it to the start for the 2020 Nationals, held as part of this years J-Cup and hosted by the Royal Ocean Racing Club in Cowes. The fleet demonstrated the two key qualities of the class; close one design racing and the ability to involve your family in a top class regatta.
Five of the seven crews contained multiple family members. Mike and Susie Yates with their son Cameron on Jago; three members of the Sheldon family on Brown Teal, a regular charter participant in class racing; Simon Perry with children Tom and Alice and their respective godfathers on Jiraffe; and Dave Richards and his daughter on Jumping Jellyfish.
But make no mistake, a family friendly class doesn’t come at the expense of competitive one design racing. With two past national champions in the fleet (John Smart’s Jukebox and Jumping Jellyfish) amongst a bevvy of other regular participants including the RAF on Red Arrow and Rob Cotterill’s team on Mojo Risin’, it was always going to be a competitive event.
This year’s J-cup was rescheduled from it’s original dates earlier in the year as a result of the COVID situation and it was necessary to make some changes to comply with current best practice to prevent the spread of the disease. Crew numbers were limited to 80% of the certificated number, which meant the J/109s were restricted to 6 crew vs. the usual 8. Daily prize givings were split into two groups and were table seated. The pubs in Cowes high street were also only serving at pre-booked tables. But in spite of this, the regatta had the familiar festival feel of past J-Cups.
Principal Race Officer, Stuart Childerley and his team on the committee boat had to deal with a variety of conditions. Two races were lost from the original schedule, one due to too much wind and the the other due to too little. But quick and clear decisions over the radio ensured that they got enough races in to complete the series with a discard to spare.
Day 1 was windy. Following registration, the fleet was on the water in time for a starting sequence commencing at 1:00pm in the expectation of two races. With winds in the high teen’s Stuart elected not to invoke the restriction on spinnakers that was available to him in the sailing instructions and pushed ahead with the start. Most went ahead with a full main, but Mike Yates on Jago put a reef in before the start, then managed to get into a controlling position below John Smart on Jukebox, forcing the defending champion over the line. The reefed main did nothing to impede Jago’s progress upwind and it was Jiraffe, closely followed by Jago who reached the windward mark first. Both chose to keep their spinnakers firmly below decks, a decision which was proven correct when first Jumping Jellyfish, then Jukebox hoisted in an attempt to catch up. Jellyfish looked good at first, but ultimately spun out, closely followed by Jukebox. Winds were approaching 35 knots when Stuart advised over the radio that there would be no second race. Phew! Jiraffe led overnight, followed by Jago and Jumping Jellyfish. Jukebox came in 6th, sandwiched between Brown Teal in 5th and just ahead of Red Arrow in 7th.
Day 2 was lighter, with 9 to 12 knots for most of the day. The defending national champion showed the skills that handed them the title in 2019 and scored three straight bullets. As last year, Jukebox was sailing in the traditional rig configuration for J/109s with an overlapping Genoa and no inhaulers. Mojo Risin’ adopted the same configuration, but the rest of the fleet have invested in new non-overlapping sails and in-haulers. This becomes the sole configuration allowed for one-design J/109 events from 2021, but this year’s event was the last to be held under the transitional period where both configurations are acceptable. In the lighter conditions of Day 2, Jukebox had a modest advantage from the bigger headsail, but this did nothing to detract from the quality of the racing and at various times most of those rigged with non-overlappers were able to match Jukebox for speed.
Going into the final day, another light one, it seemed that Jukebox, courtesy of three bullets the day before, had the regatta pretty much sewn up and the battle for second was to be contested between Jumping Jellyfish, Jago and Jiraffe with Brown Teal still in contention.
Stuart pushed ahead with the first start, but as the fleet approached the windward mark, the wind dropped below 5 knots and large holes appeared all over the Solent. To the relief of all but Red Arrow, who had clawed up the left hand side of the beat to close on the windward mark at the top of the fleet, the PRO chose to abandon the race.
After a short break the wind returned and allowed the second race of the day to get started. The fleet bunched towards the committee boat end of the line. Jukebox was at the leeward end of the bunch and pushed out to the left of the beat. Possibly there was more foul tide here, or perhaps they were unlucky with the shifts, but this was not the place to be and in sharp contrast to the prior day, they ended up last around the windward mark, clawing their way back to 5th by the finish. Jiraffe managed a win, just ahead of Brown Teal, then Jumping Jellyfish. This heralded a radical turn around in the results, leaving Jiraffe in the lead by 1 point, but with two firsts vs the three of Jukebox, requiring Jiraffe to beat Jukebox in the final race in order to snatch the title from them.
As the attention signal for the final race sounded, the instruments were recording 15 knots and Jukebox looked to be going for the J2, potentially eliminating their advantage over the non-overlapping rigs. Halfway up the first leg, it looked like Jiraffe and Jukebox challenging for the lead, but on different sides of the beat. As the two came together, it was Jiraffe who narrowly held the advantage, rounding the windward mark just meters ahead of Jukebox. A battle ensued downwind with Jukebox trying high and low in an attempt to gain an advantage on Jiraffe. This continued up the next beat and into the final run without change. As the two approached the final downwind mark all the cat and mouse antics had allowed Jumping Jellyfish to claim the lead, but Jiraffe in second still led Jukebox by less than a meter, closing to less than half of that as the two headed up into the finish. Jukebox was denied any opportunity to pass and with a second in the final race, Jiraffe gained the title of J/109 National Champion, 2020.
As the overall results were totted up, Jukebox finished second to Jiraffe with Jumping Jellyfish in third. There was some consolation for Jago in fourth as Key Yachting recognised the beautiful finish on their blue hull and awarded them the concours d’elegance prize. There is currently no recognition of the best turned out crew, but were this to be instigated, it would surely have gone to the crew of Red Arrow who managed to look particularly smart at the prize giving despite all six of them having slept aboard for the duration of the regatta.
In spite of the challenges of social distancing, this was a fantastic regatta and huge thanks are due to Stuart and the race team and to the staff at RORC and Key Yachting for delivering another great event. Thanks to Paul Wyeth for some excellent photos and thanks also to all the competitors who managed to put a team together this year. We very much hope that we’ll be able to encourage a few more onto the water for some excellent, family friendly but competitive one-design racing next year.