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Practice Makes Perfect for San Diego’s Top J/105 Team

Stewart Cannon explains what makes his team so formidable and shares tips for racing off San Diego's Point Loma ahead of the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series.

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J 105 sailors racing in San Diego with crew hiking on the side of the boat
Stewart Cannon’s team on the J/105 “J-OK” prepare to set the spinnaker during the 2021 edition of the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series in San Diego. Cannon’s team went on to win its division and will return to defend in late March. Mark Albertazzi

One could say Stewart Cannon’s J/105 J-OK was A-OK in 2021, winning the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series in San Diego’s J/105 division by a slim 3 points in the five-race series. That’s the way it typically is in Southern California J/105 racing—always close on the scoreboard, and always nip-and-tuck on the racecourse.

While the local 105 scene today is not as robust as it once was, Cannon says there are several new boats that came into the fleet since last year. The San Diego YC used J/105 for several of its marquee annual club events—the Masters and the Lipton Cup—so it too supports the class with “special privileges. Cannon says members who buy a J/105 get a slip as soon as possible, “which otherwise you’d wait years to get.”

Cannon has owned his J/105 since January 1998, which he says likely makes him the longest-running 105 owner in Southern California. And which might explain why he and his team are full-timers at the top of fleet standings.

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“We practice a lot and are active in all the local events,” he says. San Diego YC’s One-Design Weekend races, held once a month, allow him and his teammates to sharpen their fleet-racing skills.

“We’ve got a fairly stable crew,” he says, a crew that’s been together for four years or more. “We’ve won three of the [Helly Hansen] regattas so far with the same core and coed crew.”

His tactician, Julie Mitchell, he says is skillfully ruthless with other boats, and his crew wrangler Jim Dorsey, deftly keeps the program running, buys the sails, and spends Cannon’s money.

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“Driving in waves, it’s about learning how to shift gears, so you have the right power to get through and not overdriving in the waves. They’re long wavelengths so if you do it right you get a little nudge up in the waves, but if it’s light and you use the rudder too much it’s slow.”

—Stewart Cannon

The last significant event they raced was San Diego YC’s Yachting Cup last spring, earning Boat of the Regatta honors, which Cannon says, “is a big deal, and very flattering” given the caliber of sailors and teams in Southern California.

All the time spent racing off Point Loma has given Cannon and his trimmers the experience to master racing in light winds and ocean swells. “It can be challenging conditions—especially when the big swells are running,” Cannon says. “Part of that is the difficulty of driving in it.”

Cannon’s boat was originally a wheel boat, but they switched to a tiller five years ago, and that gives him a far greater feel in the waves. “Driving in waves, it’s about learning how to shift gears, so you have the right power to get through and not overdriving in the waves. They’re long wavelengths so if you do it right you get a little nudge up in the waves, but if it’s light and you use the rudder too much it’s slow.”

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Downwind, he adds, the direction of the swell might be different than the direction of the wind, so one jibe is going to be quite different. You have to learn how to react to the waves and that does take something for out of town boats to get used to.”

The local wind knowledge on the regatta’s ocean race courses, Cannon says (and to take with a grain of Pacific sea salt) is at the start of the day to try and go left to get into the stronger breeze. Once it swings around to the right, you’re better off getting to the right. “What they say is, ‘If it’s below 270, go left at the start of the day, otherwise, go right.”

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