J/105 boat handling — Arbitrage, US 116

The 2nd to last regatta of the season 2015 in San Francisco Bay was won by Perseverance, a boat not usually in the top 5. I later learned they are great sailors and it was their first win in the class since joining three years ago. They attributed it to excellent cooperation on board. Getting more boats to be better will improve racing for all of us. For this reason I thought it might be worth writing out how we do our boat handling. I hope it will jump start new teams into the fleet and help some others to improve. By way of disclosure, I am the jib and spin trimmer on our boat.

Generally speaking I think boat handling has to work without thinking about it. To achieve this, you have to do every move just the same as last time. This allows you to take care of the smallest details without thinking about them each time you do it.

I will refer to the 6 positions on the J/105 as skipper, tactician, trimmer, pit person, mast person, bow person.


The biggest setup change you can make is how you trim your jib sheet. When we race in light air venues like Block Island or San Diego we’ll trim to the cabin top winches or the leeward winches as the trimmer’s weight on the low side is helpful, and he has a good view of the sail. However, in windy San Francisco Bay, we cross sheet the jib 90% of the time for ergonomics and speed of maneuvering — it keeps the weight on the high side, going into and out of the tack, facilitates last minute decisions on whether to leebow or duck someone, and enables us to ease the jib sheet to go into footing mode when approaching a set of waves. Since the currently loaded jib sheet is on the high side of the boat, it can be trimmed, eased and broken on tacks by the main/tactician without the jib trimmer leaving the rail. The result is a quiet cockpit, with fewer people participating in a tack, but it creates enormous work for the tactician, who is trimming both main and jib, along with calling tactics.


Skipper calls for tacking and starts counting down, 3, 2, 1, tacking.

Tactician or skipper eases the main sheet a little. Tactician takes the currently loaded jib sheet out of the self-tailing winch.

Jib trimmer comes off the rail as soon as count down starts to get to the low side and the new jib sheet. When there, he pulls the slack out of the traveler so the main does not fall all the way down after the tack.

3, 2, 1, tacking…

Skipper turns the boat at 0.

Pit person walks around the pit (he should be the first to get to the rail), mast person goes over the cabin top and bow person goes in front of the mast.

Tactician releases the jib just when it first backwinds.

Trimmer gives the jib sheet two good pulls with his arms and then a fully body swing to get it all the way in. Then he jumps with the sheet in his hand to his spot on the rail. Skipper needs to steer through the wind at a speed that allows trimmer to pull the jib far enough in to have something to land on without grinding. A successful tack depends on coordinating the speed of the turn, the trimming on jib release, and the pulling of the new sheet, trying not to oversheet.

Tactician comes across to trim the jib and main for an optimal exit at speed-building settings. Since trimmer is still tailling the jib sheet off the rail, tactician can grind the jib without tailing. Tactician then adjusts the traveler position on the main before taking over the jib sheet and putting it in the self-tailer. The tactician can then make final adjustments as the boat comes up to speed, grinding in the jib to max trim and adjusting the main trim for height. She then goes to the low side to double-check jib trim and quickly sets up the lazy jib sheet on the leeward winch so it is ready for the next tack.

Arbitrage — cross sheeting upwind

This technique allows you to spend max time on the rail, going in and out of the tack.

In light air, everything is the same, except that crew stays on the new low side coming out of the tack. Trimmer counts down for the team as the boat loads up on the new tack, so the entire crew weight crosses up to the new side all at once for a nice big pump on the rig.


Skipper calls for gybe with a count down.

Pit person goes in the cockpit first to grab the currently loaded sheet from the trimmer.

Bow person that has the current lazy sheet on his shoulder (always ready to gybe) stands up and gets in position between the bow and the shrouds, the exact position depending on the amount of wind and the sea state.

Skipper starts to let the tiller go to have the boat initiate the turn. All the crew weight is still on the old windward side, helping steer the boat down without too much rudder.

Trimmer lets current sheet go while pit takes over, then runs across the cabin top while picking up the new sheet.

Pit eases the clew of the kite to the forestay while bow person and trimmer starts pulling on the new sheet. The timing of the pit person easing the sheet at the same speed as the boat is turning is important. When the boat’s stern crosses through the wind, the clew of the spinnaker should reach the forestay. Bow person will often yell, “Clear!” and the skipper will then accelerate the turn.

Bow person and trimmer will pull hard and fast until the spinnaker has been fully switched to the new side.

Once the kite is gybed (and ideally filled), the tactician (sometimes with mast person helping at the vang) pulls the main over. In 20+ kts, the mast person is on the new high side with the vang in his hand and ready to ease the vang in case the boat comes out of the turn over powered to prevent broaching.

