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J/24 Europeans At Howth Is Latest Stage In A Long Story Of Continuous Renewal

27th August 2022
A global phenomenon? The icon of an international nautical cult? The J/24 is all that and more
A global phenomenon? The icon of an international nautical cult? The J/24 is all that and more

The International J/24 European Championship getting under way this weekend in Howth leads inevitably to thoughts of a special drama afloat two months ago. The crunch finish period of the SSE Renewables Round Ireland Race 2022 at Wicklow on Friday, June 24th, was a time of high tension.

Laurent Charmy’s SL Energies Fastwave from France had been the clubhouse leader for most of the afternoon. But in the final counter-tide beat to the finish, offshore tyros Mike and Richie Evans from Howth with their little Snapshot had managed to break away from a group of their closest competitors, and were wriggling along the beach with hyper-short tacks in a sharpening breeze to such good effect that the unthinkable became remotely possible. They might just snatch the lead.

In the end, they missed it by five minutes. But they were soon confirmed as unassailably second. It was a remarkable high seas debut. Yet, in all the excitement of the finish, little was made of surely the most significant aspect of the whole business. SL Energies Fastwave is a J/111, well proven in her short but successful offshore career. As for Snapshot, she’s a J/99, with recognised success in regattas, and now an offshore star as well.

Throughout the Round Ireland fleet – almost entirely in the leading groups – were other boats from the J range, and there isn’t a club fleet in Ireland, and at the main centres all round the Irish Sea, that won’t see this no-nonsense, versatile and effective American-originating marque well represented.

DEFYING ORTHODOXY OF PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE

Yet despite the fact that their global commercial success relies on a continuous up-dating of their extensive range to keep their thousands of customers at the front of the fleet, the little boat which started it all, the J/24 of which more than 5,000 were built, continues to be highly popular, defying orthodox concepts of planned obsolescence.

J/24s racing at Howth, where the first boat appeared less than two years after the class’s debut in America. Photo: Annraoi BlaneyJ/24s racing at Howth, where the first boat appeared less than two years after the class’s debut in America. Photo: Annraoi Blaney

She’s a modern classic if you like. But there’s no denying a J/24 is now something of a cult object, not least because they fulfill the American dream in having been created in the designer-builder parents’ garage - so totally garage-bound, in fact, that they’re not the J/25 simply because there wasn’t enough space to build a 25 footer.

The story begins in 1975. Young Rod Johnstone, then an ad salesman for a sailing trade magazine and an active one-design sailor, decided to build a sailboat he had been working on since completing a Westlawn School of Yacht Design correspondence course in the 1960s.

With $400-worth of fibreglass and wood, plus some rigging and hardware left over from a Soling of his brother Bob, he built the 24' LOA x 9' beam sloop – eventually called Ragtime - during weekends in the three-car garage at his family home in Stonington, Connecticut. During the summer of 1976, with an all-family crew aboard, Ragtime beat everything in sight, and he realized he had created something special.

Enter Everett Pearson, the owner of Tillotson Pearson, Inc, a highly respected boat builder in Warren, Rhode Island. He was quite taken with Rod's design and agreed to produce the boat on spec in return for the U.S. building rights. Display ads in the sailing trade magazine got the word out. That winter, they set up a makeshift factory in an old textile mill in nearby Fall River, Massachusetts, and began popping out J/24s.

Enter the marketing experience of brother Bob, a Vice President of Marketing at AMF/Alcort , the makers of Sunfish sailboats at the time. He had seen the potential in the boat Rod had designed. From 1975 to 1977, Bob had helped to take Alcort from the red into the black, and then began trying to convince AMF to start producing a boat similar to the J/24. When AMF didn't jump, in February of 1977 at age 43, Bob did, and threw in his lot with J/Boats.

