Winning The Chicago-Mac 1999
By Jay Lutz
Back in May (’99) my friend and customer Mike Rose of Houston called to say that he didn’t have the time to do Block Island Race Week. We had been preparing for the regatta since Key West R.W. and his new J/125 Raincloud was a blast to sail. “What regatta can we do later in the summer?” Mike asked. “What about the Chicago – Mac Race? I heard it’s a lot of fun” So off we went, six Texans and a couple of Yankee’s.
Are we ready? Mike’s 125 is set up to trailer like a J/24. The keel comes off and the boat rotates 55 degrees on the trailer bunks so that it is “street” legal (8’6”) to drive without permits. At 8,300 lbs. his one ton pickup pulls her anywhere. After a relatively quick commissioning (2 days) we were almost ready to race. Ignorance is bliss until a couple of singer Bob Seiger’s J/130 crew suggested we go over our safety list and we realized that besides the boat floating we didn’t have any of the necessary equipment needed. Nothing like a Visa card and a yacht chandler to get a sailor’s juices running.
Tactics: Prior to the start of the race our game plan was simple. Sail conservative and not force any tactical decisions. Let the tactics become apparent and adjust accordingly. Also, since the majority of races are won during the night we wanted to continue to emphasize to the crew the importance of pushing the boat in the wee hours. Our normal crew rotation was reduced from 3 to two hours from midnight to six am. Raincloud is set up pretty simple from the factory and we did not change a thing but it was 6 months since we last sailed her during Key West so we did try and remember how to push this speed demon around and keep her in 3rd gear. Keeping the upper batten twisted and the traveler down further then normal helps widen the “grove” upwind. Also, since the boat is very stiff we new we could sail with the big genoa longer then most boats.
The Start: The race started out in lower then predicted 17-18 knots of wind from the North. A large portion of the fleet of 280 boats started with a #3. Maybe it was because of the weather prediction of 25-35 or maybe the large waves. We got out early enough to try the Cuben Fiber (2.7oz) Heavy #1 and found that it seamed to give us more punch then the #3 in the large waves that tend to develop in the South part of Lake Michigan with a North wind. It was a long port tack beat that lasted about 75 miles before things got really fluky. With the Cuben Fiber Heavy #1 we were able to stay high and remain on port longer then most boats before we ran out of runway and into the Michigan shoreline. The beauty of this was that Raincloud was able to continue towards the shore well after the majority of the fleet had tacked to port and headed offshore. The wind shifted late the first night to the Northeast and then finally to the Southeast within 3-5 hours. While our heading on port started out at 25 degrees (rum line was 22) it ended up at 15 degrees on the OPPOSITE tack! Talk about luck! The only thing better now was if we could get our new .3oz Cuben Fiber A-spinnaker up…….. Guess what, no sooner did I say to owner Mike Rose if the breeze veers any more we could fly spinnaker then Walla –the wind veers and up goes the A-spinnaker! This is where the J/125 really fly’s, in any wind condition or angle.
When the Sun Comes Up: At mid-day Saturday there were not any boats in site except very LARGE spinnakers! That meant maxi boats –and our little 41’ J/125 was right in the middle. Our enthusiasm was very high and as we listened to the Coast Guard mid race call in we could only shake our heads in amazement. As the IMS A boats called in their leaders were only 4-5 miles in front of us! When position reports came to our class we realized that boats like the One Design 48 (at –33) and some of the other Santa Cruz 70’s were behind us – pretty far. The remainder of day two was spent jibing downwind along the Michigan shoreline heading towards the Manitau Islands. Our next big tactical decision was the approach to the islands and that was going to be at night. “Keep the pressure on.” Was owner Mike Rose’s call to arms. While we did not get through the Manitau’s cleanly we still had a big lead and the remainder of the race was academic. As we approached the Mackinac Bridge tight jib reaching Colt 45 (a SC 70) approached from behind. That’s when we decided to try our new secret weapon, a Spreacher A-spinnaker. A semi-supported A-spinnaker that is almost a combination of a spinnaker and reacher genoa. To our surprise we not only held off the SC 70 but also started to pull away. The breeze did lighten up and she managed to pull through as we did three spinnaker changes in the last 6 miles flying across the finish line at 12 knots in completely flat water. We counted 13 maxi’s at the dock and even some of the maxi crew’s cheered us in. As you know, now was the hard part….. waiting for the rest of the class to finish. At this point we had corrected out over the boats that finished but who knows what 30’ something with a 260 PHRF rating slumbers in and corrects out. To our surprise the wind totally shuts off for about the next 16 hours and we are victorious! First in Class and Fleet!
