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J/99s Debut @ SPI Ouest France Regatta

La Trinite sur Mer, France)- Last weekend, the Societe Nautique de La Trinite sur Mer hosted their annual SPI Ouest France Regatta.  The event was simply huge and, as anticipated prior to the regatta, the competition was fierce in certain classes in what was predominantly a very light air regatta- far, far lighter than what has been the historical average for this Easter Weekend regatta.

The 2019 edition had 398 keelboats on the water, of which 98 were a veritable navy of J’s (25% of the total fleet) that included J/70s, J/80s, J/92s, J/97s, J/99s, J/105s, J/109, J/111, J/120 and J/122E.

The most exciting news for J/sailors was watching the debut of the quartet of new J/99s racing in their first major event since launching the first boat early March in the United Kingdom.  In short, despite having virtually zero time to tune-up, debug, fine-tune rig settings, adjust sails, and train the crew, the J/99s in both the IRC B Class and the IRC Doublehanded class closed the regatta on the final day with podium finishes or outright dominant victories!

We received a report and commentary from Fred Bouvier fresh after the awards ceremony on Monday:

“We launched J-LANCE 14 just two weeks before SPI Ouest and Olivier Grassi’s boat was launched just 48 hours before the regatta and managed to sail just four hours prior to the first day of racing!

There were four J/99s participating in the regatta, three were in IRC B class and one in the IRC Double class. Two boats had double rudders and the other two had single rudders.  All boats had symmetric spinnakers, ‘short’ bowsprits with long spinnaker poles, and flat keels for optimized IRC rating trim. The three boats in IRC B class had carbon rigs, only the IRC Doublehanded class boat had the standard aluminum mast.

It was very difficult sailing for the regatta. It was very light winds all four days- ranging from 4.0 to 8.0 kts. Plus, we were fighting moon tides that were producing very strong currents.

Perhaps the most important lessons learned were that each boat did better race after race; everyone was learning how to tune the rig, then set the sails better, and the crew work and racing tactics/ strategies improved, too.

What we discovered is that the J/99 is very fast downwind, as fast or faster, than most 11 to 12 meter boats in class (36 to 40 footers). Perhaps the most enlightening aspect of the boat is that it is very stiff; we were very fast upwind.

Our biggest issue in the windward-leeward races was that we were stuck in a 26-boat class that had a good half-dozen very well sailed 36 to 41 footers; so keeping clear from their bad winds was of paramount importance.

In the third coastal race around buoys and islands, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for us on J-LANCE 14!  We had a bad start, bad tuning, bad tactics, and sailed into several holes. It was definitely a ‘big boat’ race, but our mistakes killed us.

However, by the last race, we got it all together and finished right on the transom of the J/122E MUSIX that got on the podium with the bronze medal! We were quite happy with that outcome! Similarly, Olivier Grassi in the IRC Doublehanded Class not only beat most of the 52-boat class overall on elapsed time, beating many bigger boats, but won by a lot on handicap time! A great way to finish the regatta for both boats!

When we discussed how the boat sailed with the various skippers, it was pretty clear that for the longer reaching legs, the twin rudders were better, it had lighter feel on the helm offshore. However, if sailing W/L courses most of the time, it appeared the single rudder may be better for both VMG upwind, but more importantly, for VMG downwind.

We are also pleased to report that of all the new 28 to 32 footers introduced at SPI Ouest, the J/99 was viewed as the most comfortable and versatile as a weekend family cruiser, too! All other competitive boats (like the JPK 1010, 1030, 1080, Sunfast 3200, 3300, 3600) were seen as simply race boats only, with no room or comforts down below.

With a little more time to fine-tune the rigging settings, the sail trim, and sail selection choices, we believe we will have a good showing at an overnight double-handed event in La Rochelle in two weeks.”

In the end, it was Phillipp Baetz’s J/122E MUSIX from the host club SN Trinite sur Mer that took the bronze in IRC B class with a 5-12-3-6-7 record for 21 pts net.  Just one point back was Didier LeMoal’s J/99 J-LANCE 14 with a 8-7-18-4-3 tally for 22 pts net. Notably, in the last race, the two J/99s (Andrew Algeo’s Irish team on JUGGERKNOT 2 and the French J-LANCE 14) finished 2nd and 3rd, respectively, on handicap time and also beat all but one of the 35 to 40 footers in the entire class boat-for-boat! And, that included crushing two very famous French offshore teams; the JPK 1080 RAGING BEE and the JPK 1010 FOGGY DEW (the overall RORC Fastnet Race winners)!

