Team, Tuning & Starts: Keys To Success In The J/24 Fleet

YouRegatta Makin' Waves - Carter White sails with his YouRegatta team and their new Quantum Sails. Photo by Chris Howell.

Shortly after joining Quantum Sails in early 2019, Carter White hit the J/24 racecourse and made quite an impact. Carter credits his success to his team, proper rig tune, and nailing the start.

I joined Quantum Sails just before heading down to Tampa, Florida to sail the 2019 J/24 Midwinter Championship with my crispy new sails. Our team has had great success with our switch to Quantum, which was evident by our second place finish at the first event and then a few months later, taking first at Charleston Race Week. Here’s what I think made the biggest impact.

Our Team

Our team has been working together for the last three years and four of our five team members are on the boat for every event. This consistency pays off in all aspects of traveling and sailing in an event. From boat prep, rigging, tuning, sandwich-making, and de-rigging, each team member knows what their part is in helping our program run smoothly. Our team is my wife Molly White on bow, Chris Lombardo trimming up wind, Ted Wiedeke trimming downwind, Michael McAllister providing tactics, and me driving the boat. None of us are “pro sailors,” but we’re all talented and passionate about meeting the goals we set annually and at each regatta. Our roles are pretty typical compared to other teams, but one difference is that we split trimming duties. Most teams don’t do this, as it is sometimes difficult to switch roles while racing, but it works well for us, as we maximize the talents on the boat and keep arms and minds fresh throughout each event.

This comprehensive guide and workbook is a helpful tool to keep you team on the same page and drill down on your long-term, short-term, and personal goals.

Tuning

Because we’ve used a competitor’s product for over 15 years, we’ve concentrated on making sure our rig tune matches the Quantum guide and that we create repeatable numbers and processes that carry over from event to event and race to race. I am happy to report that our setup gave us excellent speed right out of the gate, and we continue to follow the Quantum numbers to a tee in each given wind range. You can access the J/24 tuning guide here and an even more in-depth J/24 set up guide here.

What we really like about the Quantum tuning system is that the wind ranges and rig steps are more accurate to what is actually happening on the water. It’s my experience that other systems were always near the edge of a certain guide’s range, but with the Quantum system we feel we’re in the sweet spot more often, and that translates to greater speed, which was key to our success in both events. We felt we were the fastest boat on the course both up and down wind. If you don’t have Quantum sails, you can download this DIY quick tune guide and start to make your own that better reflects the wind ranges.

Another difference with our approach compared to other teams is that we are using the Spinlock Rig Sense for gauging rig tension. I feel this gauge is more accurate than the Model A Loose Gauge. (Caveat: It’s a little tricky to apply to the wire, which can create some inaccuracies, but if you’re careful it works great.) We have come to the conclusion that no matter how well you take care of your Model A gauge, it will lose accuracy fairly quickly, making the gauge read the tension looser than it actually is. The result is that you overtighten the rig. After looking at a few gauges at the Midwinter’s, I’d say that boats with older or used Model A gauges could be a whole step too tight. The Spinlock measures in kilograms instead of pounds but is easily converted. We’re updating the Quantum tuning guide with the kilogram numbers. Check out this link for more information about the Spinlock Rig Sense. It’s about the same price as a Model A Loose Gauge and can be found at West Marine or other marine retailers.

Another strategy we follow is to check wind speed constantly with a handheld device. We use the Weatherhawk Windmate WM-200. It measures wind speed, direction, temperature, and more, but we use it just for the wind speed. It’s important when using the instrument to make sure your boat is completely stopped; use your Velocitek Pro Start or another instrument to calculate if you are moving. I have often thought I had stopped the boat when in fact we were still moving. Calculating any movement is important as you’ll need to factor this into the wind speed since you’ll be measuring apparent wind speed and not true wind speed. Most, if not all, tuning guides are set up using true wind speed, as is the Quantum guide. We check the wind speed because current, local geographies and just plan human error can easily misinterpret wind strength just by looking or feeling the wind. Here’s a fun game our team plays: I check the wind speed and then the rest of the crew guesses what it is. The closest guess without going over wins a new car. Just kidding! Winning is all about bragging rights, but this process helps all of us get into the game plan and setup of the boat.

The Start

Before each race, tactician Michael and I, and most often the rest of the crew, discuss a plan of attack for the race course. We consider factors such as wind strength over the course, current, course skew, and which end of the line is favored. To boil it down, we decide which side of the course we want to win and/or protect. Then we determine how difficult it will be to get to that side of the course based on which end of the line is favored. This strategy is called winning your side, and it really helps produce consistent results, as being in the top third of the boats at the first weather mark if you pick the wrong side is the worst you’ll do. That will happen from time to time.

Here’s what our game plan looks like in action:

  1. If we determine there is more wind on the left side of the course and the windward mark is skewed to this side, we know we want to go that way. If we then determine that the boat end of the line is favored, we decide we don’t need to win the boat end start, but we do need to be near that end. We want the ability to stay on starboard tack as long as possible to get to the left side of the course.
  2. With that decision made, I now know that I want to start just to leeward of the pack of boats at the right end of the line, leaving as much of a hole below me as possible so that I can hold my lane as long as possible.
  3. If I am successful at this start, we then sail straight and fast as long as we can and make sure that we’re ahead of anyone that might be to the left of us. We don’t worry too much about the right hand side of the course as we have already determined we want to be the first boat out of the left side.

This strategy almost always commits us to starting near an end of the line, which I think is a key to our success. By starting near an end and with a plan, we’re committing to a side of the course. In most sailing areas, getting to a side is almost always better than the middle for a variety of reasons but mainly because one side will be underneath the mark more than the other. If there is a lift or header wind shift, you will gain on your competitors that aren’t under the mark. This happens because the windward mark will be skewed to one side or the other. Here is more good info about nailing your starts.

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