Conclusions: Why did we win the 1999 Chicago / Mac Race? There are a few factors that I can list (and not in any particular order of importance because they all were important;
· Boat – The J/125 is a powerful 41 footer that is easy to shift gears (for a ULDB). While the first part of the race was not what I thought favorable for us (75 miles upwind) we still hung on and the boat with the Cuben Fiber Hvy #1 seemed to drive through the waves well. The A-spinnaker flying was particularly good for the boat and it was the majority of the race.
· Boat set up – besides a few minor changes Raincloud is set up as it comes from the factory. An easy boat to sail allows you more time to do the things that win races. Mike Rose spends effort and money in areas that make the boat fast without throwing money aimlessly.
· Crew – Owner Mike Rose has a knack for getting fun guys to sail with that aren’t afraid to put the effort in to win -even if you don’t.
· Sails – I’ll brag. My Shore Sails Spider design Cuben Fiber sails held there shape remarkably well at a weight that is ½ the weight of Kevlar -with durability to boot.
· Tactics – While only three of us had any previous experience sailing the “Mac”, we were able to pinpoint the important parts of the race and take each part as one race. Would it work again? Maybe, maybe not!
· Luck – we happened to be situated up the Michigan shoreline almost perfectly placed for the big shift to the Easterly quadrant.
TEST-DRIVING THE J/125
By Tom Leweck
Sure—I’ve heard all those stories about people who are too dumb to come in out of the rain. Yet on Tuesday afternoon there were seven of us sailing in the rain on San Francisco Bay. And while I can’t speak for the others, I was having a blast. How’s come? It was because I was taking my first test-drive in the new J/125.
Over the years I’ve sailed on lots and lots of J/Boats and have owned and campaigned a J/24. But this J/Boat is different—very different. It’s a 41-footer that makes virtually no concessions to cruising. This is a pure racer.
The first thing you notice is that the boat has almost no beam—it’s only 10.6 feet wide and looks like a long canoe with a tall mast …or maybe half a catamaran. As I understand it, skinny boats push aside less water, which makes them faster. But skinny boats also have less "form stability" which normally makes them tippier. However, designer Rod Johnstone found a way to solve that problem—he hung 4646 pounds of lead at the end of a narrow foil that’s long enough to hit the bottom anytime the boat sails into less than eight feet of water.
The boat is so skinny that stacking a lot of people on the rail doesn’t add much stability. So you sail with fewer people and let the lead do its job. 57% of the boat’s weight is ballast which makes it stiff enough to carry a #2 genoa into the 20 knot range.
Comparing the J/125 to J/120 you instantly see some ‘interesting’ differences. The J/125 is only a foot longer but its waterline is two feet longer … and the J/125 is skinnier by almost a foot and a half. But perhaps weight is the biggest difference. The J/120 displaces nearly 14,000 pounds, but thanks to high-tech construction the J/125 comes in at only 8350 pounds.
There are also plenty of differences down below. The J/120 has a wonderful cruising interior, while the J/125 is significantly "more modest." And that’s being very kind. The ice box is a portable igloo, the sink looks a lot like a urinal and the galley itself is much more austere than the one I had on my old Cal 25.
Whitbread navigator Mark Rudiger found that the most convenient way to work at the "chart table" was by sitting on the sink and leaning forward. He couldn’t stand up—there’s nowhere near enough headroom. Only Dave Ullman and Norman Davant thought the boat had standing headroom—anyone over 5’ 9" will have to bend over down below.