Signature of approval – Bob Johnstone of J Boats International signs a J/24 rudder in Howth in 2014. Photo: Brian TurveySignature of approval – Bob Johnstone of J Boats International signs a J/24 rudder in Howth in 2014. Photo: Brian Turvey 

5,400 BUILT

In all, 5,400 J/24s have been built since, plus hundreds and sometimes thousands of other boats to an extensive range of J Boat designs. It has been another case of the phenomenal commercial and creative power of American brothers working together. Think Gougeon Brothers with WEST Epoxy Systems, for instance, a company so successful that when the brothers retired, they handed it over to their employees as a very tangible way of saying thank you for their loyalty and dedication. And think too of Olin and Rod Stephens of designers Sparkman & Stephens. They were very much a team, and it was Rod's skill and ingenuity with rigs and rigging which persuaded the great Carleton Mitchell to transfer his design loyalties from Philip Rhodes to Olin Stephens, resulting in the 38ft Stephens-designed Finisterre which won the biennial Bermuda Race three times on the trot.
So in owning and sailing a J/24, you’re sharing in a sense in the most positive aspects of the American dream. And as it has been found that quality fibreglass just doesn’t wear out, the J/24 offers an inexpensive route into competitive sailing for impecunious young enthusiasts who aren’t afraid of doing their own maintenance work.

PHILIP WATSON SETS OFFSHORE PACE

The J/24 very quickly came to Ireland, and while club and regatta racing and even some cruising was their main purpose in life, sailmaker Philip Watson in 1978 geared up his new J/24 Pathfinder for the ISORA circuit. After the Fastnet storm of 1979 had resulted in more stringent ballast keel requirements, the lightly-ballasted J/24 – which relies on considerable weight effort from her crew of five – was no longer eligible to go offshore, but in that one golden year of 1978, Watson and Pathinder swept all before them, winning their ISORA Class overall.

Pioneering Pathfinder – in 1978, Philip Watson of Howth with Pathfinder showed the way for J/24s – and won his class in that year’s ISORA seriesPioneering Pathfinder – in 1978, Philip Watson of Howth with Pathfinder showed the way for J/24s – and won his class in that year’s ISORA series

All that is now 44 years ago. Since then, new J Boat designs of almost legendary status have come and gone from the headlines after dominating the sailing scene for a few years and sometimes more. Yet the little old J/24 is still very much with us with thriving national, regional and global associations, and this weekend in Howth they’re in the throes of final stages of preliminaries for the 2022 Europeans with Organising Committee Chairman Richard Kissane and his group ensuring the smooth running of an event which sees final measuring and test sailing over the weekend. The official practice race is on Monday under the direction of Race Officer David Lovegrove, with the Howth machine set in motion to continue the real racing from Tuesday through to Saturday (September 3rd).

Richard Kissane, Chairman of the Organising Committee, has been leading his team in extra preparations, as the J/24 Europeans have not been sailed since 2020, when they were staged in Greece.Richard Kissane, Chairman of the Organising Committee, has been leading his team in extra preparations, as the J/24 Europeans have not been sailed since 2020, when they were staged in Greece.

KENNY READ COMES TO TOWN

With the appropriately-named Pathfinder taking the first steps back in 1978, Howth has a long association with the class, a notable early participant in a J/24 championship at HYC quite a long time ago being a young American skipper called Kenny Read.

In fact, Howth has acted as a very effective linkpoint over the decades between the European and American J/24 fleets, with the latter keen to sail here after dominating the 2013 Worlds at Howth, when the American overall winner emphasised Irish-American connections, as he was Tim Healy from Newport, RI.

 Breezy action – the J/24 Worlds at Howth in 2013, when the overall winner was USA’s Tim Healy from Newport, RI. Breezy action – the J/24 Worlds at Howth in 2013, when the overall winner was USA’s Tim Healy from Newport, RI.

Then in 2014, Bob Johnstone himself was in Ireland. Ostensibly, he was on holiday, but as he was the guest of the late Robin Eagleson of Lough Erne, President of the Irish J/24 Class, they made a point of visiting Howth, where Bob obligingly signed the rudder of the J/24 belonging to HYC Hon. Sec. Emmet Dalton – the word is it hasn’t been painted since.

The current Euros are the first since 2020, and there’s interesting American participation in the 35-strong entry entry list, with the furthest-travelled being retired US Navy Admiral Denny Vaughn from Seattle, who is age-defying as he calls his boat Easy Street….

THE ADMIRAL IS CELEBRATED

Admiral Vaughn is having himself a ball in Ireland as he has family links to Donegal, and last weekend during the J/24 Easterns at Howth in the boisterous Saturday night feasting, when the band heard they’d an American Admiral in the party, they trotted out their repertoire of John Denver and Johnny Cash.

