By Annette Hinkle
Every Sunday from May to October, a small fleet of sailboats can be seen plying the waters off Haven’s beach in Sag Harbor. They are the JY-15s, and back in 1989 when the newly formed Breakwater Yacht Club was researching boats for use in its community sailing program, founding member Bruce Tait introduced the vessel to the club as a possible candidate.
The one-design centerboard dinghy was designed by Rodney Johnstone and was unique because it was made, not of the usual fiberglass or wood, but rather thermoformed ABS plastic. The boat was a hit, and the yacht club as well as several of its members bought JY-15s. There has been a fleet of them in Sag Harbor ever since.
“There’s a core group of us who race on any given Sunday — anywhere from six to 15 boats,” explains Bud Rogers who was among the first in Sag Harbor to get a JY-15.
But this weekend, spectators can expect to see far more boats in the water when the Breakwater Yacht Club (BYC) and JY-15 Fleet 2 of Sag Harbor hosts the JY-15 North American Championships. Up to 40 boats are expected to compete in the regatta which runs Friday to Sunday.
“The North American championship has never been held here,” explains Rogers, chair of the event.
The championship has, however, been held in Rochester, Connecticut, Georgia and Texas — and in some of those locations JY-15s are more likely to be sailed on lakes than saltwater bays.
When asked how sailing in Sag Harbor differs from lake sailing, Rogers responds, “Conditions here are more consistent. Usually wind conditions are better here. But the biggest difference between here and a lake is that here, you’re sailing on a current.”
Sailors expected to take part in this event will come from upstate New York, Michigan and even as far away as Mexico City. While some will trailer their own JY-15s, others will race boats from the Sag Harbor fleet.
“It’s a big deal for us and it’s going to be really good,” says yacht club member and longtime sailor Sara Nightingale who notes that many individuals and local businesses have dedicated their time and services to make the regatta a success. “We’re trying to grow this class.”
Nightingale was also among those who tested the JY-15 at BYC back in 1989 and she explains what it is about the boat that she particularly likes.
“It’s really easy to sail,” she says. “It’s very comfortable with a round hull. The windier it is the more physical it gets. There’s no spinnaker or trapeze, which requires athleticism. Old, young, families, kids, women can do it. Two people fit in it, it doesn’t matter how much you weigh.”
The championship regatta will give local sailors a chance to get to know some of the JY-15’s more distant fans, and it kicks off with racing at Haven’s Beach at 2 p.m. this Friday followed by dinner at BYC and a special guest speaker.
“This Friday, we’ve persuaded the fellow who designed the JY-15, Rodney Johnstone, to come over and talk about the boat,” says Rogers. “We also have a new boat builder, Hugh Armbruster, who will talk about how the construction has changed this year.”
In 2010, production of the plastic version of the JY-15 ceased. But a fiberglass version is now being made by Nickels Boatworks in Fenton, Michigan and this weekend’s regatta will be the first time the new version of the JY-15 will compete against the plastic boats.
“We have two of the first boats from the new builder in our fleet,” says Rogers. “It’s a big change for the fleet and a great treat to have one of the celebrities of the sailing world. We’ll have a dinner and a meeting of the class and a lot of camaraderie.”
But the major action will be on the water, and Rogers explains how this weekend will differ from the usual JY-15 Sunday races.
“It’s more challenging when there are more people on the water,” says Rogers. “It means a lot more is going on. Tactics change, there are opportunities to advance or fall back. It’s a lot of fun – and very different than when you’re racing against your usual competitors.”
Nightingale grew up sailing and it has remained an important part of her life. For those who don’t understand the attraction to the sport, she’s happy to put it in perspective.
“I like it because it’s the only thing I do in my whole life that requires so much mental concentration while I’m doing it,” she explains. “Your drama, your boyfriends, your debt all goes away – it’s like chess and an intellectual thing you do while being physical.”
And afterwards, the social setting of the yacht club allows sailors to unwind and pick up some new tips from their competition.
“That’s when you talk to your competitors and everyone is friendly,” notes Nightingale. “You say ‘Sorry about what I did at that mark,’ or, ‘Not sure I was right or wrong,’ or ‘How do you trim your main?’”
“It so complicated, it’s a fun sport, everything’s moving and changing,” she adds. “There’s lots of learning.”
“You never stop learning,” adds Rogers. “A lot of it is intuitive, and you only learn by time in the water. Some sailors come by it naturally, others of us work hard to gain that intuition.”
The JY-15 North American Championships run from September 30 to October 2, 2011 in Sag Harbor. In addition to Friday’s events, racing continues Saturday followed by a dinner at BYC and the event wraps up on Sunday afternoon with an awards ceremony and luncheon at the yacht club. To take part in the regatta, contact Mark Webber, email@example.com or Sara Nightingale, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Top: JY-15s in action ( image courtesy Randy Burke/ LI Sail)