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Melges 14 2018 Leaderboard

What do J/111s, the military, statisticians, and certain cereals have in common?

by John Curnow 12 Mar 14:00 PDT
Joust sailing at the 2017 J/111 World Championship in San Francisco © Chris Ray

The answer would be a fascination with clusters. Now our point of interest would be the J/Boats, and specifically the collection of five J/111s that are racing pretty competitively on Port Phillip right now. In and of itself, five is a good nest, but when it is five from the seven in the country, and also of the 120 around the globe, it is even more important to investigate.

So, yes, it is a very interesting little cluster for many a reason, not the least of which are the varied paths that the owner's took to get into the armada, but also their varied pedigrees, when it comes to sailing. One common theme amongst the owners is the appreciation of One Design, and the removal of the arms race. Another very clear component for them all was that they did not want to take all the furniture around with them, nor grade the oceans flat in a full displacement craft!

All of which are terribly pertinent facts on their own, yet possibly even more overarchingly they all described their 36-foot boats passionately, saying almost in unison, '...they are fun, affordable, and you don't have to run the navy to crew them'. The latter is also a critical comment, for the Alan Johnstone penned boats are being raced successfully around the globe; both short handed and fully crewed, for passage racing, and also around the cans.

We were fortunate enough to get to speak at length with three of the Melbourne Armada, and get a complete picture of why their J/111s are held in such high regard. Rod Warren owns Joust. The J/111 is Rod's first performance keelboat, for he was originally a Laser sailor. His crew have competed at three J/111 Worlds already – Rhode Island, Cowes and then San Francisco last year. Importantly, they were only two points off the money and landed third place there, collecting four bullets from nine races in the process!

Note the 2018 J/111 World Championship is in Holland. It is to be held from WV Breskens, near Utrecht, Netherlands from 22-26 August. Rod and the crew cannot get to that one, but are looking very seriously at Chicago in 2019, as indeed are one of the other Melbourne crews.

Rod quickly comments that appearing at the World Championships has been a 'baptism of fire', but he along with some of his fellow ex-Laser sailor mates who moved up to the J/111, they're also clear that this has improved their overall performance significantly. "There is a learning process with the keelboat over the dinghy. The extra competition has served us well as the local fleet has expanded. The new guys here have experience and good crew work, so we had to up the anti to match them. Our standard has improved in each year, no doubt in due partly to making the trips overseas."

"San Francisco had breeze and lumps, so we were used to that from Port Phillip. Hopefully the J/111 becomes THE OD fleet, taking over from Sydney 38, as the Farr 40 is too localised, and thus far the Fast40 has not taken hold. The J/111 is not too expensive, and I think this is why it is working out well."

"I had never been on a keelboat since about five years ago. We had a go at Safety Beach on the Mornington Peninsula, and had an absolute ball. It seemed a great thing, so here we are. It is a nice combination of a solid boat, with a little bit of speed. She will plane in over 20 knots of breeze. We sailed in Cowes with over 30 knots and had no problems." You can see the video of Big Tuesday below where it was blowing 30-35 and the boats were planing under full main and the A2l!!! It was a CVD for sure, with six kites blown that day.

"The J/111 is good in the light and good in heavy weather too. It is relatively easy to sail, and we do it mostly with eight POB. Our best so far is 22 knots of boat speed off the lumps of Port Phillip in a 30-knot Sou'wester. It might be all gung ho out on the water, but it is not an arms race. There is only one pro sailor per crew allowed, and this keeps it realistic, lowers costs too, which in turns means you sail with friends and enjoy the company of the others", said Warren.

"Sharing is caring and our esprit d corps is alive a well. You only get better if you push yourself. We are an open group and aware that we do not have sheep stations on the table. Stuart Lyon was the first with, Jake. The Adelaide boat is presently for sale, and there is one more J/111 in Queensland. Getting three or four more into Melbourne would work out well. The Farr 40s could stay in Sydney and the J/111s here in Melbourne, and we'd save on the trucking."

"So yes, 10 in the fleet would be good and very enjoyable. Momentum gets the next, and the one after that, and in doing so the critical mass is achieved", Warren said in closing.

Rob Date is up to his tenth iteration of, Scarlet Runner, so don't be fooled by it being called Scarlet Runner 11, he simply wanted to keep his Sm11 sail number. His is definitely the newest, having only hit the water mid-November, 2017. He was keen for there were already three at Sandringham when he ordered his, and he knew of another that was already on its way as well.

Whilst very much for taking his RP52 around the globe to compete in many of the great races, like the Cape2Rio, Date has also had Corsairs, S80s and a Sydney 38, so he knows both the arms race and OD quite well. "The last boat was an Adams 10 that was a wreck and we tricked it up. My daughter and her partner got into sailing on that, so we decided to step it up a little, hence the J/111."

"They are a great boat, that is nicely built and goes uphill well. They are quirky with car positions and also the inhaulers, but this makes it all good fun. Having the six J/111s here over Christmas was certainly a good and enjoyable thing, too."

