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When the 2021 J / 70 World Championship is held in the United States, it will be a victory for the sport. While there are still international teams with travel challenges, the entry list includes 77 teams from 16 countries for the August event in Los Angeles, California. It is a victory in this pandemic.

The escalation of efforts in the J / 70 class filled the parking lot of the host California Yacht Club for months, with Cal Race Week (June 5-6) and the California Cup Regatta (June 25-27) providing a preview. taste of the expected conditions. at the 2021 Worlds.

As the old champions push the fleet, new skippers Ryan McKillen and Maggie McKillen have placed first and fourth in the California Cup respectively. This report from Doyle Sails explains how this couple are now gamers:


Ryan McKillen’s entry into yachting was slightly less traditional than that of his fellow sailors – four years ago he was based in San Francisco as a software engineer and had never sailed before.

Fast forward to now, where Ryan and his wife, Maggie, now run one of the most competitive two-boat J / 70 programs in North America and frequently race their M32s out of Miami and Newport.

In 2017, Ryan was sitting at his desk with a view of the San Francisco Bay, and the yachts passing him caught his interest day after day – he grew up in Ohio and had never been exposed to the yachting.

Ryan signed up for an introductory sailing course, enjoyed it, and started researching cruising yachts and cruising yachts. He came across a boat called E33 and contacted the man behind the project, Robbie Doyle. Without knowing who Robbie Doyle was, and only a few days on the water, Ryan called Robbie and asked, “I want to go sailing; How do we do it?”

Soon after, Ryan was aboard the Maxi 72 Proteus with Robbie Doyle and competed in the famous Caribbean 600 on one of the top performing racing yachts. From there, Ryan focused on the competition, as the cruise went downhill.

During the Caribbean 600, Ryan met Proteus tactician Mark Mendelblatt, who gave Ryan much-respected advice on how he could get into serious sailing if he was interested, which ended. by Mark suggesting a J / 70. One-design fleets were something Ryan knew nothing about but was by no means a deterrent.

It was a great opportunity for Ryan, and his plans to secure a J / 70 became a priority when Mark commented, “If you buy a J / 70 you’re going to love it – it’s a great fleet with a good group of people. I’m going to be sailing with you for the first time, give me two years, and you’ll be on the podium ”- that’s exactly where Ryan and the Surge team meet today. With a little enthusiasm and encouragement from Mark, Ryan bought the J / 70 179 from Judd Smith (Doyle Sails One Design expert and J / 70 legend).

It’s a huge commitment to have a husband and wife team running a two-boat program in the same fleet, but for Ryan and Maggie, it’s part of the magic that comes with the one-design fleet that is the J / 70 .

Naturally competitive by nature, Maggie spent a lot of time on coach boats with Tony Rey (professional sailor and manager of Doyle Sails Newport) early in Ryan’s sailing and loved every aspect of it. When asked why Maggie started sailing, she replied, “I asked so many questions in those early days. I was so intrigued by what Ryan was doing, and Tony was kind enough to answer everyone.

“It sparked my interest in sailing and helped me understand what’s going on in sailing from a technical point of view. After a year or two of Tony watching me watch Ryan, he suggested I start sailing myself. At the time, I didn’t take it seriously and I didn’t think about it too much ”.

By 2020, Maggie and Ryan had moved to Miami, where Ryan asked her if she was serious about sailing and suggested she buy another J / 70. “I wasn’t sure,” Maggie continued, “but I know I’m a naturally competitive person and Ryan and Tony convinced me that this would be something I would appreciate, and they were right.”

Maggie explained what it was like to get into a whole new sport without any previous experience: “As an adult I didn’t have any sport that I wholeheartedly committed to. We’re active people, and I do a lot of spinning and cardio, but there was no defined sport, so it immediately gave me the childish thrill of being part of a team and getting involved in it. something exciting.

Ryan’s team have a few years of experience on Maggie’s, and the team’s compilation is what they enjoyed the most at the start. Watching Ryan build a successful team and drive his campaign to the highest level was a great example to follow – Maggie’s goal now was to replicate that for her team. Maggie’s crew currently consists of what she calls “a group of brilliant sailors, who have also become our friends.”

In a sport dominated by men, Maggie at first found her entry into sailing a little intimidating. Having a skipper is one thing, but having a skipper entirely new to the sport is another – but Maggie has made no secret that when on the water she is serious.

“When my Magatron boat and Ryan’s Surge boat are on the water, we are competitive, but there is a mutual respect that we share. Ryan is happy when he sees me well, and vice versa, but my natural competitiveness sometimes gets the better of me. I want to win, “she laughs. Ryan continues,” if someone is going to beat me, I would like it to be my wife and no one else and more often than not I can at least count on her to. don’t always fire me. ”

The two-boat program took the Magatron and Surge campaigns to the next level, as the couple spend all of their time before a regatta as tuning partners with their joint trainer Tony Rey on the water by their side. It’s a perfect game and a campaign that has seen both teams improve considerably.

It’s clear that Maggie and Ryan share the opinion that people are the most crucial part of their campaigns. For Ryan, having the right people on his team was a non-negotiable “I was never going to compromise on people. All my life, both personally and professionally, I have made sure to surround myself with incredibly talented people, who are also people I love as friends. No compromise. That’s what I have with my crew, ”comments Ryan.

With a fleet of J / 70s as large as it is, you will always have differences in the way people run their programs. However, Ryan made sure that the Surge program was the best it could be. He continues: “If I make sure that the boat, the sails, the settings are at their best, then everyone knows we can only blame ourselves. If we are beaten on the water, the responsibility falls on us as sailors, and we have to understand that, so I do what I can, when I can to make sure the boat is well maintained.

For Maggie, her constant inquisition and interest in Ryan’s sailing has developed a sincere passion for the sport, and she encourages other women not to be intimidated at any point.

“Have fun whatever the weather or the people and kiss it. For me it was very intimidating at first, but it’s a sport for anyone at any age. The people I have met are hands down the best people I have met in my adult life. It’s a big family, with very welcoming people. It’s a great sport to be a part of.

Where from here for Maggie and Ryan? Ryan confirms that his interest in yacht racing is not waning, and he plans to be part of the first one-design fleet in North America and for a long time, and currently it is the J / 70. He also plans to run offshore. For Maggie, the goal is to eventually compete with Ryan in an M32, but the couple’s immediate focus will be on transitioning to their new roles as parents, with a baby expected in winter.


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