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An interview with Donald Weld about the 2017 J/70 North Americans

by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor on 9 Oct 2017
Relative Obscurity – Audi J/70 World Championship Kurt Arrigo / YCCS
The J/70 class was first launched in 2012, and since then the speedy 23-footer has enjoyed a meteoric rise both in North America and around the world as the class offers tight, highly competitive racing, both in the open and Corinthian fleets. The 2016 Alcatel J/70 Worlds, which took place on San Francisco Bay, were attended by 68 boats, while the recently concluded 2017 Audi J/70 Worlds attracted a gob-smacking 162 registrants. To date, J/Boats has built more than 1,300 of these easily trailerable sportboats, making the J/70 the most popular One Design of its size since Rod Johnstone, J/Boats’ founder, created the can-do J/24 in 1977.

The 2017 J/70 North American Championships are set to unfurl on the waters of Long Island Sound and will be hosted by the American Yacht Club from October 9-15. Given the number of sailors living in the greater New England and Northeast regions, it’s not surprisingly that this regatta is attracting the kinds of numbers that would be the swooning envy of plenty of world championships.

While Long Island Sound isn’t exactly a world-class sailing destination during the hot and sticky summer months, it becomes a whole new animal during the first months of fall, with autumn breezes supplying the thing sailors love most. Moreover, the Sound’s geography is such that, unless the wind is piping from 090 degrees on the compass rose, the seas should be relatively flat, making for fast, planing friendly downhill rides on these A-sail-powered sportboats.

I caught up with Donald Weld, regatta chairman of the 2017 J/70 North American Championships, via email, to learn more about this exciting event.

How are your entry numbers looking for this year’s J/70 North Americans? Also, is this an upward or downwards trend over last year’s event?
We currently have 59 boats registered, and we are expecting 65 to 70 boats to ultimately join us. In 2016 there were 41 so we are seeing a substantial uptick in participants. The North East location and the continued growth in the class likely explain the growth in numbers. There will be prizes for both the Open and designated Corinthian teams.

Who do you see as the main players at this regatta? Any teams that we should be paying special attention to during the event?
It’s shaping up to be a very deep fleet. Obviously, the recently crowned 2017 World Champion Peter Duncan will be attending as he is a former AYC Commodore. Jud Smith, who won crewing with Peter, will be sailing his own boat and is very skilled. Most of the 2016 top ten finishers are also joining us, including Bruce Golison, Bruno Pasquinelli, Will Welles, Phil Haegler, Brian Keane and Trey Sheehan.

Has the J/70 class ever held a major regatta on the waters of Long Island Sound before, or will this year’s NAs be making class history?
This will be the class’s first NA's here in Long Island sound. There is a large and growing fleet in the region, and [the AYC is] pleased to host this event. In 2015 we hosted the Etchells North Americans and in 2016 the International Women's Keel Boat Championship. We also host the annual spring and fall series, which are very well known regional big-boat events.

Given what happened at the 2017 J/70 Worlds, where seven boats were rejected from the regatta for failing to meet the class’s measurement and One Design requirements, are you at all concerned that there might be tomfoolery at play at the NAs?
My understanding is that all the boats [that were] thrown out were from the Italian fleet so we don't have that problem source. That being said, the J/70 Class is very aware of the potential problem and are sending a dedicated and independent measurement team (not AYC members) to make sure there are no shenanigans.

Will the regatta be taking any extra steps to ensure that all boats and teams comply with class rules?
In addition to examining the hulls and foils, all sails will be measured, boats weighed (where they haven't been previously weighed by the class) and safety equipment checked.

Mark Foster, who was the PRO for the recent world's will be our PRO and we have a strong international jury with US, Canadian and European judges in attendance.

What kind of steps have you and the regatta taken to lower the event’s environmental footprint?
Honestly, no specific or unique steps. We have an ongoing green initiative at AYC and we have an excellent recycling program, but nothing special for this event beyond our general AYC green program.

Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?
We have an excellent entertainment schedule planned. The American Yacht Club is 35 minutes from New York City by Metro North. We’ll have a very experienced race committee, and a lovely venue on Long Island Sound.

Hopefully we won't have the whales that were here for the Etchells NAs where one Ohio boat actually ran into one (everyone was fine, including the blubbery one).

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