The Rookie Experience

FRAM-96 lit up after a windward mark rounding.

Late in 2023, a group of J/Pod sailors from the Pacific Northwest traveled to Florida to race against 83 top teams for the J/70 World Championship. The PNW fleet is growing rapidly, but still comparatively young; and our local teams sailed well, learned a lot, had a blast, and even shared a new downwind technique with the international fleet.

The J/70 Worlds seemed to have it all—challenging but race-able wind conditions every single day, sea states from flat to choppy, lots of warm sunshine, and teams from around the globe who were all remarkably well prepared and very near peak performance.

Our hosts, the St. Petersburg Yacht Club knocked it out of the park! From the opening ceremony until final prizes were handed out, this club knows how to do it to a very high standard. Top notch race committee, and volunteers were simply amazing.

The sailing, racing, and learning experience was so incredibly rewarding. On board Mike Breivik’s FRAM-96, we were constantly reminded that a successful performance is merely the product of the level of preparation. We trained at home with our J/Pod friends. We practiced in choppy water. We arrived early at the venue with a well prepared boat, and a crew that desperately needed quality time on the water together to learn how to sail the boat well together, as a team.

Most of our competitors were extraordinarily experienced—more than a dozen Olympic medalists, 25-plus Olympians, 30-plus world champions, and most of the teams in attendance were national champions in a variety of classes. Most anyone outside of those qualifications, including most corinthians, likely came up through top flight youth sailing programs, competed in high school and college sailing, and spent more than a few prior years racing J/70s at a high level. To suggest this fleet was deep would be an understatement. I can also tell you that there’s no question in my mind that we had the least experienced driver in the entire regatta. That’s not a knock in any way, that’s merely an honest and respectful reminder of who we are, and how quickly and efficiently one can learn the complex game of sailboat racing and improve dramatically when inspired and determined to do so. Mike Breivik is not only inspired and determined, but he’s an inspiration to many others that have been joining us for practice and paying close attention to his rapidly improved performance since learning to sail in 2018 on his Beneteau 45, Le Reve. Ironically, our J/70 worlds crew are the same original crew from that Beneteau 45, Derick Vranizan, Matt Darbous, and myself.

Whether or not you’ve ever started in an 80-plus boat one-design fleet, you would be impressed at the way this fleet approaches the line in such a refined, carefully calculated, precise manner.

Rigorous Preparation

Our ramp-up preparation was solid, and served us well. We arrived ready to start sailing right away, about eight days prior to Race 1, with equipment that was ready to go.

We focused on our team first with boat handling as our top priority. We learned and practiced how to properly and legally roll tack, roll jibe, round windward marks and leeward marks smoothly, boat-on-boat blender drills for lee bowing and ducking smoothly, and starting drills. We refined our many downwind modes and our upwind high and low modes. We worked specifically with J/70 World and National Champs Will Felder (Empeiria) and Ron Weed (Savasana), two of the most experienced and thoughtful pros on the circuit. We worked hard to be sure that each of us onboard were contributing the most we could in every planned maneuver. Nobody was a passenger, ever. We worked on staying on the same page and always being present, anticipating the next move, maneuver, or play—as a cohesive team, as one.

We tried to streamline our onboard communications so we could maintain healthy communication loops focused on both our speed, and our strategy and positioning.

The Race Course

We did our homework on the venue itself, located on Tampa Bay. I had enough prior experience there over the years to know that it’s a complex racing venue both above and below the surface of the water. A shifty mix of inconsistent lanes of breeze often form the wind patterns there.

Each of our practice days, we kept an iPad velcroed in the cockpit running mapping software so we could always see where we were relative to the race course which was placed on top of a shallow underwater mesa surrounded by deep water channels. While the shifty wind largely dictated the best positioning, the flow of the underwater channels were also worth keeping an eye on.


Great upwind boat speed is developed, rather than simply switched-on. Being able to consistently keep FRAM-96 in the groove takes a lot of work and focus. All four crew contribute. We focused on speed both upwind and downwind, and all respective modes through carefully planned tuning with targeted partners and their outstanding coaches. In our case, we had arranged in advance to tune and train with two of the fastest teams on the planet: Brian Keane’s Savasana team (fresh off a win at the J/70 North American Championship) and Bruce Golison’s Midlife Crisis team (typically top three at any worlds they attend). Why would they bother to train with us? Because we show up on time, we work hard, we’re completely open, transparent, and honest, we share well, and we always find ways to contribute to our training partners. Oh, and maybe also because eventually we became consistently (a tiny bit) faster than they were not only upwind, but downwind too.

A look at “Beast Mode” with the pole retracted and both tack and halyard eased. Its efficacy is not a secret any more.

