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J Composites 2022 - J99 LEADERBOARD

An interview with Leo Valle on the J109 North American Championship

by David Schmidt 10 Oct 2022 08:00 PDT October 11-15, 2022
J/109 raceourse action on the waters of Long Island Sound © Leo Valle

When Rod Johnstone designed the J109 in the late 1990s as an update on the venerable J/105, he didn't necessarily imagine that the 35-footer would prove to be one of the most successful mid-30-foot keelboats afloat. But, with several hundred J/09s manufactured from 2001 to 2012, and with vessel concentrations in areas of the country with strong One Design traditions, there's little wonder that the quick and capable keelboat has won over so many hearts and minds.

While J109s can be seen populating many harbors around the country, the Long Island Sound area has long been a hotbed of class activity. 2022 is no exception, and the J109 North American Championship is set to unfurl on the waters off of Pequot Yacht Club from October 11-15.

I checked in with Leo Valle, regatta chair of the J109 North American Championship, via email, to learn more about this exciting championship-level regatta.

How many boats are you expecting on the starting line(s) of this year's J109 North American Championship?

Pequot Yacht Club is thrilled to host this prestigious event. The J109 Class is one of the best 35-foot amateur classes sailing today. We have 19 boats registered, which is similar to prior years. There are a couple first timers to the event and many returning veterans.

Generally speaking, what kinds of conditions can sailors expect on the waters of Western Long Island Sound in mid-October?

As the cooler weather sets in, mid-October is a transitional time from the summer southerlies to the winter northerlies. We forecast more big-breeze days with the occasional light air day mixed in.

We've removed the localized current effects by pushing the course further offshore. The sea state can vary from very flat in a northerly, to choppy in southerlies, to surfable, long rollers when it blows from the east.

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

We've moved the race circle further offshore to level the playing field. That said, the course is still relatively close to shore (two to three miles) and I believe an experienced sailor will quickly find the favored side and understand if the current has an effect. I think that good preparation, smooth teamwork, smart tactics, and boatspeed will determine the final top places.

In the ideal world, how many races do you and the other organizers hope to score? Also, will these be straight windward-leeward courses?

We are targeting to run 12 races on windward-leeward courses. The only twist we've added is the potential to include a "long finish leg" on the last race of the day.

If the wind direction cooperates, we plan to finish the race near the harbor entrance. This could add as much a mile to the last leg of the course.

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

This is a good class with good people. We will race hard, but ashore we are all friends and are willing to share "secrets". Ask for a tip here and there. We also appreciate why we do this—we want to have fun. Enjoy yourself, enjoy Pequot's hospitality, and don't forget to stop and smell the roses.

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 class is deep with talent and there are several contenders for podium spots. Look out for the defending NA Champ Team Courageous, four-time NA Champ, Loki, and three-time NA Champ, Gut Feeling. It's best not to rule out some other strong teams that have been putting in the hours to prepare for the event: Zig Zag, Emoticon, Gossip, and Growth Spurt.

What about onshore entertainment? What can sailors look forward to once the finishing guns have gone silent each day?

As you know, the racing isn't the only part of the regatta. The social aspect is very important and provides good fun. We have an extensive onshore program that includes daily breakfast, a welcome cocktail party, a daily post-racing happy hour, and a formal Friday night Championship Dinner with a live band.

Can you please tell us about any efforts that the club has made to green-up the regatta and generally lower its environmental wake?

We've made a concerted effort at Pequot over the last few years to reduce our impact on the environment, especially the marine environment.

For J109 North Americans in particular, we've tapped the Sailors for the Sea Clean Regatta toolkit to identify best practices we can adopt. Some specific examples include eliminating plastic straws at our post-race events, awarding practical items and perpetual trophies, posting signage that we'll reuse after the event, and promoting alternative transportation and carpooling.

We've hosted Clean Regattas in the past for junior sailors, but this will be our first big event where we target a clean certification.

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

This event would not be possible without the support of our generous Partner sponsors at UBS and The American Club.

In addition, we want to thank our sponsors in the J109 Class Association, Regatta Mixers, Bridgeport Harbor Marina, Two Roads Brewing Company, TUCK Gin, Dermatone, Black Rock Boat Works, Minuteman Press, YourClub.Shop and McMichaels Mamaroneck.

For more information about the regatta and our sponsors, please visit our event website at Also, you can follow the results here:

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