BlackJack is a J29 sailboat with masthead outboard configuration. Her hull number is 151.
I purchased BlackJack from a couple who belonged to the same yacht club back in 1998. The boat was well cared for and was in good shape. I just had to get crew, beer and go racing.
Over the next few years, I raced her in various PHRF and club races. At first, we did poorly. The boat was new to me, but mainly I didn’t have much clue. We started at the bottom of the results.
The Racing Days
We started doing better as we got more crew and learned to sail the boat better. We improved quite a bit, in fact. After a couple of seasons, our boat handling became rock solid.
Launching and dousing the spinnaker form the front hatch became the norm. We would always fly the chute right to the mark without the pole and take it down on the windward side just as we rounded.
The boat responded well when we did things right, and it showed in the results. That was a good thing since it made up for my poor starts and tactics.
I also really enjoyed sailing with the guys who became my good friends.
We got to the point where we won the PHRF bay series title one year. We even managed to beat Dennis Conner on his CF27 once. Yes, it was just one race out of dozens where he left us in the dust, but I’m going to keep bringing it up till the day I die.
We even got into ocean racing by doing the SDYC Bishop Rock race, before they tried to make it all fancy big boat race then canceling it.
The Bishop Rock, also known as Cortes Bank, was a blast. After a whole day of miserable upwind leg, we rounded and hoisted the chute and started surfing down big waves in 20+ knots of wind. For hours.
We were a little apprehensive at first, but the boat loved it. With the chute up, she was solid, stable and predictable. Never a twitchy scary moment. We all had a full grin on as the speedo hit 12+ knots and the bow waves sprayed up as far back as at the shrouds.
The Lonely Days
Fast forward a few years.
I started to travel a lot overseas for my work and was sailing less and less. I tried to sail when I could, but I lost that momentum that keeps the boat racing going. Racing a boat takes a lot of work. Crew recruitment, equipment procurement, boat maintenance, logistics, the list goes on and on. You can’t keep it going if you are flying abroad all the time.
I spent less time on the boat and lost touch with the crew, who I considered my friends by then. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t giving up sailing yet. After a while though, I just about stopped going to the marina. I lost touch with my friends, and I lost touch with my boat.
The boat sat patiently, all alone. For a number of years, in fact. I would occasionally show up, but the boat largely sat neglected, and the boat suffered. Sailboats wither and die if you don’t sail them. Things were wearing and breaking without receiving any care.
This was a rather dark time for me and the boat. Now that I look back, I feel terrible.
More time has passed. The boat still sat patiently. All alone. Gelcoats became weatherworn, halyards frayed, pulpits rust-stained.
Then one day, I showed up again at the boat and this time it was different. I changed jobs, no more travels abroad. Business trips to Europe are overrated.
Besides, I really missed my boat.
I went through and cleaned the boat thoroughly, made essential repairs, and took the boat out for a daysail.
And it was like magic all over again. I felt the wind, puffs on the water, boat heeling and scooting. Surrounded by the stirring of the water as the hull slid across the bay.
I held the tiller in my hand. Tiller extension broke off due to neglect, but that didn’t matter. Mainsheet held in my other hand, trimming came to me without having to think about it. It was as if all those years haven’t passed.
I sailed the boat back into my slip like I always did, coasting to a perfect stop. I put the boat away like I used to, a ritual and a routine I still knew by heart.
By the time I was done, I have made up my mind. We’re going to go sailing, this boat and I. Just myself and her. Alone at last.
And so it began the return of J29 BlackJack. And my solo sailing days.