A Day in the Life of a J/24
By Geoff Moore
There is at least one J/24 laid up for the winter in your local boat yard. It is a common enough sight, not the kind of attraction that most people notice. You wonâ€™t find it parked out front next to the Farr 40â€™s, OD35â€™s or the Melges 24â€™s. It will probably be parked out back quietly sitting on a partially rusted trailer, neatly tucked between an Alberg 23 and a Catalina 30. It is a lonely sight, a sight that might lead you to believe that the great racing legacy of the J/24 is over. But you would be wrong.
At the first hint of spring a late model Suburban backs up to the J/24 trailer. The door opens and the owner walks around back and pops open the gate. He pushes the baby -seat aside and fumbles around looking for a piece of cloth to wipe the winter grime off his J/24â€™s bottom. His pants are covered with speckles of latex paint left over from painting the garage last weekend. As he works he tries to remember where to position his mast butt. He first wipes down the bow, then the waterline saving the flat spot just aft of the keel for last. That part always makes his back ache. When heâ€™s done he stands back and admires the smooth fair surfaces. No excuses there, he thinks to himself as he connects the trailer to the suburban. The money he spent five years ago on a professional keel, and bottom job was worth every penny. A quick check of the tie down straps and heâ€™s off to the first event of the season. Itâ€™s a short drive, but he wants to get there early so that he and his crew have time to catch up with old friends.
As he drives past the travel lift he slows to avoid a small crowd of boat people, yard workers, and spectators who have assembled for the commissioning of the newest of off-shore-one-designs. It is easy to pick out the owner. He is about ten years older wearing fowl weather gear that still shows the factory pressed folds from the boutique he bought them at yesterday. He is trying to feel comfortable with his latest purchase. The professionals buzz around the boat tightening this and polishing that. The owner does not want to get in the way. So he stands there and watches, a little awkward, a little uncertain, not quite smiling. There is a PHRF race this weekend. He bought this boat because it is a one-design, but the first of the two one design regattas he will attend this year isnâ€™t until next month, and the boat has to be trucked over a thousand miles away for that. If things turn out well there will be eight boats.
Our suburban circumvents the spectacle without attracting so much as a glance from the crowd. A few hours later it arrives at the regatta site with its ten-year-old J24 in tow. It is met with the customary waves and solutes of friends and acquaintances. The crew is there to help untie the boat. Most of them have been able to sneak out of work early on this Friday afternoon, but the foredeck person could not. He will arrive much later this evening. New arrivals and their obligatory welcomes occasionally interrupt the work. They are always happy to help another team step their mast because they will need the favor returned later. The topic of discussion eventually turns towards crew weight. â€śThe scale seems to be a little heavyâ€ť someone mentions. A short silence follows as they size each other up. â€śBetter skip lunch and diner until the whole crew weights inâ€ť the skipper announces. There is a communal grown. When the foredeck arrives the boat is rigged and ready to race. They march as a team toward the registration desk. With hearts full of trepidation they line up to be weighed. Shirts, belts, wallets, shoes, eyeglasses, anything that might tip the scale against them is shed before the dreaded physicians scale. They hold their breath still dressed in nothing but boxers as the female volunteer tallies the weights. Two pounds to spare! High fives all round as they make there way quickly towards the free pizza and beer. Spouses, kids, and baby sitters start to arrive. The atmosphere is friendly. There is a great shaking of hands. Old timers, newcomers, and professionals mix with eager anticipation of tomorrowâ€™s race. The party slowly dwindles as most head back to their housing for a full nights rest. A few of the younger teams remain in a futile attempt to empty the beer truck of its precious cargo. Eventually even the most dedicated abandon their task and head off to bed.
The morning is cold with a brisk wind, reminiscent of the season recently endured. The first crews arrive at daybreak for some last minute tweaking and tuning. They notice a few more boats have complemented the fleetâ€™s number during the night. Their crews hastily slurping steaming hot stimulates as they rush to get their boats wet. More and more teams arrive. The mood is somber, no kidding around now. This is serious business. Everyone wants to give it their all. Mumbled discussion about current and forecasts saturate the air. Shrouds are twanged, masts are sighted, and sails are bent on. â€śLooks like our old rival bought a new set of sails over the winterâ€ť the tactician notices. The owner looks down shaking his head and shuffling his feet. A loud bang! Coffee, spills and heads duck as the harbor start echoes across the parking lot. Thirty-some-odd outboards, new and old, sputter to life.
The race committee boat at anchor bobs and rolls as each team sails by on starboard tack to announce their presence. Sail numbers are shouted. Somebody's mother, in a directorâ€™s chair, clipboard in hand, answers the shout with a smile and a slight wave of the hand. The stern faced chairman stares into the wind talking confidently into a microphone. About a mile or so to windward the mark-boat drops its load and heads back toward the gathering. Guns and flags! There is a deafening flutter of sails before the final report. The first race of the season is underway!
It isn't the new sails, or the custom keel job that determines the dayâ€™s heroes, although every little bit helps. It is the strained lifelines, the groaning bodies, and the finesse of the helmsperson that is tested. Victory is squeezed slowly and painfully out of every square wave, and every missed winch. Nylon demons thin the ranks at every opportunity. The race marches on, cruelly, mercilessly, until the unruly mob finally finds order at the finish line. The flood of emotion is overwhelming. For some it is the exhilaration of surviving their first J/24 race, or maybe its the sound and smell of gunpowder for the victors. Others fight off frustration and insult, vowing to do better next time.
By late afternoon the wet, and weary throng turn their bows toward the harbor, bodies draped over the lifelines like laundry. Some huddle in the cramp spaces below deck for a short snooze, a content expression on everyoneâ€™s face. As the fleet enters the harbor and begin to form small rafts, the rubberized outer layers of clothing are peeled. The sun warms the steaming bodies as someone arrives with a tray laden with plastic cups filled to the brims with golden liquid. Wide smiles and laughter is everywhere.
The pasta dinner is delicious. Young children gather in small groups and play games that only they understand. Adolescents practice their flirting skills, and everyone else gestures with hands at improbable angles. In another part of the club old and new rivals play out emotional dramas in front of a jury. Scores are posted and there is a great rush to see in print what they already know to be true. A more organized assault on the beer truck is underway. Late in the evening just when it seems that victory is at hand a new keg is tapped and even the heartiest are vanquished.
Early the next afternoon the last boat crosses the line. The fat lady has sung. The visiting boats are hauled and the awards are dispensed. Photos are taken. Plans are made, and eventually good byes are shared. Our suburban returns to the yard. The J/24 is parked next to the Catalina. Someone has made progress stripping its bottom paint over the weekend, but there is still a lot more to go. It is hard to concentrate on work Monday morning. Phone calls and emails carry reciprocal thank-youâ€™s.
The sailing magazines donâ€™t wrap their contents with color pictures of J/24s anymore. Their advertisers are happier with more extravagant vessels. New J/24â€™s are rare. They arenâ€™t the fastest, the most comfortable, or the least expensive of one designs, but most weekends all across North America, and in many places throughout the world there is a J/24 event with a larger than average number of entries. So it should come as no surprise that the greatest sailors on earth have learned their craft from the people who sail J/24s.
Taken from Shore International