Intro to Short-handed Racing – J/99 JEDI

We’ve been practicing two-handed racing in our 32.6’ J/99 (JEDI) whilst joining in with fully crewed fleet from RPAYC Short Offshore Point Score (SOPS) series.  Whilst Ray and I have sailed together for many years, we haven’t seriously raced two-handed since 2008 when we owned our J/109 Sweet Chariot. 

Rather than putting together a ‘race result’ story from last weekend’s SOPS race, I thought I’d share my thoughts on preparing for and racing two-up.  By no means am I a professional sailor or have any aspiration to enter the Olympics, I’m just keen to get out there and enjoy sailing.  The J/99 is perfect for us as she can be easily sailed by two, large enough to race fully crewed plus has enough creature comforts down below for some family cruising.

Actually, I prefer racing two-up as I get to do a bit of everything – from tactics to jib trim to kite trim and all the tasks to make that happen.   Paradoxically, I find it less stressful with just two on board, the reason being that we ensure we are organised and prepared for what’s going to happen next, I know what Ray is going to do and vice versa.

In relation to racing 2-up last weekend, the RPAYC SOPS races start at the entrance of Pittwater and head offshore.  This week’s race was up to a mark laid off First Point, starboard rounding and back into Pittwater.  Our J/99 is the smallest boat in the fleet by far, with most of the fleet in the 40-50ft range, it was quite funny listening to each of the yachts call in with their huge crew numbers prior to the start (some with 14 crew) and then little JEDI just 2-up. The forecast was 10-15kn NE and building to 20-25kn NE later in the day.  The seas were a confused mess as we had a strong southerly the day prior then wind over tide – the waves were quite big and random with no backs. 

Prior to the start we were undecided on whether to use the J4 due to the building forecast or the J2 due to the lumpy seas and actual wind which was about 12kn.  We hooked up the J2, but typically about 5 mins before the start the wind picked up and we should have used the J4.  With no time to change jibs we put a reef in the main and the J/99 was perfectly balanced for the beat.  She was exceptionally dry even as we came pounding off the waves, a real credit to J/Boats designer Alan Johnstone.  We chose to use hanks on our jibs as it means the jibs can be easily hoisted and dropped without the need to go on the bow.  Others prefer furlers.  Another option we are seeing more of are reefing jibs, and if we had one we would have made use of it.

The positioning of the winches make the J/99 a cinch to tack on my own.  I cross sheet the jib sheets so it can be trimmed from the high side, plus the J/99 has powerful inhaulers and jib cars so is super easy to power up/depower the jib.  Ray has the backstay, main traveller, main sheet and fine tune (and tiller!) all to hand, he calls the tack and around we go.  In the gusts Ray was mostly just playing the traveller and backstay whilst helming. There is lots of purchase so is very manageable.

After nearly 2 hours upwind we neared the top mark, shook out the reef and prepared for the kite run – now the fun would start!   Normally as we approach the top mark I would rig the kite during the last tack in, but the seas were so rough that for safety we decided to wait until we rounded.  So, around the mark we went, I eased the jib sheet, grabbed the kite, ran forward and hooked it all up.  As part of our prep, we had the sheets, tack line and halyard ready on the starboard side and all to hand.  Pulled the tack of the kite to the end of the sprit, Ray had the kite sheet loaded ready, hoisted the kite and I raced back to grab the kite sheet.  We immediately got a gust and scooted down the swell doing about 17knots – woo hoo!  The J/99 is so stiff and balanced, at no time were we out of control or concerned. Speed is your friend when going downwind as there is less sheet loading. I cross-sheeted the kite sheet to trim from the high side (the primary winches are set slightly aft on the J/99 so can also easily be reached by the helmsman if needed).  The jib was still up, so I released the halyard from the clutch which dropped easily on hanks.  With hindsight, we could have left the jib up and will practise with that another day.

The ride back to Pittwater was a real joy, just surfing the swell and having a blast with dolphins playing by our side.  The vang is led aft to both sides of the cabin top so can be reached whilst trimming the kite if needed.  Gybing an asymmetric kite is simple, just let one sheet off and pull on the other – no need to go on the bow.  Ray times the turn in co-ordination with me pulling on the new sheet.

The next challenge was to find the finish boat and plan for the kite drop.  The finish boat was quite close in to the shore which didn’t leave much room for a bear away to drop the kite.  Again we planned ahead and decided to drop the kite about 150m early to ensure we would have the room to not hit Australia.  We opted for a letterbox drop where the kite is dropped between the mainsail and boom and down the main hatch.  

All in all, we had a great day and finished 2nd ORCc in Div 2 and 3rd ORCc overall combined fleets.  We were really pleased with the result given the seaway, size of the competition and against fully crewed boats, the J/99 punches way above her weight.

In summary, the points to remember are to plan ahead, be prepared and communication.  Safety always comes first, we always wear our lifejackets offshore and have the other safety equipment all to hand and ready to deploy.  Being a husband and wife team, the two rules we stick by which would apply to any two-handed team is that any mistake is a shared mistake (for example a bad call on tactics) and what happens on the water stays on the water!  Two-handed racing is a lot of fun so give it a go. by Sandra Entwistle. Photo Credit to Rob at RPAYC.

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