Inside the Class: J/30

In Annapolis, the J/30 class is back on the rise thanks to the efforts of enthusiastic local sailors.

When the J/30 was introduced in 1979, it quickly became a staple class on the Chesapeake, with 20 boats regularly racing in Annapolis through the 90s. In the 2000s, however, interest in the class started to wane, and participation slowed down.

Until recently.

A breath of life is bringing the class back to life in a big way.

“We’re in a resurgence,” says Annapolis local and fleet motivator Tristan Keen. “We had our North American regatta here last October and we got 19 boats to the start line. We haven’t seen numbers like that since the early 2000s.”

Why is a vintage class making a comeback in the age of asymmetrical sport boats? Well for one thing, the efforts of enthusiastic sailors like Keen.

“We’ve been pushing it,” he says, making a pitch for the class that few sailors would turn down. “The boats can be purchased relatively inexpensively – we’re able to put a decent one-design fleet together at every regatta, whether it be Wednesday nights or weekend racing.”

In the last two or three years, five new boats have joined the fleet in Annapolis. At Eastport Yacht Club, the number of J/30s has more than doubled in recent years. At the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta Annapolis, the number of J/30s sailing has been on the rise. This year, through a combination of new owners and rekindled interest in racing the class, the number of entries jumped from 10 to 14, just a few out-of-towners short of North American Championship numbers.

With the new boats comes new opportunity and new competition. This year at the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta, the fleet may take advantage of coaching from North Sails. About half the fleet will also break out their new sails, purchased for North Americans and with just a few days of racing on them. Needless to say, the competition is fierce.

“A number of boats here are still sailed by the original owners. They are tough competitors and set the standard for us,” says Keen, who fell short of victory by a single point at last year’s event on his boat Infectious Smile. “It’s a very, very competitive fleet.”

Last October, when the J/30s lined up for the North Americans at Keen’s home venue, Eastport Yacht Club in Annapolis, more than half the boats were local, and three of the top five sailors were in their home waters. It’s clear the expert knowledge of Annapolis’ J/30 sailors survived the class’ mid-2000s slump and has been passed on.

One of those next generation sailors, 24-year-old local Michael Ruzzi is also looking forward to the future of the class.

“The next generation has started to show up and it really improved the fleet,” explains Ruzzi. He grew up in the class, sailing his family’s boat, but this is the first year he put together a crew himself. As a group of young sailors taking on an older class, Ruzzi is happy to see the revival of the boat he grew up sailing and carry on the competition.

When the boats take to the water tomorrow morning, it will be a mix of newcomers to the Annapolis scene and seasoned veterans. Tristan Keen explains that the key to success this weekend will likely lie in carefully calculated maneuvers.

“It all comes down to crew work,” he says. “We carry a lot of crew – usually seven, sometimes eight – and the ballet of those seven or eight people is critical.”

This weekend though, is just the start of a busy sailing season for the steadily reviving class. Wednesday night buoy races and distance races are all in the pipeline for the J/30s throughout the Spring and Summer. Expectations are high, with 10-15 boats expected at every event, and sailors like Keen and Ruzzi are excited for the life that is steadily returning to the class.

“It is fantastic one-design racing, top quality sailors, you can get in relatively cheaply and race some very, very tough competitors,” Keen concludes, with one final pitch for the J/30. Like many older one-designs, the J/30 felt the effect of the 2000s slump, but thanks to motivators like Keen, a once slumping class is growing as an Annapolis staple once again.