San Juan 21 Fleet 29
When I first started sailing in 1985, the San Juan 21 group (Fleet 29 Central Florida) had been around a long time. I know there are several people around that know more about pre 1985 sailing so I will leave that to them. As with many social, sport, hobby type groups, Fleet 29 has been through many changes. Some of the group that were active in 1985 have attained the title of National Champion or Eastern National Champion, and some of them more than once. The San Juan Fleet has always had some kind of controversy attached to it. Commonly it had to do with the handicap being overly generous. Another was the common assumption that the San Juan fleet was made of hard core racers and their “stripped out racing machines”. I generally agree that the handicap may be generous, however it has been adjusted in the past few years and I don’t believe it is any more generous than that of a Catalina 22, or Precision 23, or any other boat that is regularly raced and well prepared.
My first San Juan 21 was named Hated because I hated the fact that I had to get a San Juan to race one-design with the best competition in the area. After a while San Juans kind of went away and Catalina 22’s were the active class, so I sailed those. I have had many boats, many Catalina 22’s, many
San Juan 21’s and many others as well. As far as a boats go, especially trailerables, the San Juan has a lot going for it. I intend to list the pros and cons here but before I do, please understand that there are a lot of great boats out there, and the San Juan is not my favorite but comparing SJ 21’s to much more expensive boats doesn’t work. So first let’s talk about the cost. You can buy a SJ 21 for between 500 and 3000 dollars easily. It is going to 25 years old at least and to get one really race ready, including a set of excellent racing sails you should expect to have at least 5000 in it, some people have much more. Most people that race any kind of sailboat will realize that that is quite reasonable. Secondly, San Juans are available, you can find them in all conditions and the price is not necessarily an indicator of what kind of shape the boat is in. Most importantly, (in my opinion) the San Juan is fun and easy to sail. It is light, accelerates easily, responds quickly to adjustments and one of my favorite attributes is the light touch required on the helm. The San Juan is easy to trailer and to set up and take down. The rig is simple, only the forestay needs to be disconnected to lower the mast. The fully retractable keel allows the boat to sit low on the trailer which is great for launching and retrieving. The National Association is well defined and the class rules are fair without being overly restrictive. There are San Juan fleets and events all over the country.
Fleet 29 is currently growing again and the enthusiasm is quite high. There are 9 or 10 SJ 21’s locally right now, and several more in the state that I expect will gather periodically to challenge each other and enjoy the benefits of one design racing. Nearly half of the owners are new to San Juan sailing. I think the skill level will rise rapidly, and the potential for having fun is even greater. It is commonly said that the fastest way to learn to sail is to race, and the best way to learn to race is one-design. If you think you might want to join in, I think the time is right and I know that you will be welcome.