One-Design Classes Old and New Prep for Battle at Annual Regatta

One-Design Classes Old and New Prep for Battle at Annual Regatta

NEWPORT, R.I. — When New York Yacht Club Vice Commodore Bill Ketcham purchased his J/44 Maxine in 1996, the popular offshore racing design had been out of production for three years. Normally, this is strong indicator one-design racing is on the wane. More than 20 years later, however, the J/44 is still providing great one-design racing. Six will be sailing off Newport, R.I., this coming weekend at the 163rd New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta presented by Rolex and eight will contest the class's North American Championship as part of the Storm Trysail Club's Block Island Race Week later this month.

"We still have 10 to 12 boats that are pretty active in the one-design program, where we use class-owned sails that are rotated between boats every regatta," says Ketcham, of Greenwich, Conn. "We have some new owners in the fleet, and they are sailing in this event. There aren't many boats racing one-design that feel pretty lively, and also have the kind of cruising accommodations that a J/44 has. It's a great dual-purpose boat. And we are usually overlapped at the first weather mark."

In terms of it's sail plan, the J/44 is a bit of a throwback, using overlapping jibs, a spinnaker pole and symmetric downwind sails. Throw in the running backstays and getting the boat around the buoys takes a practiced crew. But that, says Ketcham, is part of the fun

"Our team has been sailing together for so long that we don't think much about it," he says. "But there' s nothing more satisfying than a perfect dip pole jibe in 25 to 30 knots of breeze. The boat is surprisingly stable and responsive, as long as the helmsman keeps it under the kite."

And, of course, even after two decades of racing Maxine, she is still imparting lessons to the Vice Commodore and his team, which usually includes a few members of his immediate family. "Rig tune is always a challenge, and we have been experimenting with it lately," he says. "We're not quite where we want to be yet."

On the opposite side of the one-design growth curve is the sporty C&C30 class, which held its first North American championship last summer as part of the New York Yacht Club's Race Week at Newport presented by Rolex and is back with a fleet of nine boats for the 2017 Annual Regatta presented by Rolex.

Having earned a Rolex timepiece in addition to the North American championship last summer, it's no surprise that C&C30 skipper Dan Cheresh of Saugatuck, Mich., is excited to be back in Newport.

"This event has special meaning to the team," he says. "Back in 2015, it was the first event Extreme2 ever sailed. But we look at every event as an opportunity to improve our skills as a team, and this event is no different."

Extreme2 was the boat to beat in 2016, but Cheresh isn't taking anything for granted this season. Among the new additions to the class is a team led by Mark and Cory Sertl, the latter of whom was the Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year in 1995 and 2001.

"This class is developing very quickly and in order to do well both here and at Block Island Race Week, we will need to be at our very best," says Cheresh. "The playing field is level, and the competition is very deep from top to bottom, so we need to improve in all areas at every event in order to continue to have success. But that's what I enjoy most about sailing these boats, nothing comes easy."

While not technically a one-design class, the 12-Metre class has its strongest showing in many years at the 163rd Annual Regatta presented by Rolex, with nine of the grand dames of Newport yachting competing. The class, which was used for the America's Cup from 1957 to 1987, has started the build-up to a world championship in Newport in 2019, and some old boats are getting pulled out of retirement in anticipation of what could be an historic regatta. Both Defender and Freedom, which won the America's Cup in 1980, have recently undergone comprehensive restorations and will add a spark to the competitive Modern fleet, which includes yachts built from 1968 through 1983.

Photo credits: ROLEX/Daniel Forster