As veteran J/24 sailor Flor O’Driscoll of Bray commented: “Only in Howth……”, to which Howth can reply “Only with the J/24s”, for it was in Howth that - at Nobby Reilly’s suggestion and with his energetic backing - the national U25 J/24 programme was instigated to produce some strong nationwide club entries in which young sailors have learned to team together to keep a J/24 in top internationally-competitive trim.

The 2022 campaign is successfully launched – the Headcase crew after winning the class at Kiel Week are (left to right) Ryan Glynn (Ballyholme YC), Sam O’Byrne (Howth YC), Cillian Dickson (HYC & Lough Ree YC), Louis Mulloy (Mayo SC) and Mark Ryan (MSC)The 2022 campaign is successfully launched – the Headcase crew after winning the class at Kiel Week are (left to right) Ryan Glynn (Ballyholme YC), Sam O’Byrne (Howth YC), Cillian Dickson (HYC & Lough Ree YC), Louis Mulloy (Mayo SC) and Mark Ryan (MSC)

Currently, the pace-setter in this is the all-Ireland-crewed Headcase, which in Howth is in just one of her home ports, but she’s back in town with an astonishing 2022 CV that started with winning the class at Kiel Week, then they won the UK Nationals, then they won their ICRA Class in Cork Week, and last weekend they took the Easterns.

HEADCASE TAKES ON LA SUPERBA

It says something about national characteristics that the top home hope in the up-coming championship is cheerfully called Headcase, yet the boat they most definitely have to topple from the top of the pile is from Italy and unblushingly called La Superba.
Make of that what you will, but La Superba is the Italian Navy boat, and back in 2020 in Greece she won the Euros skippered by a young naval officer called Iganzio Bonnano. He has probably moved on to be an admiral by now, but La Superba is very much up for it again in Howth, with her skipper yet to be named.

The Travellers – Headcase and crew about to depart Plymouth after winning the UK Nationals, with an overnight ferry trip in prospect to make the start of the first race in Volvo Cork Week where she logged a class win. Her all-Ireland credentials are further emphasized with the use of a Galway-registered towing vehicleThe Travellers – Headcase and crew about to depart Plymouth after winning the UK Nationals, with an overnight ferry trip in prospect to make the start of the first race in Volvo Cork Week where she logged a class win. Her all-Ireland credentials are further emphasized with the use of a Galway-registered towing vehicle

IRISH FLEET ON A ROLL

The defenders will find that the Irish J/24 fleet is on a bit of a roll at the moment, and there are interesting helms and crews coming up through the system. We’ve remarked in the past that Munster is the only Irish province not represented in Headcase’s crew, but this may well be because they’re developing their own J/24 U25 squads in Munster, with the Kinsale YC Kinsailors led by Michael O’Carroll coming through in the Easterns to take second overall, while Tadg O Loingsigh with his Tralee Bay squad in Janx Spirit went over to the UK Nats and were very much in contention, their scoreline including a first.

 The Howth Peninsula seen from the southeast. The Race Area for the J/24 Europeans 2022 will be just above the middle of this photo. The Howth Peninsula seen from the southeast. The Race Area for the J/24 Europeans 2022 will be just above the middle of this photo.

Munster is further represented by the Foynes YC U25 crew on Jasper led by Mary McCormack, while over on the east coast, after very many years Flor O’Driscoll of Bray (and formerly Cobh) has sold his well-used Hard on Port to his crew led by David Bailey, and they now sail out of Greystones where class leader Mark Usher sets the pace with Hedgehog.

This trans-club interaction is reflected in the northwest where Sligo YC and Lough Erne YC - and doubtless Mullaghmore too - all make input into Gossip with the combined efforts of Oisin Brennan, Declan Brennan, Michael Staines and Muireann Toibin.

Getting your boat and crew from Sligo or Lough Erne to other venues in Ireland can sometimes be a bit of a challenge. But an event like the Euros with an international entry puts it all in perspective, as they come not only from Seattle to the far west, but also from the island of Crete in the far eastern Mediterranean. The logistics of getting boat and crew as a private entry from Heraklion to Howth defies contemplation, but Nikolas Kapnisis of Heraklion Sailing Club has been game to give it a whirl with his boat Legal Alien. And such entries will feel right at home among the J/24s in Howth.

