“Built to Last, Not to a Price,” is how J/Boats once described its iconic 30-foot family racer/cruiser. Introduced in 1979 and built until Tillotson Pearson put the molds out to pasture in 1987, production came to a halt at hull No. 546. Where they all ended up is anyone’s guess, but today, there are pocket fleets in the deep South, New England, and the Chesapeake Bay. Basically, anywhere you can find good cruising grounds and hardcore old-school one-design sailors that know a deal when they see one.
There are any number of one-design options in Annapolis, a city of classes new and old, but for Doug and Amy Stryker, J/30 racing is where the action is at. Stryker’s been in the class for two years, having moved from New Jersey to Maryland’s sailing capital. He used to race mainly PHRF, but when he got to town, he and the Mrs. looked around to see what they could afford. An essential part of his recon was racing onboard someone else’s J/30.
“I realized right away we could buy a boat for not a ton of money and go out and race against 15 boats on a Wednesday night, which is hard to find anywhere else in J/30s,” Stryker says.
The Stryker family’s immaculately-maintained white-hulled Totaled Mayhem is hull No. 526, so it’s fairly fresh still in the grand scheme of things. He found the wet spots in the balsa-cored hull and deck (at the least the ones he knows of) and faired its keel and rudder so it’s one of the better preserved of the fleet. For anyone looking to get in on the fun, Stryker says, boats “that have been put away wet” can be found in the $5,000 to $6,000 range. A turnkey boat with a good sail inventory and maintained gear will demand as little as $22,000. “You could spend twenty-six grand and go on the racecourse and win the next day,” he says.
“His most important advice is to not pinch—ever.”
Which is always easier said than done, right?
To sail the boat well in the typically light-wind conditions of the Chesapeake, he suggests a crew of six or seven, for a combined crew weight of 1,400 pounds. With the symmetric spinnaker and plenty of ropes to deal with, practice and good mechanics should be the focus for new, and even experienced teams, Stryker suggests. “It’s more of a dance to get around the racecourse [than it is with the modern boats], but I grew up on boats like this, so I’m used it.”
For the Helly Hansen NOOD Regattas over the years, he’s relied on a core of local regulars and friends from New Jersey who come and ensure they get around the course in good form. “We’ve been sailing together for the last 10 years,” Stryker says, “so it’s nice to have the crew come together, jump on the boat and be working as a team right away.”
When it comes to boatspeed, Stryker suggests piling plenty of weight on the rail when the breeze gets over 10 knots, but his most important advice is to not pinch—ever. “It’s a heavier boat that weighs around 7,000 pounds, so you just can’t do it,” he says. “Also, downwind, it does not have the same helm as newer boats. It’s hard to feel, so the helmsman has to talk to spinnaker trimmer to get to the pressure.”
Stryker himself was a quick study of the J/30 and won his class in his big regatta year with the boat, the Annapolis NOOD in 2017. In 2018, he finished second in the team’s friendly rivalry with Bob Rutsch & Mike Costello’s Bebop. It was the final race—a light-air nail-biter.
Stryker’s version of the story goes a little something like this: “We were one point ahead and hoping there wouldn’t be a race because the wind was dying, but we did have one more and just psyched ourselves out, focusing on one boat. As a result, we got behind and starting taking more risks, hitting the corners. It all fell apart in the end.”
His goal now, of course, is to have Bebop on their stern, every leg of the way for the next three days. Strike that. The next five months.
Team Total Mayhem has its big North American Championship in Annapolis in September, so they’re keen to start the season off with a win that’ll set the pecking order. Niceties aside, it’s time to put the elbows out. “Some people might look at the J/30 and say it’s a bunch of older folks out for a cruise,” says Stryker, who has a new white spinnaker with pink hearts, a birthday gift from his better half. “This fleet is especially aggressive on the racecourse.”
But on the dock and at the club bar they’re sharing beers, swapping stories and building the fleet. “They’re not building anymore of these,” Stryker says, “so we need to find people that want to buy used boats.”