J-22 Midwinters . . .
How To Pitchpole a J-22!

by Scott Nixon

Wow!!! What an event! The Big Easy was not so easy for our team on J/22 USA 1077. The 2001 J/22 Midwinter's were hosted by the Southern Y.C. in New Orleans, Louisiana February 15th-18th. I drove the boat down to New Orleans in the Quantum van a few days early to get everything set up for the event. 

Tuesday night I picked the crew up at the airport so we could spend a few days together sail testing and getting our crew work down. For this event I was lucky to have two of the best well rounded, championship level crew around. Moose McClintock from Newport, RI did tactics and worked the middle of the boat. Tucker Thompson from Annapolis, MD and SpinSheet fame, worked the bow. Both of these guys have sailed in almost every major event sailing has to offer. Tucker sailed with America True in the last America's Cup and Moose was sail trimmer on Paul Cayard's America One. Moose has more sailing experience than all the people I know put together. He has managed to win the J/22 & J/24 World's numerous times. Along with experience from America's Cup and Admiral's Cup campaigns he is a valuable asset on any team. It was a pleasure and a great learning experience for me sailing with these two guys. 

We spent all of Wednesday and Thursday sail testing and practicing with a few other boats. New Orleans delivered beautiful weather for our practices. The temperatures were in the upper 70's and it was sunny with a 5-10 knot southeasterly. By late afternoon on Thursday we were happy with our speed and boathandling and were excited for the racing to begin. Rumors of a fast moving front coming across from Texas began to filter through the Southern YC at the opening party that night. 

The 62 boat J/22 fleet was in for a wild ride on the first day of racing. The race committee took us a few miles out into the lake to get us away from the windward shore. The waves were a little larger than I expected, normally when the wind is from a southerly direction on the Lake the water is fairly smooth. The northerly winds, where the waves have a great distance to travel, are where you start to see the 4-5 footers. The first race was a 5-leg windward/leeward course with 1.5 mile beats. We had a good start near the boat end and protected the favored right side. We rounded the weather mark 3rd behind Greg Fisher and crew. Moose and Tucker had an awesome set and we blasted down the run and passed Greg right before the leeward gates. As we headed back upwind the breeze started to really crank. We were maxed out on our vang and could not get enough tension to settle the main down. Our speed really suffered from this and we lost a bunch of boats on speed alone. Again we were very fast in the breeze downwind, we gibed early and protected the favored right side and passed a few boats. By this time the wind was around 20-25 knots, not out of control, but really good pressure. We struggled again upwind with our vang tension but managed to hold on to an 8th place finish. After the race Tucker fixed the vang and Moose tightened the rig. 

The race committee tried to leap frog the course and start us at the old weather mark. But the wind was too puffy and shifty near the weather shore so they took us back out to the middle of the Lake. As the fleet followed the R.C. back downwind the breeze really came on. We were planing on mains alone! 

Once the committee set up we put our game plan together. We tightened the head stay a few turns and planned on starting at the boat end. The winds are now around 25+ knots and the swells are starting to get larger. The lake is only 15 feet at it's deepest point so the chop that builds up is absolutely amazing. We planed into a hole at the starting line near the boat end and were off and running. The waves and puffs at the top end of the beat were really giving me a hard time and I couldn't dial the boat in upwind. 

We rounded in the top 10 and took off again downwind. Boats were wiping out downwind all over the place and there were quite a few rigs down. Back upwind on the second beat the wind was really piping. The wind was blowing the tops off of the waves and we were totally flogging the main upwind. On the second run downwind we had a great set and were really getting it downwind. Moose was sitting in the back of the boat with his legs on the traveler bar and Tucker was trimming the guy while standing next to the traveler bar. J/22's were wiping out everywhere around us. Some boats chose not to set spinnakers and we ground them down as if they were standing still. It looked like the ESPN videos of the Volvo 60's ripping it up downwind. 

The wind was gusting, spray was being shot to windward and leeward like water through a fire hose. I was sitting in the very back of the boat fighting to hold on to the tiller and keep the bow up. The boat skipped over waves at ludicrous speeds in total control. We climbed up the face of one large wave and surfed down, as we sped down this wave a huge puff hit the boat. When the puff hit we all leaned to the back of the boat and the boat kept digging in to the wave. Moose had water up to his waste and the entire boat was covered in green water. I remember thinking, I can't believe the mast or spinnaker are not breaking. We kept digging into this wave and the boat finally went head over heels. We pitch poled a J/22 ! The last thing I remembered is felling no pressure on the tiller and then seeing the transom up above us. 

We all were thrown from the back of the boat into the drink when the boat finally came to halt and laid over on it's side. We popped our heads up out of the water and Moose said, “wow, that was cool!" He asked if we were all ok and we scrambled to get back in the boat and right it. I had a pretty long swim back to the boat and noticed that my right arm was not working too well when I tried to swim. I pulled myself into the cockpit with my left arm and Tucker blew the spinnaker halyard so the boat would right itself. During this the spinnaker filled with water and was shrimping behind the boat. Moose yelled to cut the halyard and the guys pulled the sail back on the boat. So now we are back in the race and Moose goes forward to wing the jib out. We are still in the top 15! 

Meanwhile, Lars Hansen, Jon Noller and Rod Komis, all from Minnesota, broached twice on the downwind. In addition, Rod fell overboard but was able to grab onto the leeward shrouds and keep himself connected to the boat while Lars and Jon kept the boat planing downwind. They finished 3rd!

There was a near mutiny by the crew at the windward mark of the next race. After a calm, professional discussion of the risks and benefits of flying the kite. Skipper Hansen ordered, “I want the kite NOW.” The crew responded. Later, from hyper speed, they deathrolled, broke the spinnaker pole and were thrown into the lake. Rod held onto the vang sheet, Jon held onto the traveller bar, and Lars held onto the mainsheet. On the last upwind, Lars, Jon and Rod put it together for another 3rd!

Scott Nixon from the J-22 pitch pole broke his wrist and cracked a spreader. Team 1077 retired for another day. Lars Hansen and crew won the last race and finished 2nd overall. Wild would hardly describe the action.

Scott Nixon is the Quantum sails rep from Annapols, MD.