J/121 Offshore Test Update
(Annapolis to Newport)
After motoring north up the Chesapeake in no wind, we passed through the C&D canal that connects the Chesapeake Bay with Delaware Bay, across the top of the state of Delaware. We continued to motor south in Delaware Bay and rounded Cape May about 0600 on Sunday, heading northeast, still motoring in no wind. At 1100, the breeze started to fill in and within 30 minutes, it was blowing 15 knots. By sunset, the winds would build to 25 knots with seas of four to six feet.
Typically, on deliveries, I am cautious about sail choice, often reefing early and rarely using spinnakers. The risk of damage to sails, rigging, and steering increases dramatically when pushing a boat with too much sail up. It’s one thing to have a problem on your own boat, but entirely different when you have to explain to an owner that the sails are now ready to donate to the folks who make fashion bags from sail material.
However, I knew the J/121 had yet to be sailed in the offshore conditions it was designed for, and since Al and Jeff Johnstone are my cousins, I figured they might be more understanding if we dialed the boat up a bit and see what she could do… so after a lame attempt at sailing deep with the main and the jib (Montauk was almost dead downwind, 200 miles away), we hoisted the A4 heavy weather spinnaker, and bang, we were off and running. It was an exciting moment for us as the boat instantly accelerated to double-digit speeds.
The ease at which the boat accelerated and sustained its speed was incredible. In 18 kts TWS (true wind speed) we were averaging 10.5 and surfing at 13 to 14 kts. In 22 kts TWS, we were doing a steady 12-13 kts and surfing for sustained periods at 14-16 kts, running up and over waves ahead. And in 24-25 kts TWS, we were doing 13.5 to 14 kts consistently and surfing at 16 to 18.5 kts quite easily. Needless to say, for all those who steered her in these conditions, it left everyone with a big grin on their face!
I often reach a point on a boat where I say to myself, I don’t want to go this fast. . it could be the keel and rudder vibrating excessively, the bow submarining in waves, steering on the edge of control, and so forth. Not once did we have a panicked feeling on board the 1-2-1, and not once in seven hours did someone have to lunge for a sail control to put the brakes on an incredible ride!! Ease-of-handling is great no matter how many crew are on-board, but it’s especially critical when you’re out there way offshore, short-handed, tired, and steering for hours-on-end, or when the autopilot is running the show. The easier the boat steers in demanding conditions, the less fatigue and also the less drain on your batteries when you’re on autopilot!!
We then sailed with mainsail-only Sunday evening and Monday morning at 160 degrees AWA, heading for Block Island, averaging 9.5 knots in 25 knots of wind.
As we slid by Block Island, we considered continuing on, over the horizon. Thinking maybe we could send a note to Jeff to let him know that the son of a deceased Nigerian King would be wiring money to the J/Boats account. “He would just need to send along his bank account details…”