"I'm not entirely ruling out offshore, seeing as I just bought a panel main (Cat 3) for the trip to Hamilton Island Race Week this year, and then also Lincoln Week next year. She'll go by truck to both of those locales, by the way, and in the meantime we will have some OD races at Geelong and Blairgowrie to keep having fun with these craft."

"Interestingly, they will do the same speed and depth as Sydney38, First40 when it is lighter, but then get up and boogie downhill at 20+. My original intention was a 40-foot race boat, but with the J/111 we discovered that we could enjoy sailing, and that they were not too much money, unlike a Fast40. The J/111 is a robust piece of equipment, and after all we have done over the years having fun is the key! We are all family or friends and having a blast. We have three female sailors on board and the loads are all inside their strength level. We also pick up a few kilos for crew weight, and we can sail with eight and still be inside the 650kg limit."

"In terms of polars, we are doing 165 to 168 degrees at 14+ TWS, which is similar to all the 36-40 footers. We'll hot it up to 150AWA doing 12 knots from 20, and in 25 knots TWS you'll easily get 16-18 knots of boat speed. We have not broken a thing so far, but yes, we have gone fishing for a krill a few times with the kite, but it is all good!"

"Uphill we'll make 7.1 to 7.3 in the flat at 38 to 40 AWA, and it drops to about 6.7 to 6.9 knots in the bumps of Port Phillip. It is a good boat, and I ordered the barest possible version, except for the carbon fibre wheel. I ticked no other boxes, so there is no extra aft quarter bunk, or a stove. I went for boat speed, TWA, TWS and a plotter to help with fixed marks, and of course, all the bricks around Hamilton Island."

The irrepressible character that is Rob Date went on to say, "Look I might get serious about a Worlds! We'll see about next year in Chicago. It does get me enthused, as I have not been on the water there. My Daughter, Bridgette, is off to do the J/24 World Championship soon, and she did not even sail a few years ago. Right now, however, it is more about some training days for Hammo (Hamilton Island), where a few old school mates are going to do the Passage Division, or Cruising with Spinnakers. The boat really lends itself to that with the lighter loads and it is very easy to handle."

Our final J/111 under review here is Playlist. It is important to pause (yes, pun fully intended) on the name for a second, because it reveals so much. Matt Powell, together with Glenn Chesser and John Cox own the boat, and Matt drives. Powell tells the story of the name; "We had a night out at Whitehaven Beach for the Hamilton Island Race Week lay day. Sitting on our charter cruising boat, drinking beer and having turns playing our iTunes playlists, we decided that when we finally get our own yacht together we would call her Playlist."

Ah yes. Never underestimate the power of a plan, for that is exactly what happened to the crew affectionately dubbed, 'The Rookies'. They saw an article in 2013 article on the J/111, and had eyes on it from then, buying in April of 2017. They previously had a cruising boat that they only used for racing, so the step up to the J/111 was significant, but also very much welcomed. The quorum is also motorcycle enthusiasts and has known each other for at least 12 years.

Now whilst John and Glenn are fairly new to it all, Matt actually has a history at Safety Beach dating back to cats and Fireballs, so that will give some idea as to the timeframe involved. He had a break to raise a family and so forth, but has been back into it for a little over five years now.

Playlist and her crew very much enjoyed being part of the six boat fleet of J/111s that attended the Australian Yachting Championship and then Festival of Sails at Geelong, where the crew nearly got up on the podium in the Super 11s Division.

Matt drives for the Windward/Leewards, John does the twilights, and Glenn does the trimming. They sail mostly eight up, which is a good number in a blow, but can do six, or four and even just two. "It is one of the reasons we chose the boat. It is fantastic boat to sail, for it feels more like a dinghy, rather than a barge. It is nippy, responsive on the helm, and you can feel the boat take off in a puff, planing in 18 to 20 knots, doing 16knots from 23 @140 degrees. Even in the light you can still feel it." "We are still learning about the sweet spot, but enjoying flat water and 10-12 knots. In one of the inter-club races, Scarlet Runner and Playlist were right beside each other, with an Adams 10 just behind us. The breeze then sprung up and both of us put half a leg on her."

"It is a comfortable boat uphill in 10-15, and downhill in 20-25, without being a wet boat as such. We all love planing and taking the wave in front, so if we are taking a bit of water, the boys and girls (we have one permanent female crew and others sometimes) are happy, because we are going fast! We can get well deep at 172 degrees"

"I could not speak highly enough of this boat. It is fantastic, and having the seasoned campaigners like Rob Date and Phil Simpfendorfer as part of the armada speaks for itself. They do handle the Port Phillip chop really well. We do like the OD element, which is pretty significant from a crew that cannot beat the crowd above us all the time (yet)", said Powell. Playlist could well be another to pop up for South Australia's famous Lincoln Week, so wait and see on that one.

Now to investigate why the J/111 is so much more than a cluster on a scatter graph, please see the J/111 site, and indeed here too. You can make enquires from the website, or email Yacht Spot, or simply call them on or call +61 2 9997 7158 and alternatively 0406 562 262.

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