J/24s on the up – 2012 UK J/24 Nationals in Poole Dorset

by David Lush.

After a rather poor turnout at the J 24 nationals last year, the International Paints J 24 Nationals had double the entry at nearly thirty boats on 1-4 June.

The resurgence of the Class is even more remarkable as the event clashes with the J 24 Europeans; however the entry is not only large, but also of great quality with many new owners buying into the fleet and race preparing their boats with new sails and other equipment.

The J 24 is the original and largest one design sports boat class in the world, and the low cost fun and durability of the boats means that there are even Club owned J’s for youth sailing and training emerging in the UK.

The fleet may have lost its oldest helm, and elder statesman in Stuart Jardine, but he has been replaced by helms as young as the twenty year old Ed Lush and 21 year old Sophie Pearson helming an all girls team, and a group of thirty year old owners fresh from Classes such as the SB3, and crewing on larger boats.

The J 24 is possibly leading the way in sports boats in the UK, for the trend to a few large and strong Club fleets rather than a small travelling circus, where weekends with fuel, accommodation and craning making these events expensive, the X fleet has enormous depth with just this formula as anyone watching the huge turnout at last year’s century Cowes Week will testify.

The J 24 at thirty years young is a little way behind the X in maturity, but like the rebirth of quarter tonners, shows that, as in cars, classics are classics because they work, and give enormous pleasure to their owners.

The forecast is light for the weekend, but the pressure will be heavy, as teams use the event to qualify for the 2013 Worlds in Ireland.

Day One and Two

After a rather windless and frustrating first day in Poole racing in Poole bay, day two saw perfect sailing conditions, with a steady 12/14 knots of wind and a tricky short choppy sea. Serco are leading from Hedgehog and new boy to the fleet, Matt Hardy driving Sublime, Matt’s normal sailing has been on an 80 foot Swan, but the lack of water line length didn’t seem to do him any harm. Nick Phillips has returned to the fleet after a few years in an SB3 and managed to use his time in SB3’s to good effect, being the only boat to use a jib in one race but still getting to the windward mark in third place, probably forgot about the big genoa after all those SB3 races with that little jib.

There was incredibly close racing, with only a few minutes covering the whole fleet, this lead to some epic mark rounding excitement, with three top boats taking each other out on one windward mark, and Matt in Sublime sailing around all of them.

There are lots of new and young faces in the fleet, and after four races on day two, the forecast windier day three may see these fitter and more energetic crews lasting the distance better than their older and more experienced fellow competitors, although the young teams were the predominant consumers of the Regattas packed and varied social programme this evening, so hopefully the early to bed senior members of the fleet may have recovered enough to fight their corner tomorrow.

Tight starts and black flags have been the order of the day, leaving the writer with one question, why are Black flag starts always your best ones? Rather like the fisherman’s ‘one that got away ‘.

Day Three

The third day of the International Paints J 24 Nationals, part of the Poole Keelboat Regatta was a really busy day. Most forecasts were for 16 to 19 knots with gusts of around 25, but in reality the wind was a steady 19 plus knots with plenty of gusts up to 30 knots according to the tracking data on the Parkstone website, and building all day long.

The Race officer displayed good judgment in keeping the fleet near to the harbour entrance and in relatively sheltered waters. Optimistic, or the more competent competitors arrived at the committee boat with genoas hanked on, but as the wind built before the start, busy crews changed to jibs, with the exception of David Tabb on Mar-key, who held his genoa, with mixed success, for the first beat only.

Race one of the day, race six so far, was won by Hedgehog, followed by Serco and Madeline, and this set the pattern for the day as these three boats were consistently among the top five at the finish.

An increasing breeze was signaled by the Y flag for race seven, meaning life jackets must be worn, although there had already been several swimmers by this time. The pressure was now on and the fleet managed four starts for this race before getting away under black flag, the windward mark was exciting as port tackers dived in for room that often wasn’t there, but more egos were broken than boats, and the five leaders showed tremendous skill on the run to separate from the pelaton, and unlike the Tour de France, these top boats were not caught. Serco won from Madeline and Jawbreaker and Mar-Key now finding his form.

The third and final race was won by Madeline, with Duncan McCarthy, having a Lance Armstrong moment, from Mar-Key and Hedgehog. The J’s then had a long flog home was against a spring tide and ever increasing wind.

Going into the final day, hopefully everyone will be fully recovered, although some boats are nursing gear failures, so a busy night lay ahead, and most of the foredeck crews are nursing bruises, and a few significant headaches.

On the way in the fleet were treated to Pimms delivered by a Boston Whaler, followed by supper and entertainment at Parkstone Yacht Club, today’s treat was beer, but back at the Marina, followed by an evening at Poole Yacht Club, tomorrow will be an end of Regatta prize giving at the Royal Motor Yacht Club, who knows what awaits us on our return, my choice would be a Latte and rest, must be getting too old for this, but can’t face a Shrimper quite yet.

Day Four and results

Serco, owned by Bob Turner and helmed by Nathan Batchelor won the 2012 J 24 Nationals from Duncan McCarthy in Madeline by a narrow margin of one point, with Hedgehog third and two new members of the fleet, Nick Phillips and Matt Hardy, fourth and fifth.

Windguru was spot on, predicting a fading wind from a gusty 14 knots to a patchy 5 or 6 knots, allowing two races on the final day, both started under a black flag, to allow the fleet to return early for visitors to be lifted out and a superb prize giving held at the Royal Motor Yacht Club.

The fleet was supported by many of the already famous such as Endeavour Trophy winner, Nick Craig, Olympic coach Adam Bowers, and many of the up and coming sailors of the future; Andy Shaw, National Match race champion and X boat centenary winner, Phil Sparks, 470 squad sailor and 420 National Champion and Tom Phipps, the Olympic squad and now National keelboat sailor.

It is great to see such enthusiasm and energy joining the J 24 fleet, and the future has never looked so strong for the Class, there were 28 boats at the Nationals, a number not bettered since 2008, and it was seven years ago in 2005 when there were more competitors at a J 24 Nationals.

North sails presented fun prizes, which included the youngest crew, at 12, the oldest helm, censored!!! and youngest helm and first female helm among many other categories.

This has been a busy 4 days, starting and ending in incredibly little wind, but punctuated by almost every other wind strength in between, so the winners were truly consistent and skilled, thanks to the title sponsor International Paints and the combined Clubs of Poole for their support.



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