J24 Nationals 2016 – a single handed sailor’s perspective
Having spent my entire sailing career to date sailing single-handed dinghies, mainly Toppers and more recently Lasers, I’ve never been much of a keelboat sailor. Being asked to be tactician on board Andy Taylor’s J24 ‘Phoenix’ at the 2016 nationals then was an interesting proposal, and one that I was interested to undertake.
The first day was a lot of time getting used to working in a 5-man team, and the communication that goes with that. Going from being a ‘silent’ sailor, making decisions in my head and then executing them with no discussion whatsoever is a hard habit to break, so the priority for the first day was just to voice everything that was going on inside my head. It becomes a constant dialogue between the helm, tactician, and trimmer, which was really great to experience.
After an hour or so postponement on the first morning due to no wind, we had some champagne sailing conditions with bright sunshine and a relatively steady breeze. It was a lot more of a case of picking a side and being relatively committed to it, given the slow tacking in a J24. Getting a clear land off the start and hitting the first shift to come through was the priority, if it took you to the correct side.
Obviously the biggest difference between my normal sailing and J24’s was downwind. Having had a moderate amount of experience especially recently in asymmetric boats, switching to conventional was the area I was least confident about. It was tricky at first to get to grips with the angles downwind but I found it didn’t take long to get my head in the game. Given the angle of the downwind legs it often paid to put a quick gybe in straight way and sail down the port lay-line in clear air, leaving the bunch of the fleet to cover each other, so good boat handling more than anything was the deciding factor here.
What I found great about multi-crew sailing was the opportunity as tactician to just be able to focus on one job. Thinking about what the favoured tack out of the leeward gate is while your legs are burning and heart rate is racing and trying to sail a boat on your own is great but it doesn’t give you much opportunity to really focus on what you’re thinking about. Having a great crew around to get the boat around the racecourse as fast as possible while I focused fully on where the next shift was, what the tide was doing and where the rest of the fleet was was brilliant in that I could analyse every decision and take time to think and evaluate how it went after. After the event I found I had learnt so much more in terms of tactics and big course strategy than I normally would at an equivalent laser event. Most sailors on the RYA youth system obviously tend to stick mainly to their specific dinghy class in order to get enough training time in, and having done this for the majority of the time until now, I found this event incredibly good for getting a different twist on big fleet racing.
For any single handed and youth sailors thinking of getting into some J24 sailing, I’d go for it. It’s a brilliant class to broaden your experience no matter what your role is on board. There are a lot of great crews out there and their range of experience can really add to your sailing, giving you a lot to take back to your main class. I’ve found I’m thinking a lot more now when I’m sailing about what’s going on around me, and sometimes even find myself verbalising things to myself just to try and get that discussion mind-set going, which is invaluable.
I’d like to say a huge thanks to Andy Taylor and his crew, for being so helpful and offering me the opportunity to sail with them. Their boat handling and pace was brilliant, and as they say good boat speed makes any tactician look good!