Sail Inventory Discussion

President Rick Lyall explains the history behind the current sail inventory rules and asks for your feedback.

Fellow J/109 owners:
At last week’s Block Island Race Week we included an “amendment” that allowed owners to change jibs and spinnakers at will during the day. We viewed this as an experiment and would like to hear your reactions now that the regatta has concluded.

The issue of sail inventory and flexibility has been around since I began racing my boat in 2004. As I recall, we only had one regatta with “class sails” that year, the 2004 East Coast Championship. Most owners did not have a “class jib or spinnaker” and had to purchase them. At Block Island Race Week in 2005 we had a meeting of the 19 owners in attendance. I was very much in favor of a larger, more flexible inventory that allowed us to adapt to the conditions. I was voted down 18-1 on the subject as all the other owners wanted a very simple one design inventory that made the boat affordable and easy to sail. In retrospect, that was probably a very important factor in helping to build the class. Owners were attracted to the boat because it could be cruised or raced and it had a simple racing inventory that seemed to ensure good one design competition.

We drafted the class rules in 2005-2006 with input from all of the US fleet captains and from Jeff and Rod Johnstone. The focus at the time was on keeping the J/109 class “one design.” We did not want owners to be able to use specialty sails because it would likely result in an “arms race” where owners with the biggest checkbooks would win. That was the rationale for limiting the sail inventories for a day and a regatta.

Last year, after the “windy” J/109 NA’s we received feedback from owners who had kept their “new” inventories up during the two heavy air days (>30kts) as they wanted to remain competitive. In response we solicited input from several sailmakers on a heavy air class jib that owners could change down to if the wind built to over 20-25kts. We think we have a decent design but never completed the work in time for a vote by the fleet captains following the annual meeting last October.

We also had a variety of input from owners and sail makers on the size of a “heavy air” spinnaker. Some owners thought a smaller kite might be more manageable while others thought the current class kite was fine. The class rules are flexible enough on the latter so owners could design a smaller or heavier kite if they chose or simply have their sail makers build a class kite out of heavier material. This is a topic I plan to revisit at this year’s annual meeting.

All of this is a summary of the conversations we have had on this subject over the past few years. The question is how to build in flexibility without creating an arms race and still maintain the one design nature of the class. If we allow owners to fly any sail in their inventory with a class royalty tag then we could be encouraging the use of specialty sails to suit the conditions. That undermines the one design nature of the class. If we adopt the “experimental provision” we used at BIRW 2009, owners have flexibility to change everything but their mainsail during the day. I believe the closest comparables to the J/109 class are the J/105s and J/80’s, and both of them are more restrictive than we are in sail limitations.

Proposals to change class rules have to be submitted by August and then voted on by the Fleet Captains and Class Officers in October at the annual meeting. It is easy to adopt changes for lower level regattas as they can be governed by the local fleet captains. However, at the championship level, such as the NAs or East Coast Championships, we need to follow class rules. As a result we have to follow the procedure outlined in the Class Constitution to make any changes that are proposed and adopted.

This is probably something we should open up on the J/109 Forum to create a broader discussion. Please think about this and give me your feedback.

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