John Van ser Starre - Our latest Ultimate star was a professional windsurfer and long distance record holder before moving over to keelboat sailing and winner of multiple short handed championships. Here's a fascinating insight into his winning approach.
How long have you been sailing shorthanded?.
I started sailing before my windsurfing career when I was around 6 years old, after I started windsurfing at age 15/16 I did a few regattas, mostly offshores but always crewed. When my kids were growing up I quit my professional windsurfing and it seemed like a very nice idea to bring them up on a boat at weekends, and in holidays, so we bought a boat.
During the winter we did some racing in the winter series, to feed my competitive desire, and that’s where it all started. The kids grew bigger and didn’t want to go sailing as much at weekends so I started racing more. Which is when I started sailing shorthanded, which was around 2004. I did a lot of competitive windsurfing including long distance when I was young, and that’s what taught me about being solo and gave me the drive.
You currently sail a J122E, and previously a J111, what other boats have you sailed shorthanded?
Jeanneau Sunfast 37, J109, J111, J122E
For the J111 and J122E, I have sailed with my co-skipper and owner Robin, who is the importer of J boats in Holland. We both had previous experience in shorthanded sailing, then the opportunity came for us to team up and put a J111 campaign together towards the 2011 Fastnet, and we’ve continued since then.
Which is your favourite?
The newest is always my favourite – J122E. We’ve taken all our knowledge forward from the previous boats, we’re still learning this boat, and I know we can make it even faster still. We completely optimised it to shorthanded, working hard with J Europe to adjust the boat. We shortened the mast by 1m, extended the keel length and added more weight to the bulb. Then we worked closely with Ultimate sails to really optimise the sails for shorthanded.
What are the main differences between fully crewed and shorthanded sailing?
You can learn a lot from sailing shorthanded, the main thing is that you have to think ahead, as much as ¾ hour in advance to prepare. The skills you learn are directly transferable to crewed sailing.
What key factors are vital to a successful two-handed campaign?
Ultimately it’s about preparation but it’s also very important that you and your co skipper match in both experience as well as personality. When I did the 2011 Fastnet two-handed, Robin and I fitted very well, so we went again in 2013 and 2015 and you’ll see us once again in 2017.
What are your top 3 sailing achievements?
Where did you hear about Ultimate Sails?
We always had North Sails on the J111. At the Europeans in 2013, Smokin Joe a J111 was sailing with Ultimate sails and we were impressed. They looked good and were fast, we had a good feeling. Kevin Sproul and I have very similar ideas, we now work very closely with Kevin to optimise for two-handed, and it works!
When buying sails, would you ask for anything different than a boat sailing fully crewed?
When sailing two-handed you can’t just take a standard set of sails designed for fully crewed racing and put it on your boat. We optimise our set up completely for two-handed now, as I mentioned before the boat has a shorter mast, which means a smaller sail area – yes we will lose a bit against the full rig in less than 7 knots but ultimately we are more manageable and sometimes even faster.
We aim to get the power in the sails as low as possible, so we had a shorter luff on the jib, and a bit larger LP. The main is already a bit smaller due to the shorter mast.
We also have a slab reef on the jib, with an adjustable Cunningham on the tack, and a change sheet on the clew, which gives us a huge wind rand without having to change sail. We than have what we call our J#3.5 which also has a very wide range, similarly it has a small luff and the pressure and power is low. We can sail with it until 30-32 knots. With this setup we only need two jibs for the whole wind range.
For the gennaker, ours is much smaller than the standard J122, we ignored the numbers and went for the most stable design for the boat. A normal size gennaker is up to 157 sqm, where as we have 138 sqm, which is way smaller than most J122’s but it works. Other two-handed teams are now starting to do the same after our success.