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Wings rises to new heights at the J/88 Midwinters

by J/Boats 9 Feb 06:23 PST
J/Fest Regatta in St. Petersburg © J/Boats

Taking on a new sailing challenge is nothing new for Mike Bruno. Through nearly three decades of racing he and his team have raced, and succeeded, in several different boats.

So, when the J/88 launched onto the scene Mike jumped in and the Wings program had a new sailing challenge to conquer. Fresh of their recent win at J/Fest in St. Petersburg we wanted to know more about the Wings team and their thoughts on their 3Di sails.

NORTH: Mike, first of congratulations to you and your team on Wings for your continued success in the J/88. Can you share with us a little bit about your sailing background and how long have you been sailing in the J/88 class?

BRUNO: Thanks! We are having fun with Wings and continue to learn more and more about sailing the J/88 fast. Insofar as how we got this far, I started out as casual cruising sailor and began racing about 25 years ago. I would say that in the past 15 years or so we have gotten fairly serious about racing and being competitive. We had a Jonmeri 40 named Karjala that I raced for many years, then a series of "Wings".

First was a J/124 I raced for two years. It was a nice boat, but we found it to have a tough rating to sail to, so we traded it for a J/122.

The J/122 really was a great step and I successfully campaigned that boat, with a few partners, for eight years as a one-design. The J/122 program brought us some great results, including winning the North American title twice and a Rolex award at a New York YC regatta. That brought us to the current Wings, the J/88, which I bought the 3 years ago. We have really enjoyed this program and had great wins including the inaugural J/88 North Americans as well as a big J/88 class win at Key West Race Week.

NORTH: The pictures from the J/Fest Regatta in St. Petersburg made it appear that you had good breeze for the event. Did the conditions match up with the pictures throughout the championship?

BRUNO: St. Petersburg Yacht Club runs excellent events and Tampa Bay can be a bit "challenging", so you really never know what you will get on any given day, especially in the winter. That said, the sailing conditions at the J/Fest were certainly fair. Across the entire event, I'd say the breeze ranged from 8-20 knots. I think the cooler conditions (locals may call it "unseasonable") played a role in how much pressure we had throughout the weekend. Also, Tampa Bay is quite shallow so there was a reasonable amount of sea state but the very steady breeze overall and significant shifts kept every team on their toes and working hard looking for opportunities to be gained via tactics and gear changing.

NORTH: Can you tell us a little bit about your team, who does what, and how long have you all been together?

BRUNO: The team is really made up of a large group of great friends and awesome sailors and, like many others, we find we are rotating in and jumbling pieces for any particular event to make sure we, not only do well, but have fun.

For J/Fest Midwinters I helmed and had Chris Morgan, a local Floridian, trim main and work with me on our overall speed. Stu Johnstone was our tactician and he really had a great feel for the bay the entire weekend. Tim Randall ran the pit for us while Mike Booker did all the headsail trimming and Stephen Yip ran the bow.

NORTH: Looking back through the weekend what were the keys to your success at the Midwinters?

BRUNO: It's a great question, as it forces me to look back and try to pinpoint a few things I think we did really well.

1. The biggest thing was we were just able to sail a bit higher and faster than the fleet much of the time. A lot goes into that for sure. The team really worked hard on proper rig tune and working the sails and trim constantly to maximize the boats potential but our new sails were probably the most significant difference in our ability to make that happen.

2. Our crew work was excellent! As a skipper knowing that your team can execute any maneuver at a seconds notice and pull it off without a hitch is a huge confidence builder for the entire boat. It seems that at almost every mark rounding we seemed to gain 1-3 boat lengths.

3. I mentioned earlier that Stu Johnstone called tactics for the weekend; he was really on tactically this regatta, just incredible! Stu didn't miss anything, which also gave us terrific confidence. We did make a few mistakes in the event, including being over early at the start in two races. In the last race, we were over (again) and we re-started, probably, 300 yards behind fleet. But, Stu got us back in the game, and we kept using our boat speed and crew work to do all we could to gain distance. Remarkably, we still nearly won the race- just a 1/4 boat length off! I guess maybe the new saying is "When you have a great team and fast sails it's never over until it's over!"

NORTH: What are your 2019 sailing plans for the J/88?

BRUNO: Wings has a very full 2019 sailing calendar. We have already done the Egmont Key Race and St. Pete J/Fest. Up next in February is the St Pete NOODs, and then we head up to Charleston Race Week in April. From there the team will go back north for the American Yacht Club Spring and Fall Series, Cedar Point One Design Regatta, Block Island Race Week, possibly the New York Yacht Club 175th Regatta, as well as J/Fest in Newport, with a focus on the J/88 North Americans in mid-October at Larchmont YC.

NORTH: Thanks Mike and congratulations, again. Sounds like you have a full schedule set with an awesome team. Good luck the rest of the year, have fun and sail fast!

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