To find the inspirational story of this year’s Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta in San Diego, one need not look past the J/24 fleet scratch sheet. Last year’s fleet of five nearly tripled thanks to good-old-fashioned grass-roots growth and the arrival of “older” fixer-uppers to San Diego marinas. It was one of the larger fleets of the weekend’s races.
The local ring leader is one William Ramacciotti, who races Hull No. 1130 out of San Diego’s Southwestern Yacht Club. Ramacciotti has been around the one-design racing sailing scene for a long time, but he only recently bought his J/24—never intending to be the spark plug.
His original purchase intent was local handicap club racing in the bay, but as he met other area J/24 owners his aspirations and connections grew wider. “It has started to snowball a bit,” Ramacciotti says. “A couple of crew members that sailed with me for a few years decided to buy their own boats.”
These new crew-turned-owners include Veronica Hebdon Hallauer and Lindsey Wells, who Ramacciotti says were novice sailors and now skippers of their own raceboats. Wells found her J/24, named Taco Thief, in upstate New York and trailered it back to San Diego. Hallauer discovered her bright yellow boat, Limocello, in Santa Barbara and purchased it in the blink of an eye. The Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta in San Diego would be their first big-fleet experience.
“We finally stepped Lindsey’s mast [in early March] and put the boat in the water for the first time,” Ramacciotti says. “She’s excited to have her own program and to figure out how to put it all together, and it’s the same for Veronica. Both of them really had zero sailing experience before.”
Ramacciotti says there are now seven boats—and growing—in the local fleet. The teams are strictly weekend warriors from all different sailing experiences, and there’s a communal approach to working on each other’s boats, borrowing parts, trailers and advice. “Most of the guys are looking for and using second-hand sails,” he says, “and most boats are all from the late 70s and early 80s [including his own].”
Some have been improved with the normal and modernizing modifications to the deck layout, removing outdated hardware and the such, and all are kept in the water with use of bottom paint. Only one of the 12 boats registered is of the modern J/24 generation, so Ramacciotti is excited to have a playing field far more level than most J/24 regattas elsewhere. This may be a vintage fleet in San Diego, he says, but that’s what makes it even better. It’s good, inexpensive fun.
Everyone was super excited about the regatta, he says. Some of the new teams were a bit apprehensive because this was the biggest fleet they’ve raced in yet, but after two days of races on South San Diego Bay, Wells kept her finishes to mostly top 10 and finished on a high, with fourth in the final race. In the end, Deke Klatt’s Jaded, from up the coast, was the top team after posting a nearly flawless scoreline, but there only 15-points between Jaded and the sixth-placed Jedi of Gareth Jones. The racing was good, the gathering of new friends and class members even better, boding well for an even larger J/24 Weekend Warrior gathering in 2023.