The Canadian Connection

James Rathbun helped build the J/105 fleet at the Royal Canadian YC, and his efforts paid off with an overall win at the 2007 Sperry Top-Sider Toronto NOOD. "First Beat" from our July 3, 2007, /SW eNewsletter/

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Dave Reed

If you had to take a guess at which one-design keelboat class you'll find at all nine of Sailing World's Sperry Top-Sider NOOD Regatta stops, it shouldn't take you long.OK, ready…go.Ding.Time's up.It's the J/105, which has become as much a fixture on the NOOD circuit as its coveted red hats and nightly buffet lines. Whatever it is about this boat-its simplicity, its pennywise owners, or its low crew demand-the racing is typically close, from the front to the back of the fleet. All of this, says Doctor James-or Jim to friends and fellow sailors-Rathbun, is why the 35-footer has been his boat of choice for the past seven years. And what great times he and his mates have had with it on their home waters of Lake Ontario. They've had plenty of great results, too, including five Canadian Championship wins, and last month, the overall title at the Sperry Top-Sider Toronto NOOD.A little history: Rathbun was the second J/105 owner at the Royal Canadian YC, where Hey Jude floats, bow-to just across the way from the club's manicured lawn bowling courts. Before the sprit-sporting Hey Jude, Rathbun campaigned an Abbott 36."We had a lot of fun on that boat, says Rathbun, a 65-year-old orthopedic surgeon. "We raced it PHRF for 10 years, but I really felt that one-design was the way to go."The 105's latent popularity had a lot to do with his decision to seek out his one-design. At the time, 105 fleets were sprouting like weeds in the United States, and with at least one other 105 already at the club he willingly jumped in. Two boats do make a fleet. But in the early days Rathbun raced it mainly PHRF. The previous owner had been racing it PHRF against J/35s, and so it came with an inventory of headsails, and even a spinnaker pole for a symmetric spinnaker and all its assorted gear. As the fleet grew, however, Rathbun stripped the boat of its excess hardware and returned it to its original one-design being."There are two things I really enjoy about one-design [racing]," he says. "The boats are equal so there's very little in the way of arguments. It's a boat that's dependent on the people on the boat, not the boat. Secondly, there's a great camaraderie that's built up in the fleet. We have a great group of people and that is what sells the fleet. We're good friends and anxious to bring in others. Every year we get one or two into the group." The hometown fleet has grown to nearly 20, and this, of course has been through proactive initiates to get developing teams up to speed. At its owners' meeting last November, for example, he says they declared "right at the top" that if new boats wanted to bring in sailmakers for any race, "it wasn't an issue at all." For their mid-week racing series they spread the talent, putting skippers and crews from the top boats onto other boats."As one of the top local guys to beat in that weeknight series, Rathbun, however, never lets his success get to his head. "There's no question that every day is a new day and anyone that thinks they have it all figured out usually very quickly finds out otherwise," he offers. "On any given day there's five or six boats at the top and if you look at the results over the past few years people have good races and bad races. There are crew changes and whatever from year to year. It's the team that has to make the boat go fast, not just the skipper."Like many other top skippers in sailing, he also admits to being fortunate to have had mainly the same crew from the get-go. Most of them now have families and the usual leisure-time commitments, which require the team to be organized and flexible up front. "What we try to do is in November get the scheduled worked out so that people are sailing every other week," says Rathbun. "The idea is that you have a weekend on the boat and the next off to do other things. You just have to sit down with everyone and work it out. Our summers are short enough as it is; you're trying to work in a lot of obligations and sailing is part of that."Looking ahead there's a bit of an unexpected November scheduling snafu for Rathbun and his mates. They've now got the Caribbean NOOD championship following right on the heels of the J/105 North Americans in AnnapolisNovember…Annapolis…British Virgin Islands…hmm. Tough choice.While the pull of Caribbean tradewinds sailing may be appealing for most sailors, the magnetism of a 50-boat one-design fleet for racing sailors is undeniable. "We raced in Annapolis the last time it was there," says Rathbun. "The first race we were fifth and the second we were sixth but we were OCS and didn't realize. There was very little breeze after that-we were basically racing in 2 to 3 knots of breeze, which is just horrible in a J/105. But we're willing to give it another go. Any time we can sail in a fleet of 50 boats it's an unbelievable experience."