When the gybe is completed, pit person counts down to have everyone move to the new windward side to give the boat a pump out of the gybe. In big breeze just get on the high side as fast as possible.

Pit person sets up new lazy sheet for the next gybe by placing it on the cabin top under the currently loaded sheet with all the slack taken out of it. After that, pit cleans up the currently loaded sheet and makes sure the lazy sheet is not dragging in the water. The now-loaded kite sheet should be ready to ease for the next gybe. As a rule of thumb for the kite sheets — new sheets should always go under loaded sheets.

Top mark

This describes approaching the top mark on starboard with the halyard and tack line are also mounted on starboard.

On the final approach to the mark, bow person calls the range on the mark (a.k.a., are you making it or not?). Use the land beyond the mark to gauge if the boat is slipping sideways. If the land beyond the mark is not moving, you nailed the layline and the pit person is free to briefly leave the rail to clear the port cabin-top halyard and then sets up the spin sheet, feeding it across the cabin top on the starboard side. In case of a tight rounding where we need all hands on the rail and the main halyard tight, we deal with this later, after the pole is out.

Within 2 boat lengths to the mark, trimmer turns around, opens cleat for the tack line, takes loaded jib halyard off the starboard cabin top winch (put there for upwind adjustment and to prevent clutch slippage) and puts the kite sheet over it with no wrap. (The tactician can also help the pit by setting up the port cabin top winch with the soon-to-be working kite sheet, using one wrap.)

Once at the mark, mast person eases the vang so we can use less rudder when turning to a reach, tactician eases jib and skipper eases main for the reach to the offset. Pit person moves into the cockpit to pull out the pole, trying to keep his weight on the high side. Bow person moves forward to open the hatch and carry the tack of the kite forward over the pulpit, with the trimmer pulling slack out of the tack line but with care to not to cause friction while the pole is still coming out. Before the offset, mast person eases cunningham and outhaul to downwind mark and brings up some halyard, with bow person cradling the spin so it does not blow out to leeward. Tactician provides an immediate traffic call whether to soak at the offset or to sail high to defend.

Preparing to hoist

Once the pole is fully extended, trimmer closes cleat for the tack line and pulls the remaining tack line to get the kite tack all the way out. (If there is a little friction on it, mast person jumps the tack line and pulls the slack out after each jump.) At this point pit person checks that the working kite sheet is on the port cabin top winch and ready to go.

After the pole and tack are set, trimmer pulls enough lazy kite sheet (starboard side) so it does not cause trouble but is still loose enough that it won’t interfere with the kite’s trim.

As the boat reaches the offset mark (or an optimal hoist angle off the wind), skipper gives clear command to “hoist” (always using the exact same command word for hoist to avoid confusion — i.e. avoid words like “go” which sounds like “no”). Mast person sends the kite up the mast as hard and fast as he can. Pit person tails halyard while bow person grabs the kite out of the hatch and tries to throw it outboard to reduce friction of the kite coming out. Trimmer pulls the sheet to fill the kite as fast as possible.

Once the kite is up, mast person calls “made” which signals the skipper to head the boat up slightly to fill the kite, while at the same time. Tactician eases the loaded jib sheet and bow person starts pulling the jib furler to roll up the jib. Tactician then pulls the slack out of the furler line as pit person is busy cleaning up the cockpit and preparing for an immediate gybe, then calls ready to gybe. Everyone else gets to their position (weight low and outboard, never on the cabin top) and starts downwind communication about pressure and lanes. Mast person is looking backward to make wind calls and traffic calls, i.e. soak down or head up for more pressure or to stay clear of traffic.

Pit person prepares immediately to gybe in case that tactical call comes right away. Everyone else gets to their position (weight low and outboard) and starts downwind communication about pressure and lanes.

Footnote — Obviously this top mark discussion assumes port roundings and an offset mark.

a) It all happens faster if you do not have an offset mark.

b) If racing in really light wind, you can have the tack and foot of the spinnaker pre-led to the bow. This is popular on the East Coast and San Diego.

c) When we have starboard roundings, as in match racing or when the race committee is calling for starboard roundings due to the current, we will rerun the spin halyard so it exits the mast on the port side, enabling the mast person to work from the high side during the hoist. Our spin halyard release line crosses the cabin top to each shroud base, with quick-release shackles so it works from either side. Since the halyard is now led to the port cabin top winch, far away from the pole extension line and the tack line, when there is no offset the pit person is tailing the halyard while the pole and tack are pulled out by the tactician or trimmer.

