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An interview with Caroline Sundman about the 2019 J/70 North American Championship

by David Schmidt 18 Sep 08:00 PDT September 25-28, 2019
Darwin Escapes 2019 J/70 World Championships - Day 4 ©

Few boats have had the sheer impact on North America’s sailing landscape than the J/70, which first hit the water in 2012. Now, just seven years after yacht designer Alan Johnstone unveiled this crowd-pleasing design, the international class now has more than 1,500 boats sailing on the waters of some 25 countries and has held six world championship regattas in four different nations. While the numbers are impressive, it's the boat's ability to deliver fun and great times afloat for sailors of all levels, from Corinthian and club-level racers to elite-level teams, that has spurred participation both overseas and on American waters.

One great example of these good times is set to unfurl next week at the 2019 J/70 North American Championship, which will take place on the waters of Lake Erie from September 25-28, and which is being hosted by the Edgewater Yacht Club in Cleveland, Ohio.

Not surprisingly, the event is attracting top J/70 teams, including, but certainly not limited to, Joel Ronning’s Catapult, John and Molly Baxter’s Team Vineyard Vines, and Bruce Golison’s Midlife Crisis crews. Additionally, the event is attracting teams from Brazil, Canada, Chile, Mexico and at least 15 U.S. states.

If this sounds more like the kind of fielded entry list one might expect at a world-championship regatta, welcome to J/70 sailing. I checked in with Caroline Sundman, regatta co-chair of the 2019 J/70 North American Championship, via email, to learn more about this exciting championship-level regatta.

How many J/70s are you expecting at this year’s North Americans? Also, do you expect most boats to hail from the greater Ohio/Midwest area, or will you see teams from across the country?

It’s still a bit of a moving target. The majority of teams are from across the continental US, but we also have a handful of teams from Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Chile so that is really exciting!

Registrations from out of the country are light, but we are hoping to fill some charter boats and have a few more [late registrations].

What kind of weather conditions can sailors expect on Lake Erie in late September? What are the best-case and worst-case scenarios?

Lake Erie sailing at the end of the summer/early fall is one of the best times to sail in Cleveland! The weather is warmer and there is a great onshore breeze, providing steady conditions with some waves/light chop.

Offshore breeze can tend to be shifty, puffy conditions. Depending on the weather system, we can really see strong breeze with larger waves, but the average wind speed is around 9 – 14 [knots].

The advantage of sailing out of Edgewater Yacht Club is that the racecourse is only a few miles from the clubhouse, so we can be flexible on short notice.

The J/70 class has seen some “measurement infractions” (read: cheating), specifically at the 2017 J/70 Worlds in Porto Cervo, Italy. What steps will you and the other organizers take to ensure full equipment-rules compliance at this year’s North Americans?

Our committee and the International J/70 Class Association, as part of the Organizing Authority, has an effective system in place to catch problems. The class knows what to look for and infractions such as those in Italy have not resurfaced.

There will also be a Technical Committee and International Jury onsite throughout the event to ensure all Class Rules are adhered to.

If you could offer one piece of advice to visiting (and local) teams, what would it be?

Many people have the misconception that we are landlocked, or we sail on a small great lake. It’s far from the truth! I would advise teams to register, make their travel plans and come see what we have to offer.

Cleveland is a very affordable venue with great sailing conditions – especially in September. Cleveland is thriving right now! There has been a lot of excitement with our sports teams, it’s a foodie town with many James Beard award-winning restaurants, dozens of breweries, live music and events in town every night of the week.

This will be a very competitive event, but we are also looking forward to showing our guests a fun time onshore too.

Do you have any teams that you are eyeing for podium finishes? What about any dark horses who you think could prove to be fast, once the starting guns begin sounding?

There are some very competitive teams registered to attend! Stars + Stripes Team USA's Taylor Canfield is crewing on Pamela Rose's Rosebud, providing some tough competition. Bruce Golison’s Midlife Crisis has a very powerful, talented team and won in the J/70 class at Cleveland Race Week a few years ago, while Bazinga was the class winner this year, sailing with Ohio native Nick Turney.

Joel Ronning’s Catapult, Ryan McKillen’s Surge, and Travis Odenbach’s Honeybadger have always been teams to watch on the race course, along with Trey Sheehan’s Hooligan, Flat Stanley Racing, who is a local Clevelander.

In the ideal world, how many races do you and the other organizers hope to score? Also, how many races will you run per day?

We have a maximum of four races a day and up to 12 races for the series. We’re hoping to have a great four days of racing!

Can you tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the regatta’s environmental footprint or otherwise green-up the regatta?

We have been much more conscientious of “green practices” over the past few years. We have partnered with Sailors for the Sea on many events that we have held at Edgewater Yacht Club and that has been great in keeping us motivated and on track with these efforts.

I am also on the committee for Cleveland Race Week and we worked hard to become a Bronze Level Clean Regatta for the past two years now. We plan on implementing the same practices for this event.

We encourage the use of reusable water bottles by providing them to competitors in the registration bags, there are water[bottle]-refill stations and recycling bins at various locations around the club, we are working to eliminate the use of plastic straws and we’re making strides in eliminating additional waste using more eco-friendly products.

Anything else about the regatta that you’d like to add, for the record?

Leading up to the J/70 North American Championship, we have our PRO, Mark Foster, running the J/70 course at the Cleveland (216) Regatta. This event will be a great tune-up and opportunity to sail at the same venue with the same PRO right before the event.

The Cleveland (216) Regatta will be at Edgewater Yacht Club September 21st and 22nd.

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