Held for the first time at the Jackson Yacht Club in Ridgeland, Mississippi, the J/22 Midwinter Championship was a rewarding regatta for the J/22 sailors on Aquavit from Minnesota. The top amateur boat at the event earned a third place trophy competing against some of the best professional sailors and seasoned veterans in the J/22 class. Finishing first was Terry Flynn and his crew on Tejas. Allan Terhune’s team on Dazzler came in second.
Interest in the amateur team started after they earned good results on the first day. The excitement around their performance built as this crew, consisting of a teacher, lawyer and marketing professional, scored a fifth and two first place finishes on the second day of the J/22 Midwinter Championship. What was the secret sauce for the success of this Wayzata Yacht Club (WYC) boat from J/22 Fleet #1?
Forming the Team
When Wayzata Yacht Club sailors were wrapping up the 2014 season and getting the boats out of the water before the lake froze, John Dyer and Holly Jo Anderson discussed going to the J/22 Midwinters. John had competed at national and international Laser regattas. However, he had never gone to a national J/22 event as a skipper and was looking for the regatta experience. When Kevin Kenny heard about the potential plan, he asked if he could join the crew.
“In February we discussed the potential of going again,” explains Dyer. “Having not sailed since October, we were enthusiastic about sailing. Once we all decided to go, the plans started to come together.”
Choosing the Parts: Boat, Tow Vehicle and Sails
Anderson purchased J/22 #1048 in the spring of 2014. Dyer had been leasing J/22 #810 for the past couple of seasons. And, Kenny had just purchased J/22 #1311, which he had crewed on for numerous years.
“Holly’s J/22 and my boat were snowed-in at a cold storage barn on a farm,” explains Kenny. “Dyer’s leased boat was proven to be fast and was being stored in a heated facility where we could do maintenance on it. So we got permission from the boat owner to take J/22 #810.”
The other challenge was the tow vehicle. With limited option, the sailors decided to use Anderson’s Flex Fuel Ford Escape with a towing capacity of 3,500 lbs.
“After doing some research, it was clear that my Ford Escape was right on the boarder of not having enough towing capacity to make the 1,000 plus mile trip,” details Anderson. “Ultimately, it worked fine. The only drawback was the need to stop every 1.5 to 2 hours to refuel.”
Lars Hansen, Mike Miller, Sue VanGrevenhof and several others from J/22 Fleet #1 shared some of their regatta trials and tribulations along with tips to avoid problems. This information helped the team prepare for the event.
The sailors did quite a bit of maintenance on the boat over many weekends, including checking the trailer lights. Both the car and the trailer had faulty wiring that needed replacement. Additionally, the trailer needed new tires and a new spare.
Armed with a collection of sails, Dyer, Kenny and Anderson had to decide which sails to bring. We took a set of the best sails from two of the boats, including a new North Sails spinnaker and the recently purchased gently used 2014 main from North Sails sailmaker Michael Marshall.
“The Jackson Yacht Club was extremely organized, which made registration and getting the boat in the water very easy,” explains Dyer. “Since we hadn’t raced in six months and had never sailed together on the same boat, we were looking forward to the practice race. Unfortunately, we missed the practice race. So we agreed to get started extra early to practice before the first race.”
“The Ross Barnett Reservoir had many similar shoreline and wind patterns to Lake Minnetonka, where our home yacht club is,” explains Kenny. “We gathered compass data, reviewed the weather information, looked for the breeze and discussed the direction we planned to go as a team. We also ran the line to get a good sense of the time and distance of the line as well as the favored end.”
Out of the 40 boats registered, 37 were on the line. This made the starts very competitive. Displaying bow number 37, the sailors on J/22 #810 found a hole and went for it in race one. Another boat came in to leeward just before the gun and went up hard. Boat 37 had to head up right at the start. While not confident that they weren’t over early, 37 had a clean air and speed off the line.
“We were right in the mix at the top of the fleet,” explains Dyer. “That gave us the confidence that we could be in the front with the pros. Thanks to Kevin’s extremely good spinnaker trimming and Holly’s ability to spot the breeze and call downwind tactics, we gained the lead. We were delighted when we crossed the line in first. Then we got a sixth, fourth and 15th finish in the next three races. We were pleased with the crew work and boat handling. It wasn’t until we got back to the club that we discovered we were OCS in the first race. While disappointing, it helped us focus on having fun during day two. Unfortunately, our marine radio wasn’t working properly and the spare was in the hotel room. We made sure that the back-up radio was charged that night.”
The race committee, food and entertainment for the 2015 J/22 Midwinters were exceptional. The facilities are top-notch and everyone was extremely friendly. It exceeded the expectations of what a regatta experience is like for the sailors from Minnesota.
“Downwind, we steered the boat with our weight to maximize speed,” explains Anderson. “Because we hadn’t sailed as a team before, the jibe sets weren’t as smooth as they should be. The new twing didn’t get pulled on during the jibe so the pole skied. In addition, we were using old e-scow jib sheets, and the catch knots didn’t hold, blowing both sheets out of their blocks. We had to grab them and put them back through the blocks. But, we recovered very quickly and picked off a few boats in the process.”
Based on weather forecasts, compass readings and wind pattern observations, the crew on 37 made a decision to go right middle in the fifth race on day two. After the start, boat 37 discovered that most of the fleet went left. While knowing that it is best to stay with the fleet, the sailors had committed to the right and continued. This tactical decision, Dyer’s exceptional helming and boat handling resulted in a fifth place finish for race number five. Kenny continued to document compass readings during and before each race. This data along with the team’s ability to spot and stay in the breeze resulted in two bullets in races six and seven. On the last leg of the seventh race, boat 37 was very close to Tejas, helmed by Quantum sailmaker Terry Flynn. The two boats got into a jibing duel. The finish was so close that the race committee had to confirm that bow 37 won the race.
“On day three the starts got even more competitive,” Kenny recalls. “John’s driving and reaction time is extremely good. His skills at the helm combined with our information about the boats around us helped us avoid being hooked to get clean starts in the last two races. Additionally, John’s mark rounding were very tight. During one of them, Holly had to pick up her feet so she didn’t hit the mark.”
After the last race, the crew headed to the line to wait for their turn at the crane. Just after the boat got put on the trailer, the awards ceremony announcement was given. Not knowing where they finished, crew 37 discussed if they should continue to get the boat ready for the long 1000 plus mile drive home or go to the ceremony. Anderson encouraged them to head in. Dyer and Kenny looked at the results on the board and were extremely surprised to discover we had improved to a third-place result. It was an exceptional regatta experience for this amateur team from WYC in Minnesota.
“I want to thank Lars Hansen, J/22 #865, for mentoring me and many other sailors in J/22 Fleet #1. His willingness to share his knowledge definitely advanced my sailing skills. And, Bruce Martinson’s training improved my downwind racing under spinnaker,” notes Dyer. “Having exceptional talent on this level and offering tips and guidance has helped J/22 Fleet #1 grow and gain competitive strength.”
“The event photographs by Christopher Howell and Facebook posts were very good. This kept everyone in J/22 Fleet #1 and WYC informed of our progress. They were cheering us on. We were getting comments on Facebook, texts and calls from our fellow Lake Minnetonka sailors. And the ride home got broken up with several congratulatory calls,” continues Dyer. “We sincerely thank Jackson Yacht Club, Fleet #63 and all the race officers, judges, members, event organizers, volunteers and participants for making this an event to remember.”