It seems like this has been the year of the “J” boat for me. After putting well over 2000 nautical miles on a J-125 on the West Coast, I made my annual trip to the Gulf Coast of Texas. The annual Harvest Moon Regatta on James Linton’s J-120 ‘Aeolus’ was next up on my calendar. This was to be the third year doing the race for me and we were really hoping to improve on our second place finish (third overall) in last years event.
The wind forecast was light and on the nose for the first few hours with a slight shift to the southeast coming later in the day. We started well and extended out in front of the other boats with the exception of the Melges 30 and the Santa Cruz 50. Our new Carbon 155% Genoa gave us the power we needed to keep the 120 moving in the light stuff and in touch with both of the mentioned boats that were just in front of us. We had some difficulty navigating through the slower non-spinnaker boats but eventually made it through and were now eagerly anticipating the shift. This shift finally came in the late afternoon and we immediately hoisted our Code 0 and were now plugging along just shy of wind speed. The J-120 sails great with a Code 0 and we started to extend on the boats around us. We managed to pull some important distance on the J-44 who took up a little higher course than us and managed to overtake after a few hours of close-hauled genoa sailing. Once the Code 0 went up this all changed.
We spent most of the night dodging unlit oil platforms that litter the Gulf Coast. Weather was warm and the sky was lit with stars and a beautiful moon that helped shine some light on a racecourse that was not easy to navigate. As the night wore on the wind died, which was expected, we found ourselves with the genoa back up. This is not optimal for the 120 and I knew the Melges 30 was winning out in these conditions.
As daylight approached we could see the front coming towards us and knew the big shift and more wind was close. What I don’t think we anticipated was how much wind we would see. At right around 6am we tacked onto starboard as the cloud and front were now directly above us. I heard Steve Lemay call for the tack and I came up on deck and grabbed the mainsheet. Just as this happened the puff came on and we started easing as the boat started moving. In a matter of 5 minutes it was blowing 18… GAME ON!
We jib reached for a bit as the wind settled down and soon we were looking at 25+kts of breeze and a 120 TWA. Now this is what a J-120 is made for and this is where it gets good. I demand the 3A on deck and after some convincing (border-line arguing) with the owner I got my way. 3A up and we were launched! Now I am used to driving a J-125 in this so I was not expecting too much in the way of speed. I seriously underestimated the power of the 120 and was having a blast driving down waves.
The wind kept increasing and we were now seeing steady high 20’s with puffs of 30. The boat was a dream to sail and the 3A allowed us to go as low as 150 TWA without it hiding behind the main and collapsing. This spinnaker kept the boat tracking and was easy to drive with. We were on the rail now and headed right at the Port Aransas turning buoy that would put us into the ship channel and a small upwind leg to the finish. I started to push the boat and was soon seeing constant 15’s and a top speed of 18.9. The boat was sustaining 17’s for extended periods of times and we were never out of control. I stayed on the helm for the last 40 miles and the crew worked their butts off to keep us moving as fast as possible. The J-44 was now out of sight and it was a race against time.
We rounded the buoy with the #3 up and made our way to a late morning finish only about 30 minutes behind the SC-50… not bad! Port Aransas is a unique little town and has something to offer in the way of seafood and Bud Light. It was now a waiting game as we sucked back a few cold ones. Much to my chagrin I looked up 45 minutes later to see a Hobie 33 come cruising into the harbor. The Hobie 33 in Texas rates 96!!!! That might be a little friendly but they did end up overall winners even though they never even hoisted a spinnaker!
When results were posted we found out we finished second in class only to lose out to another J-Boat… a J-105! This was my third year doing the race and it has been getting better and better. The unpredictable wind and drag race down the coast makes for some serious fun!
Check out the short video here of us cruising with the 3A up. This is after the big puffs but we are still rocking it!
Ullman Sails Newport Beach