The 50-boat IRC Doublehanded division was considered to have some of the fiercest offshore competition in the regatta, with many French solo/double stars sprinkled amongst the various boats; many of which are full-time professional sailors.  Up against such a formidable contingent of French superstars, Olivier Grassi’s J/99 GRASSI BATEAUX started off slowly but steadily improved every race, posting a 11-5-5-1 scoreline to secure the bronze, just 2 pts from the silver and 3 pts from the gold!  An amazing performance for a boat that was just “float-tested” less than 48 hours before their first start!

In their fourth and final race, GRASSI BATEAUX felt they were finally getting a good feel for their boat. After a nearly three hour race, they were third boat across the line on elapsed time, just 1 min 30 sec behind a 34 footer and ahead of all the 36 to 40 footers; an astonishing achievement in a brand new boat (literally!), all things considered in such a hot, competitive fleet. The rest of the fleet was a who’s who of the French offshore shorthanded establishment; all sailing in these boats- Sunfast 3600 (9), Sunfast 3200 (9), Sunfast 40 (1), JPK 1080 (6), JPK 1010 (8), and A35 (4).

Racing in the thirteen-boat IRC A class was Patrice Vidon’s J/111 J4F from Societe Nautique Baie St Malo. In the end, their 8-6-7-9-4 tally for 25 pts net was good enough for 6th overall, just 7 pts from a podium finish.

In the twenty-five-boat IRC C class, the two J/92s sailed well.  Matthieu Visbecq’s NAVARCHSOFT took sixth place while Thierry Bidon’s DR JEKYLL from CN Lorient placed eighth.

The French version of the American PHRF class is called the Osiris Habitable handicap rule. In the OSH 2 Class, Samuel Blevin’s J/109 JOKE sailed a very nice regatta and their crew hopped onto the podium in the bronze position.

The seventeen-boat J/70 class saw very competitive racing for most of the top ten, except the winner!  Walking off with the convincing class win was Russian Alexei Semenov’s NEW TERRITORIES team (including Spanish Olympic Medallist Hugo Rocha as trim/ tactics); they essentially crushed the fleet with five 1sts and three 2nds in ten races to win by a twenty-point margin! Taking the silver was Frenchman Laurent Sambron racing HEMO-CAMUS with a 37 pts net total.  Third was Damian Michelier’s SAGE ENGINEERING SAILING TEAM with 42 pts net.  Rounding out the top five were Francois Lenart’s MECENAT CHIRURGIE CARDIAQUE in 4th an Phillippe Guigne’s VIRTUAL REGATTA 70 in 5th position.

With sixty-six boats, the J/80 class was, again, by far the largest class at SPI Ouest France for at least ten years in a row, maybe more. The regatta produced a few surprise results due to the very light air conditions.  Winning was Frenchman Pierre Laouenan on COURRIER ECOLE NAVALE, producing an astonishing tally of 15-1-3-2-1-1 for 8 pts net to win by a large margin.  Taking second was another surprise fleet leader, the Spanish crew of Almandoz Iker sailing GRUPO GARATU with a 1-4-4-4-2-19 record for 15 pts net. Third was a familiar face on the podium, Frenchman Sylvain Pellisier’s INTUITIVE SAILS with a 4-35-2-1-8-11 scoreline for 26 pts. net. Rounding out the top five in this tough class was Luc Nadal’s GAN’JA in 4th and Corentin Kieffer’s GRAND OUEST ETIQUETTES in 5th place.

Here is an interview with the winner- Pierre Laouenan.

SPI: Pierre, what memory will you keep from this 41st Spi Ouest-France?

PL: Obviously a very good memory, since we win! Overall, we showed a good level, we were fairly regular. It was a recovery for this crew; it was two years since we had not done a J/80. We also discovered the Courrier École Navale boat. Our goal is the world championship, this year in Bilbao, in July. It was therefore important for us to make a good recovery, to take the boat in hand.

SPI: You had a complicated departure …

PL: Yes, we start with our worst race, taking the fifteenth place. Then, we go on the podiums: three races being first, another being second and finally a third place. It is a real satisfaction, there was also a strong competition.

SPI: You are not at your first attempt on the Spi Ouest-France?

PL: No, I do not count the number of Spi Ouest-France I made, but it is my third victory in J/80, and the fourth SPI Ouest I win in all. It is always a nice race, especially when you run with nice conditions like that, with sun and a little wind.

SPI: The wind was still a little slow?

PL: Over the last two days it was very soft it is true, but we still managed to sail, the committee was doing well and we could all run a few runs even if it was not always easy. There were also strong currents, and therefore an important part of strategy in navigation. We managed not to make too many mistakes, and we are really satisfied with this edition. Sailing photo credits- Jean-Marie Liot  For more SPI Ouest France sailing information