Entry List for J24 European Championships

Sail PrefixSail NoBoat NameOwner NameClubCorinthianOver 50YouthEntry Date
IRL 39 Jeb Stuart Andrew Mannion Lough Ree Yacht Club No No No 22 Feb
ITA 416 La Superba Marina Militare Italiana CVA Marina Militare Italiana No No No 12 Aug
IRL 680 Kilcullen HYC U25 2 Howth Yacht Club No No No 24 May
IRL 767 Jade Conor Haughton Wicklow Sailing Club Yes No No 31 May
IRL 1183 Red Flag Greystones Sailing Club Greystones Sailing Club Yes No Yes 08 Jun
USA 2810 Jigalo Joseph Murphy Howth Yacht Club No No No 08 Apr
IRL 3060 Headgehog Mark Usher Greystones Sailing Club Yes Yes No 09 May
USA 3746 Easy Street Denny Vaughan Corinthian Yacht Club - Seattle No No No 26 May
IRL 4084 Battling J Malahide Yacht Club Malahide Yacht Club Yes No No 31 May
GBR 4153 Jam Benjamin Maddaford Saltash Sailing club No No No 13 May
IRL 4188 Jasper 2 Mary McCormack - FYC U25 Foynes Yacht Club No No Yes 23 Aug
IRL 4191 Janx Spirit Tadhg O Loingsigh Tralee Bay Sailing Club Yes No No 12 May
GER 4202 Gossip Oisin Brennan, Declan Brennan, Michael Staines, Muireann Toibin Sligo Yacht Club/ Lough Erne Yacht Club Yes No No 11 Aug
IRL 4212 Scandal HYC U25 1 Howth Yacht Club No No No 24 May
IRL 4236 KINSAILOR KINSALE YACHT CLUB Kinsale Yacht Club Yes No Yes 15 Jun
GBR 4242 Hitchhiker Chris Randall Saltash Sailing Club Yes Yes No 21 May
IRL 4247 Headcase Louis Mulloy, Marcus Ryan, Cillian Dickson, Sam O'Byrne, Ryan Glynn Howth Yacht Club, Lough Ree Yacht Club, Mayo Sailing Club, Ballyholme Yacht Club Yes No No 25 May
GBR 4248 MaJic James Torr Saltash Sailing Club Yes No No 28 May
GBR 4260 Mojosi Nick McDonald RYA Yes Yes No 28 May
IRL 4265 Smugairle Róin Diarmaid mullen Sligo Yacht Club No No No 20 Feb
GBR 4266 NJO2 Tim Octon JOG Yes Yes No 02 Mar
GBR 4269 Cacoon David Hale Poole Yacht Club Yes Yes No 04 Mar
IRL 4384 Proud Mary Brian mc conville Carlingford Lough YC No Yes No 12 May
IRL 4532 Jelignite Finbarr Ryan Lough Ree Yacht Club No Yes No 22 May
IRL 4533 Crazy Horse Luke Mc Bride Lough Erne Yacht Club Yes Yes No 19 May
IRL 4794 Hard on Port David Bailey and crew Bray Sailing Club No No No 31 May
IRL 5159 Jibe Fergus & Tim Kelliher Tralee Bay Sailing Club Yes No No 30 May
IRL 5219 IL Riccio JP Mccaldin Lough Erne Yacht Club Yes No No 11 May
GRE 5239 Legal Alien Nikolas Kapnisis Heraklion Sailing Club Yes No No 30 May
IRL 5278 Hung Jury Brian Raftery Sligo Yacht Club Yes Yes No 20 Jul
IRL 5285 Yachtzee Diarmuid O'Donovan TBC Yes Yes No 27 May
USA 5352 Amuse Bouche Kurt Dammeier Corinthian Yacht Club! No No No 22 Jul
GRE 5367 JMANIA Konstantinos Tridimas/Kynthia Skotida Nautical Club of Palaio Faliro Yes No No 08 Mar
GER 5381 Schwere Jungs Stefan Karsunke Blankeneser Segel Club No No No 22 Jun
IRL 5475 Jedi Colm O'Flaherty Sligo Yacht Club No No No 26 May
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About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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