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Brad Read
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How We Won the J/24 Worlds

Read and his team change gears around the leeward mark.

At the recent J/24 Worlds in Newport, RI, Brad Read and his crew of Randy and Gordon Borges, Jay Miles, and Paul Grenauer managed to pull off an impressive feat when they prevailed over a very competitive 73-boat fleet by a 40-point margin in eight races. For Read, who is also the Executive Director of the event organizer and co-host—Sail Newport—it was a victory simply that the regatta went off without a hitch. SailNet caught up with this busy sailor last week to probe the secrets of his team's success on the water.

SailNet: What do you believe were the keys to winning the worlds?

Brad Read: First of all, the dual role that I had for this event—running it as part of the hosting organization and sailing in it—was one of the most difficult and rewarding things I've ever done. To pull it off, I relied upon my strong Sail Newport staff and a fantastic group of volunteers so that the regatta would run itself. I think we did a pretty good job with that. Regarding the racing, the crew I sailed with took a lot of the boat preparation off my shoulders because I was busy making sure registration and measurement went off without a hitch in the days leading up to the first race. You've got to have a strong, dedicated crew of people who have the initiative to get you to the starting line ready to go.

SN: Can you give us an idea of the kind of team preparation you guys pursued?

At the top end of the genoa, the author and his team felt they had a boat speed advantage.
Read: We're a bunch of working stiffs, so we didn't really prepare like we would have in the old days when we used to go to a big event at least a week before and sail hard. We just couldn't spend that kind of time. We did sail almost every Thursday night race throughout the summer here in Newport, with someone standing in for Paul because he lives in Buffalo. We also sailed three 40-plus-boat events as preparation—the midwinters, the Bank of Newport Memorial Day Regatta and the Newport Regatta here. Those events were our big-fleet practices, but the rest of it was sailing against the best fleet in the world every Thursday. That's where I got my starting practice. Other than that we didn't really do a lot of preparation, though we did dedicate two days to sailing two weeks before the event. We picked the windiest days we could. It was in the low to mid 20 knots for the first day, which was good practice for us.

SN: How did you divide up the responsibilities among your crew?

Read: We've always had a game plan where the bow person, Gordon always monitors the traffic from leeward and the waves. Paul, the mast guy, looks at all the numbers and angles,serves as the computer for Jay the tactician, he helps call puffs downwind. Jay gets all the information and tells me what he wants to do, and Dunes [Gordon] is in the cockpit, strictly focusing on speed versus. the other boats, but he also quietly calls the breeze for me. Really, his main roll is just to keep me calm. We've been sailing together for seven or eight years, so we're a lot quieter than we used to be. It's pretty much a nice, even keel on board.

SN: What about equipment on board. Did you do anything that gave you an advantage?

Read: We were lucky that we had the option of a brand new boat. Jim Richardson, who owns the Farr 40 Barking Mad bought a brand new J/24 to use next season here in Newport, and he allowed us to use it. But when we went sailing two weeks before, we realized that we had a better comfort level with the old boat.

Off the wind, the Dynalite spinnaker provided some extra punch.
In terms of sail preparation, we went with what we know—the North Sails Rhode Island package. We felt like we had an edge at the top end of the genoa, and we did have one item that was different from the other boats. We were able to use a silicone-based spinnaker fabric from Contender called Dynalite. Moose McClintock and Duncan Skinner worked with us on that. It's a fabric that was developed for 49er spinnakers. And sure enough, we were brilliantly fast downwind. I mean on the windy days, the spinnakers were just plain soaked because the waves were huge. Each time we put the kite up, it would pop and all the water would shed right away and that was huge. Most of the other boats were probably using nylon, which stretches when it gets wet. I guess there are other fabrics out there, but I think most of those are heavier than the class minimum allows. Anyway, I was impressed, and I don't think I'll buy another spinnaker made out of anything else.

SN: Did you spend any time looking at weather forecasts or considering the weather?

