Two NPSA’ers hit Havre de Grace for a stab at J/24 OD racing.
story and photos by the Webwolf
(Left, Tom & Greg leading a pod of 24's downwind at HdG)
I met Tom Schwartz for the first time back in July. He and I had been communicating, back and forth, electronically for a year or so (due to his interest in Evelyn 32-2 sailboats) and when I asked him if he’d care to come down and take the helm on Dire Wolf at Screwpile 2004, to my amazement, he accepted the offer!
I mean...I’d never even met the guy face to face.
So, early Saturday morning, the day before Screwpile started, we were in our slip at Zanhiser’s. I was halfway up the mast, being belayed by fellow crewmate, Laura, when I heard an unfamiliar voice say, “That’s a helluva way to start a sailboat race.”
It was Tom.
From that point on, the Screwpile event was a total learning experience at his hands. Tom is a former sailmaker from a New England loft and has raced just about everything that has a halyard. He is amazing at the starting line and doesn’t let up until the boat finishes. I have seen him pick off three or four boats on the last leg, like they were sitting still, on numerous occasions.
Tom started racing a J/24 in Havre De Grace’s Thursday night One Design fleet this season and he had been asking me to come up and do a few races all summer. So, always the procrastinator, I trucked on up after a shorter day at work with fellow NPSA sailor and J/24 owner, Greg Harrer…for the last dang Thursday night race of the season.
I think it’s safe to say, Greg was about as stoked as I was to get this opportunity to see another venue, and in particular, a venue that has some serious J/24 talent in its ranks. Needless to say, I was VERY stoked.
Traffic, getting up to HdG, was not a problem.
The forecast was for winds NNW 10-15, falling to NW less than 10 later in the evening. Arriving at the marina, we saw a lot of activity with people prepping their 24’s on their trailors, but not much going on in the wind department. I was starting to feel like a bit of a Jonah when it comes to wind strength as my last race had been the first day of racing at Annapolis Race Week, where we had gotten off one crummy light-air crap shoot and a second race that was abandoned TLE.
So, I sort of groaned and whined about the conditions while we prepped the boat and made ready to trailer it over to the hoist to be dropped in.
Boy was I ever wrong about the conditions.
You can see from the pix how people go about getting the drysailed J’s into the drink for the race. The whole thing looks easy but there are some tricks to using the hoist and it’s a good thing I don’t do this stuff because I can imagine the sound a J/24 makes when it free falls 5 feet on to a parking lot and/or bulkhead. Suffice it to say that Tom knows what he is doing and is an excellent trailer-backer-upper. I think in these kinds of venues you are judged on your race results AND your trailer backing skills. Anyone who sees Tom back up a sailboat on a trailer will know instantly: this guy is a PLAYER.
People in Havre de Grace must hate O/Bs as much as I do, because no one seems to use them to get in and out of their marinas. We ghosted out in a stiff zero knot breeze, but were pleasantly surprised to feel a 5kn northerly as we approached the railroad bridge on our way downstream to the starting area.
Once past the RR bridge the 5kn northerly had turned into a 12-15 kn northerly and we were beginning to have second thoughts about the number 1 we had hanked on. I was mildly astonished at how fast a J/24 can go, blast reaching in 18-20 kn with a One up.
Pretty soon, as the gusts built to over 20, it was pretty g.d. obvious the number 1 had to go. Class rules only permit one overlapping jib, so we went up with the jib.
After the RC boat got blown off it’s holding ground a few times (I suspect it’s just rocks on the bottom up there) they tied up to a conveniently placed “third party buoy” (you didn’t read this here) and got a start sequence going.
Tom executed yet another brilliant start (keeping his string alive from Screwpile) hitting the line at the favored pin end at speed with the scratch boat, Chris Crockett’s “Crockadero” on our weather hip.
And the race was off. And there were puffs. And lulls. And lifts. And knocks.
You know the drill.
We finished a respectable 4th. There is some speculation that
we may have finished third if
one particular tack hadn’t been blown by an errant pole lift that was fouling a jib sheet…wonder who’s fault THAT was.
J/24 OD racing is, indeed, as much fun as everyone has said it would be. I kick myself that at the age of…well…let’s just say 50 plus, I haven’t done more of it. I think the last time I was on a J/24 was in 1983. Shame.
The Havre de Grace venue is interesting. NPSA sailors would feel right at home with the amount of barges and tugs that make things dicey on the circuit. It may have been an isolated incident, but I saw a tug actually take off way to allow a couple downwind boats to pass safely across its bow. No 5 blasts, no cussing at 110 decibels over the PA. Maybe they’ve worked out some sort of an understanding, I have no idea, but they seem a lot more laid back up there. I saw no (pleasure craft) power boats underway in the 3.5 hours we were on the water. That was a big, and pleasant, surprise. The scenery is decent. I’m always a little discombobulated up there, because the eastern shore is hilly and the western shore is flat!
(Above Left) a gravel barge parking in the middle of the downwind leg. During the race, tugs would raft up additional barges filled with, well...barge stuff. (Left) looking south toward the Havre de Grace waterfront. Rather scenic.
The fleet is competitive. When you have Max Skelley (J/22 World Champ with Alec Cutler and Paul Murphy) sailing in the fleet, you know you are up against some talent. J/24 “ING Direct” was on a trailer in the marina lot, but was not sailed the night we were up there. It’s the boat that took 2nd place in the J/24 2003 Worlds (sailed in Medemblik, Holland). Clearly, if you take a ragged-out old 24 up to Havre de Grace, you are going to have your head handed to you.
On the other hand, people seemed friendly and I didn’t hear any rude encounters at marks, other than the ones rightfully directed at me from my fellow crewmates.
POST-RACE DRINKS & GRUNTS
Greg and I went to McGregor’s afterward and were joined by Tom after he finished putting the boat away. Nice place to hang out post-race. Not as much intra-boat comradeship as we are used to at the Avenue Tap, but I hear that about a lot of clubs (the exception being Catalina 27 Fleet 8 in Annapolis--those folks are over-the-top when it comes to being a family of One Design sailors).
Let’s face it…nothing beats one design racing. Nuff said.
I think NPSA should seriously think about building a One Design fleet over the next five years. It could be J/24’s but doesn’t have to be. But now that Greg has one, perhaps the die has been cast. Annapolis and Havre de Grace are too far away for Wednesday afternoons, that's for sure.
(LEFT) Star boats and Lightnings also race at HdG (although they dont have their own 1-D starts)
(BELOW) it may be a while before this old girl races again
(BELOW) J/24's come in all colors at HdG
(LEFT) Mojo works downwind