Home Racing Sheet Drinking the Kool-Aid

Drinking the Kool-Aid

by Doug Hansen
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This new year of 2024 brings a spritely start to one design sailing in Seattle. The J70 has quickly taken hold in the Salish Sea, and the crystal ball says many years of competitive sailing are ahead for this growing fleet of craft.

The local fleet started out as a lockdown project for a small group on Orcas Island under the code name J-Pod, paying tribute to the local orca family group in the area. A handful of small regattas were held in 2020 and 2021 and attracted a lot of attention as the fleet stayed true to its roots and mission, welcoming anyone who wanted to participate. Several boats migrated to Lake Washington as the world began to open, and people returned to their lives on the mainland. The fleet transitioned from group tuning and practice sessions to formal racing in late 2022, thanks to the huge support of Corinthian Yacht Club, which hosted a handful of races out of Leschi Marina.

Fast forward to 2023, when the fleet had a full season with 13 boats competing on Wednesdays throughout the summer. Additionally, the fleet took the show on the road, making solid appearances at the Puget Sound Spring Regatta, Anacortes Race Week, PITCH, and the Puget Sound Sailing Championships. Beyond the formal regattas, it was common to see two or three boats out on the water most weekends, tuning and practicing to sharpen their skills for the next major event. Just this year, racers from the local fleet took part in events in Florida, Italy, France, and Switzerland, all in the J70 class, and did not embarrass themselves.

At last count, over 40 boats between the Seattle, Orcas Island, and Hood River fleets make up the Northwest Fleet 17. Over 100 people are active in the fleet’s WhatsApp group chat that’s full of banter and enthusiasm by boat owners and crew. The J70 is the most popular sailboat in the world, with nearly 2,000 built in the past ten years and active fleets in over 30 countries. The recent 2023 J70 World Championship, which was limited by qualification requirements, was held in St Petersburg, Florida, and attracted 84 boats. From Lake Garda in Italy to Puerto Vallarta in Mexico, at least a dozen annual events attracted world-class racing and a ridiculous number of boats.

I believe what sets the J70 group apart from many other racing fleets that have come and gone over the years is the openness to support the highest level of competition, while also recognizing club and youth teams. All the significant events are scored overall and separately for the various divisions, with additional club and youth-only regattas dotting the calendar. At its core, the J70 is a mechanism for limitless growth as a sailor and a platform to participate in bucket-list-level sailing adventures all over the world.

My wife Shelagh and I have been lucky enough to be involved with sailing in Puget Sound our entire lives, and we’ve been active with the local J70 fleet since it began sailing on Lake Washington. We love the community and the openness to share, learn, and progress, all in the name of becoming better sailors and having fun on the water. We had been playing with the idea of getting our own boat, but it felt like a daydream with a young daughter and an already full sailing calendar. Just when we were beginning to move on from that dream, we were quietly offered an opportunity to buy a local J70, already in the water and racing weekly. There were strings attached. First, the current owner got to keep the boat until the end of the season so they could continue to practice for the world championships in the fall, and they were looking for someone who was going to keep the boat local and actively race it. When I asked Shelagh if she thought it was a good idea, she told me to “call them back immediately and say yes.” So, not one to disappoint my wife, we bought the boat.

We certainly have our work cut out for us being newcomers to the fleet, but I couldn’t wish for a better group of sailors and friends to compete with and against. With a rumored 17 boats racing in the Lake Washington fleet this coming summer and a handful of weekend regattas bringing the whole Northwest fleet together throughout the summer, the momentum will only build. I’ll be the first to admit that we are drinking the J70 Kool-Aid, but, so far, it tastes pretty good.

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