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Sailors take on the J/70 North Americans in the Windy City

by Amy Baxter Felder / Chicago Yacht Club 21 Sep 06:44 PDT September 21-24, 2023
J/70 North Americans in the Windy City © Hannah Lee Noll

It's all happening at Belmont Harbor. The 2023 J/70 North American Championship hosted by Chicago Yacht Club is under way with the first day of racing on Thursday, Sept. 21.

In the Windy City, 45 boats will duke it out for the title of J/70 North American champion. With four days of racing and 12 races scheduled, there's opportunity galore for teams seasoned and new to challenge winners of years past.

Most boats arrived in Chicago several days in advance of the regatta, taking advantage of the time to complete long lists of boat work and get in extra practice. After two days of windy and soggy conditions on Lake Michigan to kick off the week, most boats were ready to take on a few practice starts and one practice race on Wednesday. They were met with a day better than forecasted, with a light southern breeze of 8-12 knots and waves of 1-2 feet. Temperatures hovered in the high 70s throughout the day.

The event succeeds CYC's Verve Inshore regatta at the end of August, also at Belmont Harbor, and gave 28 teams a chance to preview the NA venue and put in more hours on the water.

"We tried a few different things [at the Verve Inshore]," says Jackson Benvenutti, tactician on Cate Muller-Terhune's "Casting Couch. Muller-Terhune was second place in the J/70 NAs in 2022.

"We had never sailed in big waves," he said. "The last NAs was really flat water. We're a lighter team, so we were trying to figure out how to make the boat go upwind in those types of conditions. We have some more ideas that we can try out at this one."

Hestia, a local team, is completing their first season in the J/70 at the NAs. Helmed by CYC member James Murray, Hestia is sailing in the One Pro category, which has helped the team learn as much as they can about the boat. Murray also sails with his team on Callisto, a TP52. Murray also raced his J/109 for 13 seasons on Lake Michigan before selling it last year. Despite the NAs being the last J/70 regatta for the team this season, Murray sees the new program as great crossover training for what's to come on the TP52.

"It's the highest level of competition available in keelboats, with a pretty easy way to enter the fleet," Murray said of why he jumped into the J/70 this year. "There's plenty of boats available in the used market, the sails don't break the bank. If you really like keelboat racing and fleet racing, the J/70 is perfect. It's by far the biggest one design racing on Lake Michigan. And for me, it's really a desire to get back into one design racing."

Heading into the first day of racing, Murray is focused on getting off the line in the first row of boats, knowing the start can make or break a race in a fleet with so many world, North American and national champions.

"This fleet is incredibly competitive," he said. "With starts, they say you can't win a race with a start, but you can lose a race with a start, and I've never seen that more clearly than with this fleet. If you're not in the first row, you put yourself at an incredible disadvantage from the gun, and it's just a grind to get back. It's an incredible way to refine your starting technique and strategy."

There are several teams that have traversed long distances to sail in Chicago this week, including a handful from Japan.

Esmeralda, helmed by Makoto Uematsu from Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, Japan, is one of those teams. Uematsu chose to take on the J/70 NAs in Chicago after sailing in the Chicago Race to Mackinac decades ago. Coming back to enjoy the good feeling of the city and freshwater sailing, Esmeralda teamed up with American Allan Terhune, a J/70 pro from North Sails, who is sailing with the team for the first time.

Chicago Yacht Club would like to thank sponsors AA Dive Services, Acqua Panna, Boater's Closet, Casa Azul, Crowley's, Noble Oak, North Sails, Sail 22, Samuel Adams, San Pelligrino and Twisted Tea.

Follow the action at Chicago Yacht Club's Facebook and Instagram pages. Find more information about the 2023 J/70 North American Championship at the event website.

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