Owner Andrew Hall chooses a traditional ballast set-up for his hot new J/121. By Chris Museler.
It seems odd that Andrew Hall decided not to install the water-ballast tanks offered in his brand new J/121 Jackhammer. This turbo boost feature will be used by two of the four 121’s competing in this year’s Newport Bermuda Race. They are the latest offshore 40 footers, with furling, carbon reaching sails, plumb bows and a sleek cabin that mimics today’s high performance superyachts.
Jackhammer will join Alchemy (also not using water ballast), in the St. David’s Lighthouse Division, while the other two J/121s, Apollo and Incognito, will be racing in the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse Division where water ballast is allowed along with canting keel boats and no limits on professional crews.
“It’s mainly because we’re penalized under the handicap so much for the water ballast,” explains Hall, who has been training with his mostly British crew throughout April out of his summer home in Jamestown, Rhode Island. “We also couldn’t race in the amateur division with ballast. And without the tanks, it makes the boat more roomy down below, and can sleep more people.”
The sail profiles between all the J/121s are identical, says Hall, who has sailed four Bermuda Races, some on his last boat, the J/133 Jackknife. He races a J/125 in the RORC summer offshore series in the UK and he’s looking forward to testing out the new boat on an ocean course.
“The J/125 goes like a bat out of hell but has a poor handicap,” says Hall. “Hopefully the 121 will be competitive and a lot more comfortable. The 125 is decidedly not comfortable and decidedly wet.”
The water-ballasted J/121s rate faster than Jackhammer, and though the ballast adds righting moment and power, there are times when it’s not needed. Hall says that he hasn’t lined up against another 121 to discover if, under handicap, one will win over the other. He does say there are benefits to using water ballast besides strict performance.
“They’re [ballast tanks] there for sailing with less people,” says Hall. “That’s quite nice but I just shorten sail when overpowered.”
Hall, a Brit, will be sailing with his son and a mixture of Americans and fellow countrymen. The crew was bending on storm sails in the sub-freezing mornings of April, with numb fingers pushing dog bones through the loops of the storm jib’s soft hanks. Jackhammer was soon seen ripping across Narragansett Bay in fresh northwesterlies testing sail combinations and tweaking electronics.
Though the Bermuda Race will be a great test of this new, high performance design, Hall and his crew consider it just a stop on a regular calendar of fantastic ocean races.
After Bermuda, Jackhammer will be shipped to Italy and then brought down to Malta for the Middle Sea Race. In 2019, it’s the RORC offshore series and possibly the Fastnet Race. Then another crack at Bermuda in 2020.
“I look forward to this race,” says Hall. “We will have covered a few miles by the time we get back here in two year’s time.”