It also turns out we made some valuable advances while we trained hard with our willing and able Pacific Northwest J/Pod friends over the past few months. It was fun to share a few tricks of our own with our tuning partners and nice to know we could pull our own weight. Our J/70 J/Pod gang here in the PNW is quite special. One example is a new wing-on-wing technique we developed and code-named “Beast Mode.” For Beast Mode, we completely retract the spinnaker pole, and we ease the tack and halyard 1-3 feet each. I believe this stabilized the boat on wing, and geometrically presents the spinnaker on wing more square to the wind and helps to persuade our asymmetric spinnaker to simulate a symmetrical spinnaker by opening both leeches up to increase cross flow. It also greatly enhances the power of pumping to initiate surfing during up-range wind conditions. We had been developing this technique among our J/Pod teams at our coaching sessions and testing it at our local regattas, but we kept this fairly quiet once at the Worlds venue. Only a few of our trusted training partners helped us to test and fine-tune Beast Mode. We thought it would be fast, but we didn’t really know how fast until Race 1 of the Worlds when we and our training partners deployed Beast Mode on the first run. We all gained 10-20 boat lengths on most of the fleet down that first run, but it wasn’t until the end of the first day that it clearly had become a thing. After the first day, I received a funny, telling text from team Savasana, “Hey Ron, Buddy, Friend… So sorry. The Beast Mode cat is out of the bag. We passed 20 boats on a single run today.”

It’s pretty fun knowing that what we’re doing here in the PNW is on the cutting edge of one-design sport boat racing at the Worlds level. By the end of the regatta, dozens of boats were trying to master the nuances of Beast Mode, but we still had the advantage of a few weeks of practice.

If Beast Mode was our best downwind mode, then big breeze tight reaching was a glaring weakness. The top European teams and the most experienced American teams were truly impressive at full planing mode downwind. That’s a wind condition we simply don’t get a lot of during our summer racing season. We knew this going in, but we didn’t have quite enough breeze during our lead up time, so we had to learn on the fly when it blew 18-20 on Race Day 2. By breezy Race Day 3, we got the hang of full plane reaching and found our groove in that high and fast mode.

Beast Mode made waves downwind, but full planing mode was somewhere Fram-96 saw they could improve.

Starts and Mark Roundings

Whether or not you’ve ever started in an 80-plus boat one-design fleet, you would be impressed at the way this fleet approaches the line in such a refined, carefully calculated, precise manner. Quite an advantage for the most experienced drivers and teams. It also puts a premium on planning your approach as well as your escape route if things don’t go well and you get shot out the back of the front row. I must say how refreshing it is to compete with a fleet of such highly experienced sailors, while the boats can get very close to one another, there’s very little actual hull touching even when things get congested at starts or roundings. Crew work is extraordinary, spinnaker sets are lightning fast, tacks and jibes are smooth as silk, and kites typically come down early and very quickly. At this level, teams are very well practiced.

It’s exciting to see multiple teams from the PNW competing at such a high level, and having fun along the way!

Worlds Wrap-up

The Brits onboard Brutus won the regatta, and deservedly so with a team of five very talented sailors, including two Olympic Medalists, and an outstanding amateur driver (formerly an Olympic campaigner and pro Match racing driver).

For FRAM-96, we finished 38th, which exceeded our highest expectations and we enjoyed a nice progression as our second half scores were quite a bit better than our first half. Our other PNW J/Pod teams performed remarkably well during this super competitive worlds. Mike Goldfarb’s War Canoe team (3rd at the Europeans last year) spent a lot of time near the front and schooled many of us on heavy air blast-reaching, ending up 51st. And Andrew and Mallory Loe’s Dime finished an impressive 34th.

Friends, camaraderie, and a high level of mutual respect both on and off the water were strong themes. We’re not the only ones already strategizing on how to attend our next J/70 Worlds!


A Debrief from Andrew and Mallory Loe’s Dime

Dime rounds a windward mark.

Describe your experience of the J/70 Worlds.

The 2023 Worlds was a very well run, fun event with fantastic conditions. We finished where we deserved with no major errors or damage. Sailing with a team of friends is always fun, and we took advantage of the pool and tiki bar more than any other team!

What did you learn at Worlds that you will bring home to the PNW J/70 fleet?

We were reminded again about the importance of boat speed. Teams often get hung up on the details of pulling sails up and down but, outside of major mistakes, that has little bearing on how you end up. Speed kills, as the cliché goes.

What was your personal highlight of the J/70 Worlds?

A huge highlight was our team’s resilience. Big fleet racing can be very humbling. In one case, we were hung out to dry on the wrong side and rounded the first mark in 75th, it would be easy to just cave and let it be our throw-out. Instead, we were very aggressive on the first run and able to pick up 30 boats by getting free of the fleet. Continuing the grind, we ended up sailing aggressively the rest of the race and finished in the top 20! Up to that point, we had been sailing too conservatively.

Photos by Hannah Lee Noll courtesy of the J/70 World Championship.