Proa Jzero, 1978 - Sailing to Puerto Rico with Russ Brown, by Mark Balogh
"In March of 1978 Russ and I sailed his first cruising proa, Jzero of Polygor, from Ft. Pierce, Florida to Ponce, Puerto Rico. Jzero, was designed by Russ when he was 14 and built when he was 15 to escape (with parents permission) from home. Please understand that this was 20 years ago and most of this is from memory. IMHO Jzero was some of Russel's best design work and worst construction. Main hull without lee buoyancy pod was 30' by 2' and about 29'+ by 1.5' on the waterline. The ama was about 16' and the over beam was about 18' Jzero was mostly 1/4" fir ply and was 800+ pounds empty.
We sailed up hill against the current on mostly a one tack beat a few hundred miles out from the Bahamas until we were about 100+ miles north of San Juan in very deep water. A northeaster started to build. These things are hard to estimate or even remember but at its peak, the storm winds reached at least 50, maybe as high as 60. The waves were very high, looking higher than our 28' mast so I would guess some were 20 to 25 feet with some breaking off 5' to 10' of their tops. Bad spot for a lightly built boat.
We did not have a sea anchor. We made one out of my spare pair of jeans. A bridle was tied around the waist at one end and around the ankles of the pants at the other. This was tied to our anchor rode but the pants were too light and would skip out of the water when we were on top of a wave and the pull was upward. We added a small Danforth and some chain that I believe attached at the bridle and that mostly held the "sea anchor" in the water.
I recall that we discussed bridling the rode off between the aka and the main bow as we thought the downward pull on the ama might help, but in the end we ended up with the rode run off of just the main bow. Jzero rode very well in an attitude with the wind several degrees off the bow on the normal lee side. This put a little load on the ama but mostly just from the windage of the rig. We felt safer to sleep in this orientation. We rode for 2 to 3 days with no real problems. During the day when we could see the waves we would try to steer Jzero out to sea because on our drift course we were headed toward Navidad or where the water of the trench shoaled up to something like 6 fathoms off Martinique.
Luckily, the storm blew out as we were about due north of the Mona Passage. We were pretty tired and decided to run for the Passage and get to the lee of Puerto Rico in case another storm came. The Mona was quite roiled with a full blown refraction pattern consisting of two sets of fast, sometimes breaking swells with about a 45° to 90° angle between them. On almost a dead run in these seas in pitch black night, with a deep reefed 60 square foot main up, we covered 31 nautical miles in 2 hours flat and rounded the corner into the lee to get some rest. Jzero performed almost flawlessly the whole time. I was so impressed with this simple little boat that I drew up a very small 46' big sister as soon as I got home. I have never had the time to build it but would still like to have one some day.
Jzero was built for $400 and I helped Russ re-rig her in FL for about $800. She was the most impressive $1200 boat I ever sailed. Before the storm we had two really good days of steady wind close hauled on port tack. I couldn't get a sight for 48 hours but finally did and we had covered 360 miles under working sail of about 200 square feet. Aside from being wet, it was a comfortable ride. Just to give another example of her performance, later, in the St. Maarten Tradewinds race on a leg from Virgin Gorda, around St. Croix, to Martinique, about 350 miles essentially a one tack beat, Jzero finished third, I think less than 2 hours behind the leaders. The two lead boats were Rouge Wave sailed by Phil Weld and a 60 ft Peter Spronk cat (designed built owned sailed by Peter). I was crew on Third Turtle, an open wing 31 Val tri and we were hours behind."