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Allen Brothers

An interview with Alfie Merchant on the 2023 J/24 U.S. National Championship

by David Schmidt 15 May 08:00 PDT May 17-21, 2023
J/24 racecourse action on the waters of New York State's beautiful Lake George © 2023 J/24 U.S. National Championship

When the conversation turns to fast (enough), fun, and affordable keelboats, it usually takes about 2 nanoseconds before someone spouts up about the now-venerable J/24. And with darn good reason. The 24-foot trailerable ride with the distinctive fractional rig and symmetrical kite was designed by Rod Johnstone in 1977, and the boat has been on a tear ever since. More than 5,500 J/24s have been built, and the class continues to deliver highly competitive One Design racing.

Take, for example, the 2023 J/24 U.S. National Championship (May 17-21), which is being hosted by the Lake George Club, in Point Diamond, New York, and which will be contested on the scenic waters of Lake George.

I checked in with Alfie Merchant, event chair of the 2023 J/24 U.S. National Championship (and the skipper of Witch Way), via email, to learn more about this exciting championship-level One Design regatta.

The J/24 is a great design, but it's not new. Can you please tell us a bit about the state of the J/24 class, its current culture and competition levels?

The J/24 is alive and well here in Lake George, New York. We have nine local boats that are registered for our U.S. Nationals. Those same nine [boats] sail every Wednesday night and some travel the circuit.

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

This regatta has been sold out for some time at 50 boats, and the visiting boats are from all over the USA and one [team is coming] from Japan.

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

Lake George is a special place, I do not believe people come here for the great sailing. The wind will probably be from the West straight over the mountains about a quarter mile away and 1,000 vertical feet. It will be very flukey, in terms of direction and strength. So, it is anyone's guess on the weather and the winner.

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

Visitors call Lake George.....Left George. Guess why? Because the local knowledge is to go left no matter where the wind comes from.

So, after 45 years of visitors coming to Lake George for our Changing of Colors Regatta they are now locals.

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

Go left!

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?

No, I could not pick a favorite at this point.

We do have several pros registered to race.

In the ideal world, how many races do you and the other organizers hope to score over the course of the regatta?

It is Lake George so we will be lucky to get three races in over three days, but ten races are the max for the series.

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?

Green is in! Ever since US Sailing came up with [a] rule and started this no/less plastic thing I have been on board.

To increase our green, the regatta has purchased Competitor's drinking cups (one for every one on site 350++). This regatta offers free beer all weekend and that [would otherwise] eat up a lot of red solo cups.

Instead of disposable wrist bands, we are using nice ones to keep. We are also using the new robots from Sail22 for the turning marks, [and] this will decrease the gas used by not having three mark boats.

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

I believe people come to Lake George for the venue, the food, the free beer, and to see all their friends. Sailing is last.

The Lake George Club has a saying we use...."A family of friends" and that is always true. This regatta will be very special for the Lake George Club [as] it is the first National Championship to be sailed here and we started in 1905.

It will also be our club manager's last event. Bill Finnen will be retiring after this event with 30 years of service to our members and the sailing community. Bill has helped organize the oldest annual J/24 regatta (Changing of the Colors) for 30 years. We wish him the best.

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