December 2007 Letter from Class President Rick Lyall

Fellow J/109 Class Members,

I thought I’d take this opportunity to write a “state of the class” letter to you as we approach the end of 2007.

I’d like to thank my predecessor, Len Siegal, who ably served our class as its first president. Len provided leadership and direction as we drafted the constitution and class rules and worked diligently during our first official year as a class. He will continue as Great Lakes Fleet Captain and I look forward to his ongoing contribution as an active class member.

I’d like to welcome Steve Tedeschi as Vice President. As many of you know, Steve has had an extraordinary run during 2007 with victories in the East Coast Championship, Block Island Race Week, Buzzards Bay Regatta, Larchmont NOOD and rounded out the year by winning the J/109 North American Championship aboard Tastes Like Chicken. Steve brings a great deal of energy to the class and I look forward to his input over the next year. I’d also like the express my gratitude to Ed Dailey who will thankfully continue as Secretary and to Barry Gold who has agreed to stay on as interim Treasurer. Both of these gentlemen have worked tirelessly over the last year on behalf of the class and I certainly appreciate their efforts. As some of you may know, Barry has recently purchased a J122 and has generously offered to stay on until we can find a replacement. While we are sorry to see Barry leave, we appreciate his significant contribution and look forward to working with him until we identify a successor. If any of you are interested in becoming Class Treasurer, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you!

The J/109 Class exits 2007 with approximately 360 boats in the water or on order. In the US, we had some memorable regattas beginning with Key West Race Week where Gary Moser’s Current Obsession narrowly edged Steve Tedeschi’s Tastes Like Chicken in a tie-breaker and only two points separated the top 4 boats. It just doesn’t get any closer than that! The balance of the year saw some great on the water action in the U.S. with seventeen boats at the East Coast championships and nineteen at Block Island Race Week. The European fleet also had a great season; Cowes Week had an entry of 27 boats and Dun Laoghaire Week in Ireland had 16 boats for the first ever Irish Nationals. There were 18 J/109s at the J-Cup and Deauville International Regatta (the J/109 EuroCup) had an entry of 17 boats. The class continues to turn heads with strong representation at major regattas and close finishes among the top four or five boats at during most races.

While we had tremendous success as a class, we also faced some challenges. J/Boats and Pearson Composites identified a weak area in the sump that lead to excessive flexing in the keel and resulted in stress fractures in some US manufactured boats. With the help of third party composite and engineering specialists, J/Boats and Pearson developed an upgrade kit to strengthen the affected area. To date, over 100 upgrade kits have been shipped and all US manufactured boats are scheduled to be retrofit at the owners’ option. This has no doubt caused some concern among owners and raised questions with potential buyers. The good news is that the class has met the challenge and is working its way through the solution. We thank J/Boats and Pearson for standing by us and protecting our investment.

From my perspective, the future of the class remains bright. We have a great base of support from existing owners. We have an opportunity to expand the current fleets and to form new fleets. Last month we learned that Fleet 14 had formed in San Francisco. There are 8 J/109s in the Bay Area and six of them are interested in participating in local events. San Francisco is a phenomenal sailing venue and we look forward to seeing this new fleet develop and potentially hosting championships in the near future.

My objective, as your new president, is to enhance the scope of opportunities enjoyed by class members and to unite the various groups of J/109 owners. The J/109 is an all purpose boat that can succeed as both a racer and cruiser. In this regard, I have three ideas I’d like to share with you:

1. Most of us have become accustomed to regattas consisting of a series of windward leeward courses. This requires skill at getting off the starting line, choosing the favored side of the course, and boathandling at crowded mark roundings. Distance racing rewards navigational skills and understanding tide and weather patterns. Based on what I have seen in the northeast, the vast majority of us have concentrated on racing around the buoys and haven’t had the inclination or the opportunity to experience distance racing. Our colleagues in the Great Lakes turned out twelve boats to race in the 333 mile Chigago to Mackinaw Island race better known as “the Mac”. I propose that we demonstrate the flexibility of the boats by adding some distance races to our current schedule of buoy races. We plan to add some distance races in the northeast in 2008. Some may be low key aimed more at fun and expanding participation with family and friends. I suspect others will be highly competitive. I suggest all J/109 fleets consider adding distance races to their schedules. We can judge the reaction to this “experiment” next year.

2. It is pretty clear that we have two primary groups of owners. Most active class members are racers. There is another group of owners that prefer to enjoy their time on the water by cruising their boats. I suspect neither group knows the other very well. We all own J/109s. Same boat, different priorities. Maybe we can get together by holding a J/109 Rendezvous and see how the “other side” lives. I suggest we try to schedule get togethers on all of the “coasts” in the US: east, west, Gulf and Great Lakes as well as in northern and southern Europe. If not in 2008, then hopefully in 2009. I’m sure there are cookouts to be held, stories to be told and fun to be had. Let’s get all the owners, crews and families together and have fun off the race course!

3. Let’s see. Buoys meet distance, racers meet cruisers. What else can we do? I find it remarkable that we have two large constituents of owners and very little interaction between them. Of the 360 J/109s, roughly half are located in North America and half in Europe. However, other than Ken Grant from Scotland who came to race in Key West in 2006, I’m not sure the North Americans and Europeans have met. I’d like to see the J/109 Class hold a Transatlantic Challenge where teams from Europe visit the US to compete one year and the Europeans host the North American team the following year. Ryder Cup, J/109 style! This obviously won’t be simple as we will need to identify a high level event on either side of the “pond” and arrange for charter boats to be available for visiting crews. This is a test concept designed to unify the class and make it truly global. I think it can work and I suspect there are enough owners on either side of the Atlantic that would be interested in this challenge. Let me know if you might be interested in doing this and we can get the ball rolling.

The class has come a long way in the last 12-18 months. Yet we still have considerable opportunity to grow and continue to improve. Let’s continue to compete fairly and set a good example for other one design classes. Let’s expand our activities to introduce events that allow us to develop new skills and meet new friends. Above all, let’s have fun. Isn’t that what this is all about?

I wish you all the best for the holidays and the New Year.

Best Regards,
Rick Lyall
J/109 Class President

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