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North Sails 2021 LEADERBOARD

Linda Ambrose and Marty McKenna on the 2021 J/70 North American Championship

by David Schmidt 6 May 08:00 PDT May 9-15, 2021
J70 Nationals at Plymouth day 3 © Tom Gruitt /

The J/70 may only be 22-plus feet long, but this hasn't stopped it from making an indelible mark on the One Design racing world since it first debuted in 2012. The boats are commonly sailed with crews of either three or four, and a glance at the entry list of any high-level J/70 regatta reveals that many of the biggest names in the sport are active and enthusiastic J/70 sailors.

The boats are designed to sail in a wide range of conditions, from zephyrs to San Francisco-style strong airs, and it doesn't take much to get the kite filled and the crew grinning, especially if great competition is part of the day's equation.

Given the sailing-obsessed nature of Annapolis, Maryland, it's not surprising that the class has been active on these storied waters from its earliest days. It also makes sense that the area has been home to high-level J/70 regattas, including the 2021 J/70 North American Championships, which are being hosted by the Annapolis Yacht Club (AYC) from May 9-15.

I checked in with Linda Ambrose, who serves as the AYC's Harborside Director, and Marty McKenna, who serves as the regatta’s event chair, via email, to learn more about this exciting championship-level One Design regatta.

What kind of entry numbers are you seeing this year? Also, how do these stack up to previous editions of the regatta?

Annapolis Yacht Club hosted the first North American Championship for the J/70s in 2013 with 90 entries, and although Rochester Yacht Club came close to that mark the following year the average number [for North Americans regattas] has been in the 40s.

Originally the 2021 event was capped at 60 entries with a waitlist due to the need to manage the number of people on the property at AYC plus our sister clubs in Annapolis, Eastport Yacht Club and Severn Sailing Association [SSA], but [we] now expect 70 boats to compete. Both [sister] clubs are opening their dry-sail areas and docks to take overflow for the event, which is an enormous help while running an event during the pandemic.

The first 60 entries came in two-plus hours after opening registration at noon on January 5th with a waitlist of over 20 boats by early February.

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter on the Chesapeake Bay in May? Also, what are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

The great part about Annapolis in the spring is you can really get any condition and likely will see a wide range of outcomes. With the land warming up at that time of the year, but the water still relatively cool, you can see a good sea breeze on a sunny day.

At that time of the year however, we often have solid gradient winds that can make for a lot of fun.

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

With the current frequently wreaking havoc on the course, especially for visiting yachtsmen, we are hosting a local-knowledge webinar, presented by Quantum Sail Design, on the first day of registration, as well as a virtual Competitors' Meeting presented by North Sails the night before the event to provide as much information as possible to all competitors.

The afternoon before racing begins the Race Committee and local sailmakers will be on the water running practice starts to shake down boats and crews.

A large number of competitors will be in town two weeks prior to the NAs to attend the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta. The AYC will have most of the same RC team on the J/70 circle as the North Americans so they too can “tune-up” for the event.

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

Read everything ever written by Dr. Stuart Walker before you get here. Dr. Walker was a sailing legend here and a founder of SSA. He was also a great author, writing foundational books on wind and strategy, and [he] wrote essays on sailing in Annapolis that explain racing nuances here better than anyone before or since.

Dr. Walker passed away just a few years ago, but was racing as recently as 2016 on the Bay and was enshrined into the Sailing Hall of Fame here in Annapolis in 2013.

Obviously organizing and running a big regatta amidst a pandemic isn't easy. Can you tell us about the biggest logistical and organizational hurdles that you've had to clear to make this happen?

The biggest challenge of course is planning for the unknown. We have involved our local authorities, our fleet surgeon, our yacht club staff and our fleet members to help us make the best decisions. We have also sought advice from organizing authorities that held races this winter to see what they did and what they would change [if they had to] do it over again.

All of that knowledge has been incorporated into our current thinking, but we know the next couple of months will continue to be fluid.

What kinds of safe-play pandemic tactics are you expecting from the racers on the water? Also, what kind of shoreside Covid precautions will the event employ? Spreading out the competitors both on land with their trailers but also with in water storage during the event which is mandatory, is a big help.

Currently Maryland is still under strict pandemic restrictions on large outdoor gatherings so our goal is to keep sailors to their assigned locations at all times (we'll be assigning colored wristbands by club), no-rafting orders are still in place and we're considering a schedule to have "x" number of people on the property at any time.

AYC's Wednesday Night Racing will not be held during the NAs so that we minimize the number of people on the club properties beyond the championship attendees.

As we are upholding the no-rafting policy we will remind competitors of this while they are in between races, under AP, etc.

With no social events planned we will be monitoring the number of competitors gathering on the property before and after racing outside of boat prep and post-competition clean up or repairs, and [we] ask that the property is vacated as soon as possible.

Will the AYC run a "traditional" racecourse that's set and maintained using mark boats or will the event transition to using MarkSetBots (or GPS-enabled autonomous mark bots of a similar ilk)? If the answer is yes, what drove this change; if it's a no, what's the reluctance/hesitation?

AYC used a MarkSetBot for a number of regattas last summer and depending upon what we have at our disposal, will have a combination of traditional pin/mark boats on the course and GPS driven marks.

In 2020 we used the one we had on hand as the starting line pin for a number of regattas. We were super impressed when we had it reset the starting line in a matter of minutes when adjusting between size of fleets/boats.

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 are continuing to do our part for the environment at AYC and the J/70 North Americans will reflect this. As mentioned above, we will use BOTs based on the number we have at the time. We will promote our water [bottle]-refill station for refillable water bottles, and [we] will set up additional recycling and trash receptacles provided by our environmental committee so that we can separate waste and deposit [it] in the appropriate dumpster on the property.

We have stopped printing sailing instructions for competitors as everything is available online and will have little to no paperwork required for the event.

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

Although this is a single-class [regatta] so the number of signal boat flags needed is low, AYC has been running regattas under Appendix U since we starting racing again last June. This has allowed us to limit the number of hands needed on the signal boat and keep everyone as safe as possible. The RC has been wearing masks on board when serving since last June unless there's a "bubble/quarantine" crew on board.

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