Force six conditions are deemed too much for the four J-Class yachts in Falmouth, to the disappointment of the two Super Js.
25 minutes before the start of the fourth J-Class race here in Falmouth, a call came over from the committee boat announcing an abandonment of racing. Not a postponement – ‘racing abandoned’… That’s it, game over. I was aboard the white-hulled Super J, Ranger and we had our formidable new dark grey 3Di main hoisted and the 28 race crew members were preparing for what promised to be a real humdinger of a race. The reason given is that it was ‘consistently blowing over 25 knots’. There were certainly gusts of 25-28 knots, but the consistent wind strength being displayed on the large B&G mast mounted instruments aboard Ranger was in the lower to mid 20’s – a steady six, especially once the darker clouds had passed. A straight out abandonment was a strange call. Why not wait a little longer and assess it we all wondered? It is a disappointment not just to the crews and owners of Lionheart and Ranger, all those in the ribs and yachts that had ventured out, the photographers who finally got the wind-on conditions, and all those lining the cliffs, but it’s a disappointment for J-Class racing. These boats were designed to cope with these conditions, even with their non-reefing mains, and regularly did in the thirties off this very coast (that said, today’s Js are faster, the apparent wind higher, and the loads much larger, so safety is a primary concern).
According to Principle Race Officer John Pickup from the Royal Cornwall YC (who seems stuck between a rock and a hard place on today’s call), they were getting regular readings over 25 knots on the committee boat Savannah, and as she has a 100ft high mast, they felt the wind would be stronger for the readouts on the 170ft mastheads of the Js – and it had been indicated to him by the J-Class Association that the boats did not want to race in anything over 25 knots. But also two of the boats, Rainbow and Velsheda, had “indicated that they did not want to go racing this morning,” said Pickup.
As this was being written, an application for redress was being heard by the protest committee from Ranger. Clearly, it would be in everyone’s best interest to establish precise parameters for when conditions are too severe for these boats to race. I know Ranger felt cheated because there was no consultation with the tacticians and skippers onboard.
“There is no specific limit in the rules, because 25 knots can be very different in a seaway or adverse tide,” is the valid point from J Class Association Secretary David Pitman. “The upper limit is by agreement with the boats. At the briefing this morning, where we all knew it was strong wind conditions, the upper limit was discussed and agreed with the Race Officer that 25 knots was that limit.”
Rainbow pulled out of racing before the committee’s decision was called, which was met with sympathy – she is a brand new boat, the smallest lightest of the fleet, and those were no shake down conditions. Things can go wrong and become unsafe as winds approach a seven, especially during mark roundings, gybes and hoists (and they have reportedly already had an accident onboard during training). Velsheda meanwhile were hosting Royalty later this afternoon, and are trying to nurse their 3DL main through her third season.
But these were meat and drink conditions to Lionheart and Ranger, who duly proved so, by sailing against each other for the next two hours on the very same track that we would have raced round – see the photos and videos for proof – it was sparkling out there – 20 minutes after the abandonment, we were full sail in sunshine and 22 knots, doing half that to weather.
We started with a No 4 for an upwind leg to the Helford entrance, but the big black Dutch boat (Lionheart) was showing better speed and height with their larger No 3 headsail. So on the next upwind leg, we changed to a No 3 and matched them very closely for boatspeed, with Ranger perhaps even nosing ahead. Despite the disappointment of not racing, owner and crew were all enjoying the conditions, putting on a show for the spectator boats still surrounding us, especially when both J’s then hoisted their spinnakers for a long downwind leg past St Anthony’s head.
From the crew-work precision of the multiple spinnaker gybes I witnessed onboard this afternoon, I can vouch for their disappointment not to have been racing. Whatever decision is reached on the suitable conditions for these magnificent yachts to race in, it should be fair to all competing – but above all safety must come first.
Here’s a video snippet showing the conditions – and what it’s like to sail aboard Ranger.
A full video of what it’s like to sail a J, will be here soon…