This article is from an interview with Ramzi Bannura, President of the J/80 North American Class Association – www.j80na.org.
US Sailing: What is the appeal of the J-80 class?
Ramzi Bannura: The allure is that the J/80 is a competitive one design class that has pockets of established fleets and boats across the US and Canada, such as Annapolis, Toronto, Seattle, Austin and New Hampshire . The class has closed class rules so that means that anything that is not expressly permitted is prohibited. One of the most attractive features of the class is that sailors are open and engaging, meaning sailors teach each other how to sail/race better and optimally tune their boats. It is not unusual to see open and honest discussion happening on the dock about set ups, or chatter about spinnaker take down techniques, or why one side of the course or the other was better in a post race debrief. The J/80 class is a like-minded community of sailors that seeks camaraderie through healthy competition.
Though mainly sailed by middle-aged men in the 40+ age range, it is common to see teenagers and women skippering a competitive J/80, and it is worth noting that the J/80 is commonly used for family cruising and PHRF sailing in all venues.
US Sailing: How is the J/80 class growing?
Ramzi Bannura: In the past two years, based on class membership numbers, the J/80 class has seen a 20% growth. Since there is a shortage of boats, although new ones can be built to order today, class members are looking to locate boats that are not currently being sailed so that new owners can get involved competing in the class. The boats hold value well – 25 to 30 year old boats are still very competitive and hold championship trophies. The boats perform well in light air but the real performance starts when the breeze gets up to 15 knots and the boats start planning downwind at times approaching 20 knots. Fear is not a large factor as the breeze goes up since the J/80 demonstrates the art of solid handling and even graceful broaching as opposed to traditionally scary knockdowns. The J/80 is very easy to rig, tow and launch which makes opportunities for traveling an inviting adventure.
When all is said and done, the J/80 is ridiculously competitive and the class rules and one design specification consistency over the years makes the skipper and crew the primary difference in the performance of the boat, not all the extra high-tech gear common today!
US Sailing: What best practices does the J/80 class have to share for participation and retention of sailors?
Ramzi Bannura: The J/80 class has a member-only section of the website (www.j80na.org) where members have exclusive access to the J/80 “knowledge base” and other tools which is particularly helpful to new J/80 owners, as well as access to the North American member directory. Hints and tips along with tuning information on how to make the boat go faster are also readily available.
The J/80 North American class is not a “Pro” dominant class since the owner/driver rule tends to limit the number of pro drivers unless they are boat owners. Pro sailors are otherwise active in the class as crew and trusted advisers for boat owners/programs on a regular basis. If a sailor wants to sail the class events, they will be required to be a boat owner. The class welcomes the participation of pros as they continue to share their knowledge and expertise in the spirit of camaraderie through competition.
US Sailing: How has the J/80 class been able to help contain the costs of participation?
Ramzi Bannura: Boat owners are only allowed to buy one suit of sails per year; this restriction tends to temper an arms race. Many teams save those “championship” sails for the big events, and regularly use other used sails in their regular club and evening races. New sails definitely make a difference, but the biggest differentiator is the skill of the sailors.
The other way that many sailors are able to manage costs of traveling outside of their local area is through the invitation and generosity of other J/80 sailors across the country. If there is an event, many local fleet sailors offer to host/house out of town sailors to make travel to events more affordable. Hospitality encourages participation and friendships are born through that participation. This is an amazing and notable element of the J/80 class that has led to well attended events and good friendships.
US Sailing: Any final thoughts and additional information you would like to share?
Ramzi Bannura: There are more than 1,000 boats that have been built world-wide, with 250+ boats here in the US and Canada. The average price ranges between $25-35,000 all up, and as previously mentioned, the J/80 tends to hold its value since older boats are build solid and are competitive with newer boats. Not only is the J/80 being used for racing (with max crew weight of 770 lbs/350 kg) but its versatility is shown in its regular use by clubs and sailing organizations for learn to sail and instructional programs, for boat rentals within programs, and for family time sailing.
It is important to note that the J/80 is as global as any worldwide one design class. In addition to North America, there is a strong presence in Asia and Europe. North American sailors can participate in international events and our champions hold their own against anyone from anywhere. And the One Design Insurance policies from the Gowrie Group can be a huge benefit to one design sailors when they are sailing/competing at home or abroad, giving boat owners that additional peace of mind. J/80 World Championship is currently planned for 2022 in North America.
Any and all are welcome to sail the J/80 and join the class – it is a fun, fast and fair class to be part of!
For more stories and resources for one design sailors, visit US Sailing’s One Design Central!