The venerable J24-footer, still the world’s best-selling one-design keelboat is proving itself once again as a very popular entry-level competition racing boat.
In excess of 5,000 boats were built and while brand-new boats are a rarity, it is the supply of second-hand J24s that has provided an affordable route into the sport for more and more people.
Last weekend saw 26 five-person crews compete for the national championships at Sligo and although there had been 31 initial commitments, the strong wind weather forecast proved off-putting for a few entries.
For those that did sail, this small keelboat revelled in the big seas and breeze off Rosses Point in a series dominated by eventual winner JP McCaldin from Enniskillen and Cork’s Stefan Hyde.
Given the growth in the class, the turnout divided into a Gold and Silver fleet and if, as expected next year’s event in Foynes generates in excess of 30 boats a Bronze division will also be added.
The appeal comes down to price point and organisation.
While the very best second-hand racing boats with good sails and competitive to international championship standard cost in excess of €20,000 or more, boats in need of a little TLC are more affordable, typically ranging in price from €6,000-10,000 including a road trailer.
Traditional crew set-ups, particularly amongst bigger classes of yacht might usually see one or two owners share the purchase and running-costs of a boat, leaving crew to commit time and the cost of their own foul-weather gear and life-jacket, the revitalised J24 class is witnessing more and more partnerships and club boats.
Basic running-costs are estimated to be about €2,000 per annum to cover maintenance and event entry-fees.
Split between five owner/crew-members, the initial outlay and running costs are more manageable.
Of course, towing two tonnes of a boat and double-axel trailer still requires a beefier vehicle but even here, the class is known to assist with transport to events.
The cooperation and sharing theme continues into the training of prospective owners and crews and the ideal pathway being established at various clubs involves a coaching programme funded by Irish Sailing (formerly the Irish Sailing Association).
This has made a huge difference to new entrants’ results in the class.
Howth in Dublin has also developed an Under 25 programme over the past four years that has now expanded into a four boat scheme and several dozen crew. Graduates have continued in the sport and are competing at world championship level.
The success of the youth programme is the envy of several clubs that are thought to be actively planning a matching scheme.
In Sligo, J24 sailors Gerry Gilligan and Brian Rafferty have helped develop the class there by sourcing and buying second-hand boats, preparing them and selling-on to newcomers to the sport leading to seven boats located there and at nearby Mullaghmore.
“The J’s have been a very promising class over the last five or six years as they’re quite nominal to purchase,” according to Simon McGibney from Foynes. “They were pushed by our ex-president Flor O’Driscoll from Cobh along with people like Martin Reilly from Sligo.”
McGibney shares his boat with three others and reckons a full season of club racing and events in Ireland is quite affordable.
“Depending on your sails, if you’re just doing club and the J24 programme, anything decent will do. But European or World championship events would need investment in a new suit of sails.”
New sails typically cost around €5,000 but in the aftermath of major championships, used sails become available at much lower prices. “Everyone in the class shares their knowledge which makes a huge difference (to keeping the class strong)” said McGibney.
As a bonus to the class, the J24 also enjoys a strong rating on IRC handicap meaning it can take part in other regattas including the major events in Cork and Dublin and have a competitive chance of winning.
Darragh McCormack from Foynes won the Irish Cruiser Racing Association Class 4 national championship in Crosshaven in June his J24 Stouche, entering the record books as the first west of Ireland national champion at the event.