Inside the Classes: J/105

Sixteens years on, the J/105 remains the gold standard of Corinthian one-design big-boat racing.

It was 1992 when Sailing World Magazine put its Boat of the Year stamp on the J/105, revolutionary at the time for its robust retractable sprit and big-shouldered asymmetric spinnaker. The class enjoyed explosive growth, and with nearly 700 of them built since 1991, it remains one of the best all-around big-big boats for amateur racing teams.

Because J/105 regional fleets remain strong around the country, there’s good racing to be had without ever leaving home. Take Charlie Garrard, the longtime owner of Merlin. His boat doesn’t often leave Marblehead because as far as he’s concerned the action is plenty good in his own backyard on Wednesday nights and weekends.

Merlin, Garrard believes is a 1995 ("or maybe 1996") model, and it's plenty competitive still. Keeping up a fresh set of sails is important, he says, as is keeping the keel and the bottom in race shape. On its mooring in Marblehead Harbor, just off Boston YC, he has a diver take a swipe at the bottom every two weeks, and simply keeps on top of the maintenance before anything breaks."

For crew, he relies on a core of regulars and his teenage kids who bring friends. “One of the great things about this boat is that you can bring the youth onboard, says Garrard. “It’s not a hard boat to sail, there is not a lot of load on the lines, so strength is not required on this boat.”

Garrard came out of Marblehead's once vibrant Sonar class and Merlin originally came with a wheel that he's since with a tiller for better feel in light air, when it's all about feel. "In the light stuff, you just have to keep the boat going," he says. "Whenever we slow down we just put the bow down and get up to speed. You can trim the jib to the weather, but you have make sure you're going fast before you do that. If you hit a wave and fall out of the groove, just ease the sails to go faster.

Given decades of refining the J/105 class rules, there’s not much an owner can do to complicate what’s meant to be a simple boat. “It’s a very restrictive class rule so not a lot you can do,” says Garrard, “except spend money on sails.”

NOOD
Charlie Garrard and his team on the J/105 Merlin won three races on the opening day of the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta in Marblehead.Paul Todd/Outside Images

Earlier this year there was debate about putting a cam cleat on the mast to cleat the spinnaker halyard but the class put a stop to it. “That’s fine. It’s that restrictive, which is great in many ways because it’s hard to find an edge with something that other people don’t have and it’s very hard to go spend money that other people have.”