Bottom mark

The bottom mark is a major place to gain or lose. In the J/105 we usually have a gate at the bottom, which leaves us with 3 variations to drop the kite — windward drop, leeward drop or a Mexican drop. Besides good timing and a nice turn, crew work is crucial.

5 boat lengths before the mark, bow person gets all main controls back into upwind mode. Mast person opens the hatch and clears the jib sheets, in particular making sure that the future windward jib sheet is behind the hatch. Mast person then goes down the hatch with the lazy kite sheet in his hand so there is something to pull.

Pit person is now in the pit and makes sure the halyard is ready to run and furler line is out of cleat.

Bow person helps unfurl the jib at the command from the cockpit by pulling the jib sheet right at the clew. Tactician loads the jib on the appropriate primary winch, trimming it tight to help the kite come down, and if time pulls the slack out of the lazy jib sheet.

As soon as the jib is out, drop the kite: Trimmer hands over the loaded sheet to the pit person and goes into the cockpit to take over the jib sheets while tactician returns to the main sheet.

As the kite comes down, trimmer eases the jib for good downwind trim and sets up the winch handles for the rounding.

In the last boat length before the rounding, bow person and mast person finish the drop into the hatch; pit person eases the tack line and lets the pole in; tactician starts to pull the main in, helping to initiate the turn.

While the skipper turns the boat through the rounding, trimmer sheets in jib according to the wind angle taking care not to overtrim it. Tactician pulls the main in as fast as possible to help the boat turn upwind with less rudder. On windy days, the main can trip to boat if it comes in too early or fast, though it is not likely the tactician can keep up with the turn anyway! The trimmer will be done with the jib before the main is in, so once the boat is on the wind, he turns around and jumps the main from the boom blocks while the tactician tails it through the cleat until it is properly trimmed. Everyone scrambles onto the rail as their tasks are completed. Tactician loads the new jib sheet to be ready to tack. When faster tacking is needed, trimmer sets up his own winch while tacking.


40 min before the start, we sail the windward leg of the course to get a good sense of wind angles, current and trim for the first race. Jib leads might be assymetrical, perhaps slightly further forward when beating into more chop and further back on the tack that is parallel to the waves.

15 min before the start, we finalize discussions about our wind and current observations and forecast information, and we decide on a strategy. By this time we also want to be down at the starting area, shooting the wind in regular intervals to get a good idea about the favored end of the line and how that might factor into our 1st beat strategy. We also get laylines to both ends of the line, getting a sense for how much to correct for current effect, whether adverse or favorable. The bow person gets line sights to be able to estimate the distance to line later.

10 min before the start, we have usually put our jib away and start watching the fleets starting ahead of us. We then make a final decision about rig tune settings for the wind and water conditions we will face. When wind and tide go in the same direction, opt for a slightly tighter settings than the tuning guide calls for,as the flatter sails will reduce drag and you don’t need all the power. When wind is against tide, opt for slightly looser settings to ensure power. Set outhaul for the race, and keep cunningham and vang a little looser to be able to maneuver better.

Somewhere in the pre-start

At the RC signal, pit person or trimmer gets the time up on the mast so everyone can see it. Tactician gets the time on her watch as well. Pit person constantly communicates time to the start, while tactician incorporates time into boat-on-boat and boat-to-line communications with skipper. As the start time gets closer, pit person reports time with higher frequency until counting down every second to go.

While cruising around the starting area we put the tails of all main controls (vang, cunningham and outhaul) to starboard, so we can adjust them after the start without getting off the rail. During the prestart, trimmer trims the port sheet and pit person trims the starboard sheet. We usually get the jib out 1:30 min before the gun. Once the jib is out, bow person is at the pullpit advising the skipper about traffic and distance to line.

On the final approach to the line, pit person gets on the rail with mast person. Once the jib has been trimmed to upwind race mode, jib trimmer turns around and team-trims with the tactician to get the mainsail where it should be. Then trimmer jumps on the rail. Bow person is last to the rail after communicating boatlengths to the line — hopefully none to spare at go!

Communication after the start is key. We have the trimmer talk speed and height relative to other boats and pit person relaying wind calls from mast person and wave calls from bow person.

In conclusion, that’s a lot of information on how we do our boathandling on Arbitrage. There are obviously more ways to approach J/105 racing, but we have had success on SF Bay with our cross sheeting and task management. Again, I hope that sharing these notes will help teams that are new or that are struggling with consistency of crew and want better race results. The J/105 is a great boat to race on the Bay and we all benefit when the competition is fierce!

Thank you Nicole and Bruce for editing and filling in the missing pieces

Update: I started a publication for more information about J/105 sailing. I strongly believe that sharing information makes for better racing. https://medium.com/j-105-racing