"We wanted to be a little more seat-of-the-pants about weather and treat the place like we've never sailed here before."
Read: We're so freaking cheap that we didn't want to do a weather forecast and Ed Adams wasn't here to work with because he was down in Australia helping Mark Reynolds win a gold medal, so we opted not to. The joke on board was that we were relying upon Art Lake, one of the local TV guys who has been doing the weather since I was kid. All he gives you are the temperatures around the region and he has one arrow for wind. But really, it's the same damn chunk of water we sail in every regatta, and with any local place you try not to get stuck in what you think will happen and try to keep your mind open. If there's a strong reason off the starting line to do the wrong thing, we've got to be open to that. We wanted to be a little more seat-of-the-pants about weather and treat the place like we've never sailed here before. It was a different philosophy, definitely, but we were confident that we knew the racecourse well enough that we could create our own forecast right before the race. For instance, on the days with the dying northerly, we would try to determine whether the ledge of old breeze was going to dissipate and back or whether it would stay. It was a hyper-localized kind of focus.

SN: What about surviving the problems of sailing in a big fleet like the one at the worlds?
Read: The key was the starts. What you'll find in big fleets like this that are mixed with international sailors is that everyone gets on starboard tack with two minutes to go and just sits there and luffs. So the big packs get bigger and the low-traffic areas get a little more spread out at about one minute. Because of that, you can't do the usual port-tack approach below the line like you would in most events around the US. We saw many of the Americans and all the college sailors trying to do this, but you just can't see the holes from below when everyone is bunched up so early. On the first day I scared the living crap out of Jay by setting up above the line, trying to eyeball the low traffic areas. It was really risky because if we couldn't get back to the line, we'd have been screwed. But you have to stay above the line to spot the holes. When we spotted our hole, we would either jibe or tack into it with a minute left. If you came in underneath the pack, you just couldn't find a hole. That really paid off for us.

SN:What do you feel you and your team learned or gained from your experience at the Worlds?

"I guess it's adversity that teaches you the most."
Read: I guess it's adversity that teaches you the most. We had two bad races on one windy day. We were over early in the first of those, and we had to jibe around the pin end. We hung in there and were actually in ninth at the last leeward gate, but we bent our boom and couldn't really pull the vang on for the rest of the day. We were lucky actually. Juan Grimaldi of Argentina is one of the top heavy-air sailors in the world, and he broke his boom with 100 yards to go in that race. He limped across the finish line, but he couldn't sail the next race.

In the second race, we put the pole through the main on the first run so we sailed the second beat with a three-and-a-half-foot gash in the mainsail, trying to baby it. Despite that, we went the right way and still gained three boats on the next beat. Downwind, on the last jibe into the gate, the pole came off the mast and went through the mainsail again. This time it tore the main even more and we knew going around the mark that it was game over for the mainsail. Sure enough, it just blew up as soon as we jibed. Eventually the rips opened up so much that we had to take the main down and sail most of the last beat under jib alone. Then Jay sliced his finger open as we were cutting the mainsail away so there was blood everywhere. Even though we lost 14 boats, we still did a pretty good job staying away from the fray. We had to sail with almost 30 degrees of heel to keep the rudder working right. We found we could go the same speed as the other boats, but we were about eight to 10 degrees lower. It was interesting, yeah, but I never want to do that again.

After that day we came in and we found out that our 18th across the line was actually an 11th because some other boats were over early. And then, when we were ashore repairing our boom, Dunes, who is not a super emotional guy, gathered us all around and said "If we can survive a day like today where everything went wrong, then we're going to win this regatta." I don't know where that came from, but he wouldn't let us get dejected, so the next day we went out and had a couple of good starts and got back into it. That pep talk really got us going again, and that comes from a guy who is usually really quiet.

The venerable J/24, now in its 23rd year.
SN: This was the 20th J/24 World Championship regatta. The last time you won this event was in 1986 when you were the bowman of your brother's winning team. What, if anything, did this recent event indicate about the J/24 Class 20 years hence?

Read: It's pretty clear that you don't have as many of the big names as we've seen in the past, but there are a lot of new names. Greg Fisher always had this thing about the Lightning class where he said it was this guy's turn to win one year or that guy's turn. I mean it was Kenny's turn [Brad's brother] six times, and it was Terry's [Hutchinson] turn two years ago after a lot of heartache. We've been in this class for 20-odd years all of us, and we got together eight years ago and started sailing as a team. Coming into this regatta, I looked at the list of past winners as I was preparing the program and I said ‘whose turn is it now?' There were a bunch of guys on the list who have finished fourth and third at the worlds before, but this time, I guess, it was our turn.

Suggested Reading List

  1. Good Lanes and Bad Lanes by Brad Read


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