A Race to Remember

"When we pulled the boat out after the race, it had footprints in the soft paint on the keel." That's how sailmaker Bill Shore remembers the finish of one of my all-time favorite races. I was reading Dave Reed's J/24 anniversary story ("Polishing the Silver") and recalling the 18-mile distance race around Conanicut Island at the end of the '79 J/24 Worlds in Newport, R.I. Ed Adams, Geoff Moore, Jeff O'Brien, and I were second in that series (to Charlie Scott), but the only race I remember in detail was the finale. On a windy August day, we started off Castle Hill and beat out to the old Brenton Reef Tower. Starboard roundings at weather marks are always an adventure, but with 78 boats thrashing by the spindly legs of the tower in 5-foot waves, the power of the starboard layline approach was even more dramatic--and adrenaline-producing--than usual. Shore and John Kolius led to Beavertail, the south end of Conanicut, but on the six-mile run down the island's west side, Shore built a 300-yard lead. "When the current's against that much wind," he says, "it's better to stay out in the current because you can really rip down the waves." Half a mile past the Jamestown Bridge, the breeze built in a hurry. "We got a wicked blast," says Shore, "and the boat capsized. The spinnaker sailed underwater, so we all climbed out and stood on the keel. Slowly it came up." Bob and Stu Johnstone blasted past Shore, then tried to jibe, and also wiped out. Aboard another Johnstone family boat, designer Rod Johnstone had a wet moment. His son Jeff says, "Someone accidentally kicked the guy out of the cleat. The kite went out to leeward of the main, filled for an instant, and the boat got swatted on its side. Rod went through the lifelines holding the tiller. We pulled the spinnaker down by the leech tapes." Kolius dropped his chute before jibing and took the lead; but Shore wasn't finished. "We had a 4-foot rip in the chute," he says, "but we were lucky you couldn't carry a chute on the next reach." When it was time to set again for the dogleg run north to Dyer Island, Shore had his chute taped up, and at the leeward mark, he was only five lengths behind. "Kolius sensed we had some speed on him," says Shore, "and he did a good job covering us. He wouldn't let us get our air in front of him--he'd always tack, then reach down in front of us. We finally worked over him right after the Newport Bridge and beat him by half a length." I learned some lasting lessons that day on our boat. For example, when I nearly got pulled through the spin-sheet ratchet block on one broach in a 30-knot gust, I realized there's a time to put the sheet on the winch and sit down, preferably as far aft as possible. On the final beat as it got even windier, we discovered that if you don't ease the jib to balance the flogging main, the next big blast will knock you over so far that you'll quickly find the boat on the other tack--and more than your boots under water. We can all remember races in which we did well, but the most memorable races are the windiest ones in which we, invariably, have made some mistakes. (You'll notice that your friends enjoy those stories more, too.) Congratulations to the J/24 class on 25 good years--keep all those stories coming.