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An interview with Tonja Sanchez-Holmes on the 2022 J/24 U.S. National Championship

by David Schmidt 25 May 2022 08:00 PDT May 23-28, 2022
Racecourse action at the 2011 J/24 U.S. National Championship, which also took place at the Dallas Corinthian Yacht Club © mcdonald photography, www.mcdonaldphoto.com

The numbers don’t lie: The J/24, with some 5,500 boats sailing in almost 30 countries across at least five continents, is the world’s most popular keelboat. Impressive metrics for a small keelboat that designer Rod Johnstone created in his garage in Stonington, Connecticut, in 1975. Ragtime was launched in May of 1976, and it didn’t take Johnstone and company long to show the sailboat-racing world that there was a new sheriff in town.

Newer designs of similar ilk have followed, some by J/Boats, but none have (yet) created the near-cult-like following that J/24s enjoy, nor the critical mass of talent that the class brings to the starting lines of national and international regattas.

Take this year’s J/24 U.S. National Championship, which is being hosted by the Dallas Corinthian Yacht Club, in Oak Point, Texas, from May 23-28. The event has attracted 24 teams from three countries (Japan, Mexico, and the USA), 12 states, and Puerto Rico. More importantly, the entry list also includes some of the biggest names in the class, which is now well into its fifth decade of high-level racing.

I checked in with Tonja Sanchez-Holmes, co-chair of the 2022 J/24 U.S. National Championship and the J/24 governor's representative and class measurer, via email, to learn more about this exciting One Design keelboat event.

Can you please tell us a bit about the state of the J/24 class, its current culture and competition levels, and the kinds of sailors that one can expect to encounter at this year’s North Americans?

The J/24 class remains one of the most recognized international one-design keelboats. The J/24 attracts sailors of all ages and experience levels, and in recent years, the J/24 class has put a focus on promoting the Kelly Holmes-Moon Youth Grant Program, which focuses on providing mentorship and assistance to youth teams.

The competitors that are slated to be at the 2022 U.S. National Championship include a past U.S. sailing champion, past continental champions and Worlds competitors, youth and all-woman’s teams, several seasoned J/24 racers, and many new teams experiencing their first J/24 [U.S.] National event.

What kind of entry numbers are you seeing this year? Also, are there any notable geographical concentrations to this entry list?

We expect to see around 30 competitors from various places around the world.

While many of the competitors are Texans racing in the J/24 Texas Circuit – the longest racing circuit in the class—other competitors will round out the U.S. [and are] coming from as far as Puerto Rico, California, Washington, several states from the East Coast, and mid-America states such as Colorado and Indiana.

Outside of the United States, we will host teams from Japan and Mexico.

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter off on Lewisville Lake in late May? What are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

May weather conditions in North Texas can range from high 70s to low 90s. Winds are typically between 10 and 15 knots out of the SE/SSE, however, we have seen some pretty solid wind lately, so we anticipate some great racing conditions. Because of spring showers, it is not uncommon for a rain squall to make its way through, but we get plenty of notice to accommodate the racers should that occur.

Do you see local knowledge playing a big or small role in the regatta’s outcome? Can you please explain?

While lake sailing does provide a challenge to some, I don’t believe local knowledge will be a huge benefit to those that understand how to read wind conditions in a race.

The most important thing for a competitor will be pay attention to how the wind is affected due to the land or structure such as the Lake Lewisville Bridge.

The benefit of lake sailing though, is the competitor will not need to worry about tidal conditions since we don’t have tidal flow on lakes.

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

Texas is known for many things like cowboys (both people and the team!), cattle, and barbeque, but lately it has become to be known as the birthing place of a phenomenon called “Buc-ees”.

Buc-ees has a gazillion gas pumps and the cleanest restrooms in the U.S. It also has beaver nuggets…those are a must try! There is a Buc-ees located in Denton, which is about 15 miles from the yacht club.

And try some local barbeque, Mexican food and craft beer, if you can. Texas has some great options for both!

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

The entry list contains some very experienced racers in the J/24 class, as well as other fleets/boats.

Over half of the competitors have raced in J/24 continental and World regattas, and many of them are past winners.

Of note are Paul Foerster and Team Grand Slam II who won the 2022 J/24 Midwinters, 1990 J/24 Nationals, has many years competing and winning in the Olympics, and was inducted into theNational Sailing Hall of Fame (Class of 2015); Keith Whittemore and Team Furio who has made a rash of wins lately including the 2021 Nationals, 2021 Worlds and 2019 Worlds; Mike Marshall and Team American Garage who are very active in the J/24s and who won the 2021 North Americans; and Travis Odenbach and Team Bogus who is a regular podium finish and Quantum sailmaker representative.

We also expect to see local racers James Freedman and Team LOL and Christopher Holmes and Team Bad Moon to use their knowledge and experience to be in line for a podium finish, and expect J/24 veteran Carter White and Team Wind Monkey (aka YouRegatta) to give some challenges to the top of the fleet.

The dark horses that have all the potential to rise to the occasion and give the top competitors a run for their money are relatively newcomer Elisabeth Hudson and Team Two Shots, an all-women’s team, and Mark Smith and Team After Midnight, who has raced in the J/24 circuit longer than anyone currently racing on the Texas Circuit.

Overall, the competition is top notch for this event.

How many races do you and the other organizers hope to score over the course of the regatta? Also, how are you guys managing the racecourse? Traditional racing marks, or will you use some of the new GPS-guided autonomous robotic marks such as MarkSetBots to administer the racecourse?

The organizers have nine races scheduled over three days and fully anticipate that the conditions will be conducive to accomplishing all of these. Our racecourse is managed by racing marks and designated mark-set 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?

The Dallas Corinthian Yacht Club has long been part of the Sailors for the Sea program while hosting its regattas. Among other things, we will offer water refill stations, provide reusable bags for our competitors, serve local food, run paperless event registration, and reduce the race committee boat’s footprint by assigning mark-set boats to individual areas of the race course.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

Many of the competitors are using the Nationals as a ramp up to the J/24 Worlds that will take place in Corpus Christi at the Corpus Christi Yacht Club in July 2022. Mark Foster, the Principal Racing Officer for the Nationals, will also be the PRO for the Worlds.

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