3rd December 2022
The 2022 Season Aboard Headcase.
This summer past we had the pleasure of racing in the J24 European Championships, which were hosted by Howth Yacht Club. This was the first time since 2013, when the same venue hosted the World Championships, that Irish waters have held a major international J24 event. The 2013 Worlds were a feat of excellent organisation and produced stellar racing but, despite some excellent race results, no Irish boat made the top 18. Nine years later and the Irish are a driving force at the top of the rankings. Going into the final race of the 2022 European Championships, more than one home team could have taken the title, with the crew on Kinsailor missing out by just one point in the end. Rather than the class wilting in the wake of hosting a major event, it seems like 2023 will be an even bigger year for Irish J/24s.
In this article we reflect on the incredible 2022 season for the class and for us aboard Headcase.
After two years of lockdowns, we approached 2022 with an abundance of enthusiasm and energy. We put together a bucket list of events, with the first stop being Kieler Woche in Germany, one of the world’s largest regattas.
Thanks to Brexit and some good luck, we managed to borrow a van and put the boat on a Dublin-Rotterdam ferry. Flying into Amsterdam, we then picked up the boat on the Monday morning and spent a day travelling to Kiel. A full day of boat prep followed, while we waited to lift in. The scale of Kieler Woche was in sharp contrast to the Irish events we had done previously, and we were pleasantly surprised to go out on the first day and win all three races. It was clear we had a speed advantage over the local boats, many of whom were hitting the water for the first time that season. Our spring training sessions in Lough Ree, Howth and Malahide meant our boat handling was crisp and we had a marginal speed advantage on the upwind. Once we got ahead, it was very difficult for other boats to reel us in. While we didn’t maintain that dominance over the next few days, as the cobwebs were being blown off the Germans and Swedish, we managed to close out the event with a victory.
Coming into Kieler Woche we had the advantage of relative anonymity, as we hadn’t yet competed outside of Ireland with the boat. With the UK Nationals two weeks later we had a target on our backs. However, after three days of mostly light wind racing, we emerged as winners of the event and the first Irish crew to win the UK nationals since Philip Watson in the inaugural event in 1978. It was also clear that the Irish fleet could hold their own against their UK counterparts. The crew on Janx Spirit from Tralee were unfortunate to miss out on a top three spot, finishing fourth, and it wasn’t until the final race of the event that a UK boat got a race win.
With a victory in the UK nationals under our belt there was no time to waste. The fleet becalmed on the last day of the eventand the race committee sent us home as the 2pm time limit for running a race approached. That left us with about 21 hours to get the boat and crew to the start line of Cork Week. With very little sleep we arrived in Cork at 7am on Monday morning and managed to rig and launch for the first start. Tiredness doesn’t begin to describe how we were feeling by the end of the week, however we were happy to have won the ICRA national title on IRC, despite being soundly beaten by Sam Laidlaw’s BLT for the class prize.
There was again very little rest between Cork Week and our next event which was the Irish National Championships in Foynes. Here we experienced some of our closest racing of the season yet. With the Irish fleet already having the Northern Championships under their belt, everyone was trying to build momentum for the Europeans. The score line of 6 first places in 8 races definitely flattered us, as often we were waiting for the last mark rounding or final boat handling maneuver to pull into the lead. By the end of the event we realized that we had overextended ourselves in the early season. Even though we had planned to bring the boat to Howth and start training for the Europeans, we decided it was best to take some time off and recoup some energy before the event.
It was in the Easterns, which was seen as a warm-up event for the Europeans, that we first got a taste of what to expect from the team on Kinsailor. While many U25 teams have been set up in the last 10 years, the team on Kinsailor have really proven how successful the model can be. A pairing of good dinghy sailors with a fast boat and good kit made waves on the Irish and International scene. Despite breaking their mast in Race 2, they managed to source a replacement and push us all the way to finish second. This was a sign that they meant business for the Europeans. Indeed they put in a fine display in the Europeans and in what was an uncharacteristically high-scoring event they could have walked away as European Champions in their first year in the class.
Our Europeans were plagued by inconsistency. While we felt quick, we had several big things go against us, finishing 5thoverall despite being in with a shot of winning going into the final race. We take great heart from the season and realistically we know we have the potential to win big in the future. With the Europeans in Hungary next year, followed by the Worlds in Greece, we have big plans for a transcontinental road trip with Headcase.
While we have had a great season on Headcase, it is excellent to see the other Irish boats stepping up. The great performances of Janx Spirit and Kinsailor have already been mentioned, but Hard on Port’s victory in the Northern Championships in their first season as owners of the boat is also noteworthy. The current strength and depth in the Irish fleet doesn’t stop there, with the likes of Il Riccio, Jibe and the Usher’s new boat Hedgehog always pushing hard.
Looking at the current success of the Irish J24 class it could be said that it has some of its origins in the disappointing 2013 season. As a member of the Howth Yacht Club K25 programme, I got a start in J24 sailing aboard Kilcullen at that time. The youth team concept was new to Ireland at that point but had strong success in Germany and other places. Since then, the class has benefited by from new U25 teams adding numbers to the class. They also provide a steady stream of capable sailors who continue on in sailing, and always seem to come back to the J24 class. Ultimately the various programmes have improved the level of racing, as well as the comradery and social scene.