But this is not a boat you buy for the interior. Its purpose is high performance sailing and Rod Johnstone hit that target right in the middle of the bullseye. It didn’t take the curmudgeon very long at the steering wheel to realize the J/125 is very much a "gentleman’s Melges 24." It’s a big keelboat, but it is also a very spirited one with a very light helm. Turning the huge steering wheel takes a bit less strength than dialing an old fashioned dial phone. One finger does the job—honest. But when you spin the wheel, the boat does not turn—it leaps to the left or right. Give me the wheel in 15 knots of breeze with the A-sail flying and I’m pretty sure I could throw any unrestrained bowman over the side … if that was my objective. This is one lively sailboat.
Upwind, the helm is still very very light without a trace of weather helm. Perhaps that’s because we were using a #3 genoa in only 10-12 knots of wind. Or maybe it’s because the carbon-fiber rig was only raked back three feet. Hey guys, it’s a J/Boat—you have to rake the mast way back to give the helmsman some feel. The crew who sailed the 125 in the Big Boat Series said the boat points just fine, but who really cares? Downwind is where the fun is—guaranteed to produce enduring smiles. There is a hell of a temptation to sail the boat "hot"—when you do, the boat seems to jump right out of the water.
New owners will spend at least $300,000 before they can race their J/125, but apparently that has not dulled enthusiasm. Four have been sold on the West Coast and the next available hull from the TPI factory is #12.
Admittedly the boat was designed as a day racer, but could you also take it on a Mexican Race? Oh, I think so! The interior is going to be very crowded with six people living aboard; and sleeping will be difficult with the boat continually leaping off waves; and the menu will be very limited. But I can almost guarantee it will take weeks to wipe the smiles off of the faces of those six people.
Sailing the J/125 produces a big rush. Even in the rain.
Flying South for the Winter on a J/125
Jeff Johnstone caught up with Dan Mullervy of Annapolis and heard about his recent experience crewing aboard the J/125 STRABO. The story begins with the delivery down the coast and winds up with STRABO winning Class A in the Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race.
“We had three people on board for the delivery from Annapolis to Charleston in the second week of November. We left at 9 pm on a Tuesday, motoring the first 8 hours and then had a beautiful sail, fetching down the bay, and making it out in total of 16 hours. We got off Cape Hatteras with the wind on the nose, and were going up and down in some big stuff with the #3 jib and the double-reefed main. Next morning the wind came around to the NW and built to about 25 knots, we still had same sail combo and we just started surfing waves. We cut inside Frying Pan Shoals at night, because there was a tug with long tow and they couldn’t see us on radar. Our radar reflector had blown off and everything on the boat is carbon fiber. Of course the waves stacked up in there, with the depth dropping from 200 ft to 50 ft. But the periods were just right for some wild rides. Top speed we were hitting was 18.6 when Kevin was driving. The boat handled fantastic. It’s an incredible to boat to sail at high speed. It’s very forgiving, you can put it wherever you want. When you see a wave, you just put it on the wave and let it go. In fact sometimes Pat wouldn’t get off the wheel. I’d come up to relieve the watch and he’d say he was good for another 10 miles. The last 9 hours we did 100 miles, surfing everything we could find right into Charleston Harbor, arriving about noon on Friday, less than three days after we started.”
“On the next leg to Lauderdale, Marty Fisher, STRABO’s owner/skipper joined us. We initially motored while the air was light, then when it came around to the north we had a very comfortable sail, broad reaching down the coast. We were surprised when we reached Lauderdale only 48 hours after leaving Charleston.”
