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Enthusiasm at a high as J Class trio prepare for next week's Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup

by J Class Association 31 Aug 2023 11:26 PDT 3-9 September 2023
Topaz and Svea competing at the 2022 Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup. © /Stu © Francesco Ferri / Studio Borlenghi

A heightened mood of excitement and anticipation will be evident among the J Class fleet as crews assemble and complete final training and preparations this weekend ahead of the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup which starts on Monday 4 September on Sardinia's beautiful Yacht Club Costa Smeralda.

Many of the J Class's top sailors have been coming to this annual showcase regatta - which always features a virtual 'who's who' of global grand prix big boat sailing - for 20 years or more. As this will be the only J Class fleet races of the 2023 season, and a busy 2024 season beckons with a pinnacle event during the 37th Americas Cup in Barcelona, expectations are very high.

Three boats are set to compete, Svea, Topaz and Velsheda. Last year, Svea sailed to an impressive overall win, a victory which belied how little time the owners and crew had to train since launching last Spring. As the team which has had most time on the water this season, they start as favourites, even if they have not really lined up boat-for-boat with any other J Class yacht since re-configuration work last winter.

Project manager and mainsheet trimmer Tim Powell reveals they have reduced Svea's displacement by 11 tonnes - equivalent to one and a half TP52s - as they look to optimise performance for the planned Barcelona J Class World Championship and beyond. As well as five days of shakedown training in Palma in the Spring, Svea raced at the Superyacht Cup Palma - which is sailed under the ORC Superyacht rating system with staggered starts, racing pursuit style.

"We are 11 tonnes lighter. That is the biggest thing," Powell explains, "By the end of this year we really want to know exactly where we want to be for Barcelona 2024 and going forwards. It is about placing the boat where you think it will perform best." He continues, "We are looking at having the boat better in the lighter airs but with the J Class when you reduce the displacement you reduce the waterline length, so does the weight overcompensate for waterline length? These are things we will find out,"

He considers they are in good shape to defend the title and are proud to fly the Swedish flag, true to the yacht's heritage and history.

"We are a European based boat with a very strong Swedish element to the team and that has been working very well. We have a great spirit in the team and a great harmony. And for sure this is the pinnacle event of the season and we are looking forwards to racing with three J Class yachts again and winning the 'Maxi Worlds' is always a massive achievement. This is the one regatta this season which we are hoping to do very well in."

All three J Class crews know what it takes to win on the Costa Smeralda. Topaz will be settling in a new afterguard as quickly as possible as former Match Race world champion and Luna Rossa America's Cup sailor Andy Horton steps in as tactician, replacing Francesco de Angelis who has another commitment this week. Although Horton has sailed with Topaz helm Peter Holmberg before and has spent much of the summer racing with Spanish navigator Nacho Postigo on the dominant IRC 52 Fox in the USA, it will be his first experience of J Class racing. Strategist Cole Parada sails with Postigo on the 52 SUPER SERIES circuit leading Provezza.

"I am so looking forwards to it. I have been watching with a keen eye up to now so I can't wait. It is such a good group with so much experience. It will be interesting. I think the spinnaker pole is longer than most boats that I have sailed in recent years! I love new challenges," says Horton. "The thing is because these boats are so big with so many crew it all happens pretty slow. But that said, you have to be thinking so much further ahead which is more my style."

Topaz project manager Timmy Kroger is bubbling with enthusiasm, ready to compete in Topaz first races of the season.

"We have had some wonderful, wonderful racing here. Like, with Svea coming downwind from La Maddalena all the way, things like that are what we love, what we come for - good, close battles, good fights - are what Costa Smeralda almost always delivers. And our owners are so happy, just looking forwards to it, and excited to be racing with three boats."

Velsheda celebrated her 90th birthday this spring and looks fantastic after a big winter refit. Though they come off a win at Superyacht Cup and are very much the benchmark by which other J Class teams measure themselves in terms of boat and sail handling, veteran Kiwi tactician Tom Dodson is downplaying their chances.

Dodson muses, "We probably don't feel as confident as we maybe have before because under the JCA Handicap system we owe the other two boats time and with two days of windward-leewards with downwind finishes, Velsheda does not like the downwind as much as upwind. We like a good beat up 'Bomb Alley' something like that, that quite often works for us. We tend to do well in the races where rock hopping is involved. We will try to sail our own race on our own piece of water. We don't mind getting amongst it at the start, but we need to sail our own race and not get into tacking duels."

Velsheda will be missing strategist Andy Beadsworth and so Grant Simmer moves into the tactician's role with young Australian navigator Andy Green - who recently won the Rolex Fastnet navigating the 52-footer Caro on his first ever Fastnet. Maybe his winning debuts will roll into his first J Class regatta.

The J Class will race two days of two windward-leewards and three coastal races between Monday and Saturday with a lay day planned Thursday.

Keep up to date with the latest news on the official website, www.jclassyachts.com.

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