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An interview with Linda Ambrose and Cedric Lewis on the 2021 J/105 North American Championship

by David Schmidt 26 Oct 16:00 BST October 28-31, 2021
Tight racing in the J/105 fleet made for a dramatic conclusion to the 2019 Marblehead NOOD © Paul Todd / Outside Images / NOOD

While 1991 isn't exactly recent history, it's the year that Rod Johnstone designed the now-venerable J/105, which was the first production keelboat to feature a retractable bowsprit. This latter addition allowed the 35-footers to fly crew-friendly asymmetric spinnakers, rather than crew work-intensive symmetrical kites. This, of course, delivered hotter off-the-breeze angles, faster speeds, and gybe-on-command tactical capabilities to largely Corinthian-sailed fleets.

Some 700 J/105s have been built in the 31 years since Johnstone competed his design, making this one of history's most successful keelboats (Johnstone, it should be noted, has designed several other boats that fall into that category, including the venerable J/24). The J/105 is actively sailed on all coasts in Canada and the USA (and sections of South America), and the class association has done a good job of maintaining the boat's strict One Design status.

Today, used J/105s can be acquired for reasonable sums, making this a great "gateway drug" to 30-foot keelboat racing, and an active racing circuit helps ensure a strong return on investment for owners.

The Annapolis Yacht Club (AYC) is hosting the class' 2021 North American Championships from October 28-31. A glance at the entry list reveals entries from across the USA and Canada and includes numerous previously successful teams and skippers.

I checked in with Linda Ambrose, Harborside Director of the AYC, via email, to learn more about this championship-level One Design regatta.

Am I correct that there's a strong J/105 presence on the Chesapeake Bay and at the AYC? If so, can you please give us a bit of color on how long the fleet has been active and the kind of culture that surrounds the class locally?

Yes, Fleet-3 (upper Chesapeake) has a large local fleet with 30+ boats. AYC's M dock is sometimes referred to as "J/105" row because there are eight or nine J/105s in a row.

AYC's Wednesday Night Races had 22 boats entered, and most weekend races draw 18-20 entries.

What kind of entry numbers are you seeing this year? Also, are there any notable geographical concentrations to this entry list?

There are 36 boats entered for the NA's. The entries include 25 local boats including three boats from the Naval Academy's Varsity Off-shore Sailing Team. There are 11 out-of-town boats, two from San Francisco (next year's NAs), two from Texas, two from Florida, Chicago, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, and Toronto, Canada.

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter off of Annapolis in late October? What are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

October is the best time to sail in Annapolis. The winds are generally good. The water is still relatively warm, and temperatures in the mid-60s.

The best-case scenario is four days of racing with winds in the mid-to-upper teens. The worst-case scenario is a day or two of no wind. Let's hope there is not a repeat of the [2021] J/70 NA's (three races over four days).

Do you see local knowledge playing a big or small role in the regatta's outcome? Can you please explain?

Local knowledge should only play a small role. For the most part the course should be in the middle of the Bay. The breeze predominantly comes from the south but in the Fall it is weather-system dependent.

Breeze from a northerly tends to be very shifty.

Easterly or westerly makes things very interesting with north-south current flows.

Allen Terhune from North Sails will be giving a weather/local knowledge briefing at the competitor's meeting on Wednesday at the beginning of the regatta.

If you could offer one piece of advice to visiting (and local) teams, what would it be?

Current, current, current.

[Again,] North Sail's Allan Terhune will be giving a weather briefing/local knowledge talk at the competitors' party on Wednesday evening after the close of registration, so if you're not used to sailing with the epic current we often experience [here], you should pay close attention to his presentation.

Do you have any teams that you are eyeing for podium finishes? What about any dark horses who you think could prove to be fast, once the starting guns begin sounding?

There are a lot of talented teams, but the favorite would have to be Bill Zartler's Deja Voodoo. Others boats to watch include fellow Texan, Ken Horne's Final Final and the two San Francisco boats, Arbitrage (Bruce Stone and Nicole Breault), and Ne Ne (Tim Russel).

The local boats to watch include Jester, Good Trade, Mayhem, and Mirage.

Can you tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the regatta's environmental footprint or otherwise green-up the regatta?

Sailing instructions can be downloaded by competitors but will not be printed out, additional recycling stations will be onsite and, whenever possible, recycled service products or china will be used at the social events.

Is there anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

We believe this is the fifth time that the Annapolis Yacht Club has hosted the North Americans for the J/105 class, and with so many members either owning or crewing on boats in the fleet there's a lot of excitement around the Club.

It was also great to have so many of the out of town North American competitors sail in AYC's Fall Series the weekend of October 9 and 10, and locals took note as the top three on the podium were all visitors!

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