“The final leg to Key West was the Lauderdale-Key West Race. We were in Class A PHRF with big boats like CHESSIE RACING and EQUATION (Santa Cruz 70s), a Corel 45, and a few other older big boats. The beginning of the race was just awful. It took us 10 hours to go 12 miles. We sat off Miami near the sea buoy for about 3 hours. Then the wind filled in around midnight. The Corel 45 was trying to get away from us, because they knew in the right conditions, we’d be able to go right by them, which ended up happening. Going into the 2nd night we were sailing along at about 8 knots and then put up a Code 0, which was on a furler. Then as the wind came up we switched to a jib top reacher. At daybreak there was the Corel 45 who we thought had gotten away from us, just a little bit in front of us. So we kept on surfing with the jib top and let the boat do its thing. Then we surfed right up next to them and played in their quarter wave for a little while. After a while we realized they were slowing us down, so we gained some separation and then got in front of them and held them all the way to the turn coming into Key West. They got us going back up wind but only by a couple of minutes. We corrected out to finish first, followed by the Corel and CHESSIE (who was first across the line). Other than the beginning it was a great race, especially with only six people sailing the J/125."
J/125 PHRF/Sportboat of the Year
Over the last five years, sportboats have evolved into highly refined sailing machines that offer incredible performance with a touch of offshore capability. This year, the competition in our PHRF/Sportboat category included the J/125 the One-Design 35, the Van Gorkam Mount Gay 30, and the Quest 33. All are remarkable boats rampant with innovation, but the long, lean, and mean J/125 simply blew away its competition. We all agreed that the J/125 offered the best bang for the buck with speed, thrills, and absolute sailing excitement.
What J/Boats has done is taken the typical 30-foot sportboat and created what I'd call a maxi-sportboat. The hull form is a radical departure-it's noticeably long, narrow, and light with only 10.5 feet of beam. It's built by TPI, using its patented vacuum resin-infusion molding process (SCRIMP), and the hull and deck materials include a carbon-fiber inner skin, Kevlar/E-glass outer skin, and Pro-Set epoxy. The advanced technology doesn't stop there, though. The keel is composed of a cast bronze alloy strut with a lead bulb. It weighs over 4,600 pounds, which gives the J/125 a ballast-to -displacement ratio of over 50 percent and positions the vertical center of gravity well below the bottom of the hull. To complete this technological tour de force, the mast, boom, and bow pole are all carbon.
We sailed the J/125 in 10 to 15 knots of wind and flat water with a full main and No. 1 genoa. The straight-line speed was awesome, and the low freeboard enhanced the speed sensation. All of the judges were equally impressed with how easily the boat settled into its groove, not to mention how responsive it was to helm and sail controls.
The cockpit stretches to over 16 feet, so don't expect any problems with crowd control at the weather mark. Clearly, much thought went into making the boat as easy as possible to sail efficiently and eliminating any unnecessary weight and equipment.
The only complaint we had was that the traveler controls were hard to use - a problem that J/Boat's Bob Johnstone assured us was being corrected. The Harken winches, tracks, and other sail controls all worked perfectly, were positioned correctly, and were big enough to handle the loads of the highperformance rig.
The narrow beam and high ballast-to-displacement ratio allows the boat to heel a bit more than a more conventionally proportioned boat, but even though we pushed the boat hard, the big rudder maintained its bite and hung on like a junkyard dog. Everyone agreed that the beautifully molded carbon-fiber steering wheel made the boat even more fun to steer. It was quick, positive, and gave superb control, especially when spinnaker reaching with the huge asymmetric.
I checked our boatspeed when the kite went up. In 12 knots of wind we were beam reaching at 9.5 knots-fast enough to slap grins on all who held the helm. J/Boats has plenty of experience with asymmetric- spinnaker systems, and they've refined them to the point of being easy to handle. With minimal practice, any crew would be able to sail the J/125 downwind nearly as deep as a conventionally rigged boat.
Belowdecks, the J/125's small proportions are clearly evident. There's just enough accommodations for a crew of four. The living accommodations are positioned in the middle of the boat to minimize the effect on the boat's pitching moment, while the ends of the boat are empty. The galley includes a two-burner alcohol stove, a small sink, and a plastic ice chest. The enclosed head is just forward of the main bulkhead-the J/125 simply does not pretend to be anything but a racer.
On paper the J/125 looks boxy and not too stylish, but on the water the almost extreme proportions of the boat-the huge asymmetric spinnaker, stealthy black carbon rig, and low freeboard give the boat a distinctive and almost visceral sense of speed and power.