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An interview with Sam Mcguire on the 2020 J/22 and J/24 East Coast Championships

by David Schmidt 13 Oct 2020 08:00 PDT October 17-18, 2020
J/24s making tracks to windward © 2020 J/22 and J/24 East Coast Championships/Pelican Photography

Fall can be a bittersweet time for East Coast sailors. Winter isn’t far over the horizon, yet fall brings cooler temperatures, markedly less humidity, and some of the year’s best breeze and racing conditions. This is especially true for the Chesapeake Bay, where the 2020 J/22 and J/24 East Coast Championships, which are being organized by the Severn Sailing Association, U.S. J/24 Fleet 8, and U.S. J/22Fleet 19, are set to unfurl from October 17-18 on the waters near the mouth of the Severn River.

While J/22s and J/24s are not new designs, these classic keelboats have long attracted some of the country’s—and the world’s—fastest sailors, and, as a result, both classes offer some of the most competitive One Design keelboat racing afloat.

Couple October’s usually fantastic conditions on the Chesapeake Bay with these highly competitive classes and with the historic (and sailing-obsessed) town of Annapolis, Maryland, and the result is almost always a regatta to savor long after fall’s nip has given way to winter’s full-scale chill.

I checked in with Sam Mcguire, who serves as the Severn Sailing Association’s J/24 fleet captain, via email, to learn more about this exciting regional championship regatta.

What kind of entry numbers are you expecting this year?

We hope to have 15-20 J/24s and expect the same number of J/22s as well. The last few years, we have been averaging around 30 J/24s and 20 J/22s.

Our regatta has been steadily growing over the last five years, and while this year certainly has its challenges, we look forward to welcoming back all of our friends and competitors.

Do you have your eye on any pre-racing favorites in both classes? What about any dark horses?

I would say Tony Parker and the Bangor Packet team is the prohibitive favorite. He won the J/24 Midwinters in February and is an incredible J/24 sailor and supporter of the class. This is the 42nd J/24 East Coast Championship, and I believe Tony has sailed every ECCs!

Many of the out-of-town boats from upstate New York and Maine will be giving Tony a run for his money, but the Bangor Packet is definitely the hometown favorite.

In the J/22 class, I’d have to say Jeff Todd and his team on Hot Toddy are the team to beat. They consistently score in the top three of this event, and [they] have been sailing incredibly well all year long.

How many racecourses will be operating simultaneously? Also, how many races per day (and for the entire regatta) does the race committee hope , provided that the weather cooperates?

We will race on one circle, and [we] are planning on seven races [total].

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter off of Annapolis in late October? Also, what are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

October sailing in Annapolis is best sailing anywhere in the country. In the summer, it is often hot, hazy and humid. The winds are predictably light and variable and there is a tremendous amount of powerboat slop.

However, after Labor Day, the days get a little shorter, the air is little crisper and most of powerboats are gone.

We will have cold fronts rolling through regularly and invariably, we will have at least one day that will blow “the dogs off the chains” with a Northwesterly blowing 25-30+.

This is typically followed by a big southerly the next day, offering competitors fun and challenging conditions. The water temperature is still warm in mid-October, so you do not mind getting dunked. We put on our boots, hank on the jibs, and hang on for a wet and wild time.

The worst-case scenario would be a full-fledged hurricane, and this being 2020, we can't rule that out. Fingers crossed though!

How important do you think local knowledge will be? Also, do you expect most visiting teams to arrive early and acclimatize to conditions?

Current can be a big factor when sailing off Annapolis. Many of our competitors have sailed here many times and are familiar with the lay of the land, so to speak.

We are expecting new-comer Erica Trejo and her J/24 Boat Grant team from Chicago. We will team them up with a local pro on Friday for some tuning and help get them up to speed with the Annapolis area.

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

Enjoy being on the water, enjoy sailing with your closest friends, and enjoy great racing in most competitive keelboat class of all time!

What kinds of safe-play pandemic tactics are you expecting from the racers on the water? Also, do you expect that this will be a highly competitive event, or—given the pandemic—is the spirit of this year’s event more about getting out on the water for some friendly racing?

Many teams are choosing to sail with four up on the J/24, as opposed to a full crew of five. We strongly encourage mask use on the water and [we] mandate it off the water on all club premises.

A few weeks ago, we had the Annapolis NOOD, which was a huge success. This was the first large weekend regatta of 2020 and they did an excellent job with electronic check-ins, drive-by skippers bag pickups and virtual awards. Every sailor had a grin from ear to ear and [was] just happy to be racing again.

We are working with our fleets and Severn Sailing Association to implement the same policies to ensure everyone has a safe and fun regatta.

This regatta always attracts the best J/24 and J/22 sailors on the East Coast, and while this year may look a little different than years past, I expect it to be highly competitive. Don’t get me wrong—this is a fun, friendly crowd, but once you’re on the starting line, it’s go time!

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?

The Severn Sailing Association has been at the forefront in reducing our environmental footprint on the Chesapeake Bay. From installing a water bottle filling station to planting [an] oyster garden onsite, they are committed to efforts large and small.

They are currently in the process of a major infrastructure program aimed at reducing the effects of storm water and runoff into our watershed. We continue to look at ways the club and our fleets can be a leader in green initiatives.

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

Yes, to say that 2020 has been a disruptive year is an understatement, but it has also come with a silver lining. Instead of carrying on with status quo in terms of our sailing season, it has allowed adapt to this new normal. While we were on lockdown the sailing community as a whole and our J/24 Fleet 8 specifically shifted our focus to fleet development. We organized multiple webinars and zoom calls with Coach Robby Brown to go over every aspect on how to better sail a J/24.

In June, we were able to start our weeknight racing once again. Our local fleet held a sail auction fundraiser and used the proceeds to hire local pros as coaches, and made them available to any team who wanted their input. We felt that this was away to take advantage of our strong weeknight program and also help teams feel more competitive towards larger championship level regattas.

With the lower expected entries this year, we decided to cut our typical three days of racing down to two. We lowered the entry fees substantially, and on Friday October 16, we will offer a speed and tuning clinic held by North American Champion Robby Brown in the morning, followed by practice races in the afternoon.

Our goal is to get as many J/24s and J/22s as possible out on the racecourse for the best fall sailing on the East Coast.

Come see what the East Coast Championships are all about and join in on the fun!

For more info, visit our regatta website: www.j24eastcoastchampionship.com, and to check out our fleet webinars, go to www.j24fleet8.com

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