For Kyle Archer and the crew of John Steen’s Underdog, getting into the J/80 class had a lot to do with envy. “About nine years ago, we were sailing the NOOD down in South Bay aboard a chartered J/24,” says Archer. “We were having a lot of fun with the crew we had, but we were watching the J/80s launch their spinnakers, come up on plane, and just rip by us. That drew John’s interest, and he asked us, ‘What do you think about switching over the J/80?'”
The crew’s enthusiastic reply inspired Steen to research the class and ultimately purchase Underdog, which currently sits in fourth place in the 10-boat J/80 division here at the Sperry Top-Sider San Diego NOOD.
“There’s a lot of things we like about the boat,” says Archer, who serves as jib and spinnaker trimmer. “You don’t have to worry about putting together a big crew. It’s big enough to be comfortable in the cockpit, and it’s easy enough to put on a trailer.”
The portability of the J/80 has helped nurture a strong fleet up and down the West Coast. The Underdog team frequently leaves its home base at San Diego’s Southwestern YC to attend events in the Los Angeles area and beyond, and boats from the north return the favor by traveling to events like the Sperry Top-Sider San Diego NOOD.
Curt Johnson’s Avet team, from California YC in Marina del Ray, is currently leading the fleet in San Diego. The team was among a handful of West Coast teams to compete in last fall’s J/80 World Championship in Newport, R.I. Although Underdog was not able to make the trek to the Worlds, the team is encouraged to know that local boats can compete on the international level. “We were just hearing some stories from the Worlds last night,” says Archer. “It gives us some vindication to know that boats from our area are competitive. It gives us a way to measure up.”
As much as Archer and his Underdog cohorts would’ve loved to join the J/80 class’s East Coast tour last year, there’s nothing they enjoy more than hooking into a Pacific swell and blasting downwind. “When we get a big swell and we turn and burn under the spinnaker, it’s just so much fun. The water’s coming across the bow, hitting you in the face, and you’re just hanging on for dear life.”
Racing continues through Sunday. For results, click here.