Inside the Classes: The J/105

Crack into the J/105 class photo archives and flip back to the years just before Y2K. In the mix will be an impossible-to-miss spinnaker with a big bear and lightning bolt charging down the run, bow with a bone in its bow. That was Rich Bergman and his buddies, back in the day of the early days of the J/105 class — 20 years ago in fact.

Bergman first raced Zuni Bear in San Francisco where he lived and worked in the aerospace industry. He bought the boat on account of it being a good stable design that he could race with his friends. Before he knew it, Bergman was swept up in the class's heydays of regatta travel. He would eventually and regularly haul it cross country to Toronto, Annapolis, Chicago, and to Key West Race Week and back seven time. Those are some serious road miles, the likes of which are rare today. Times change, though, and reality today is big boats are staying home. Which is good for rich, organic growth.

“When the class got to 40 to 50 and then 60-boat regattas it was really cool to have that competition,” says Bergman, “but what’s been great is all the other owners and their crews, that are just so much fun to sail against.”

J/105
J/105 Racing is always nice and tight, especially off the start.Paul Todd/Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta

Nowadays, says Bergman, J/105 class racing is mainly in state, up and down the coast. They’re on the road less, but, says Bergman, “We all appreciate the level of races and the number of races we have here on the West coast. We’ve reduced our footprint, but we still have great regattas with a great number of boats showing up.”

The class has endured because of the owner/driver rule, says Bergman, who now also races a J/70, and its simplicity.

“This boat is just the boat. You are not going to go down and do stuff to the keel because everyone sees it.” But for those looking to buy 105, Bergman says there are essentially two groups: the lower hull numbers are lighter in the stern, the tiller boats are lighter than the wheels boats. “But we all know our boats strengths by now, we know the boat’s real capability. It’s a tighter class of comparability in the boats than any other one-design I’ve raced.”

Bergman is a wheelman, and like the other top guys in the class, takes great care of the Bear: “showroom quality at 20 years old.” Although he’s not selling at the moment, he says there are good used boats out there to be found. Some pristine, some having had some sprucing up and, says Bergman, chuckling, “the boats that were totally tricked out and would be challenged to be class measured.”

Richard Berman
Richard Berman's Zuni Bear has been a fixture of the class for 20 years.Paul Todd/Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta

After all the years at the helm of Zuni Bear, Bergman certainly knows the ol' girl's sweet spots, and every day at her helm is mental health day. "For me, it's a great mental health break. You have to concentrate, but it's so beautiful on whatever body of water we are on…it's the ability for all of us to take our minds off things."

There’s flexibility in the class rules to sail packages are tuned to the local conditions. “The class has accommodated well in allowing this,” says Bergman. “We’re the larger fleet down here in Southern California so we can go with our sails and it cuts down on the annual sail investment.”