Johnstone’s Delight

Uff Da!  This boat is gonna create more temptation in sailors minds then back when Jansson put herring in his favorite cheesy potato dish creating such a delight.  She’s been touted as a Market Disruptor by Seahorse Magazine and Versatile & Exciting by Yachting World as she sits proudly on their April 2019 magazine cover.

The all new J/99, from J/Boats, checks more boxes than any boat they’ve produced in over 30 years, period.  After touring the boat this past week in Rhode Island I initially walked away happily amazed at her design, as well as, her bigger sister, the all new J/121.  My mind kept harkening back to a time in my youth when we all sailed and raced 25 to 30 foot sailboats and were awestruck and tempted by those massive IOR boats, 50’ and up, sailing ahead of us and finishing before dark on all those mid distance races we knew and loved.  Then along came the J/35.  Truly an every man’s big boat.  A powerful platform that brought with it a sense of the speed and thrills we observed on those big IOR warhorses of the time but in a package that each of us could touch, feel and most importantly a platform that we, the everyday sailor could handle – both race and cruise.

Bill Schanen, of Sailing Magazine, once reported that the appeal of the J/35 “…was its pure hull form, a sweet easily driven shape free of the rating rule-induced exaggerations that made other handicap racers of the 1980s cranky and difficult to sail. With its light weight and long sailing length, big but uncomplicated rig and sensible deck layout, the J/35 was graced with a responsive yet forgiving nature over a wide range of conditions. These endearing characteristics gave the J/35 a parallel life as cruising boat. Easily handled by a family, it offered plenty of space below for accommodations that were plain but practical.”

While describing his latest new design, Alan Johnstone shares that “The J/99 opens up a wide range of sailing possibilities.  The versatile sail plan, balanced hull form and efficient cockpit will work as well for short-handed offshore sailing as for weekend sailing with friends. The J/99 packs a lot of performance and versatility into a manageable size and budget.”

Sound familiar?

After touring the boat on the hard at International Marine last week I was left with a sense of how big it was on deck with a large workable cockpit that blended the sit on the deck aspects of the J/33 with the cockpit seats everyone loves in the J/35 for cruising, daysailing and distance racing.  The side decks were spacious, quickly creating images of kayaks or SUP’s on deck for the summer cruise, as well as, hazard free spaces for crew to move freely from bow to stern as duties required.  As I walked forward I was reminded of the deck space on a J/120.

Stepping below my response was simply wow – a modern J/35 interior.  Everything you need to be comfortable cruising with your family or friends, sitting below after a race or regatta bragging with your crew or escaping the weather for a break while on a distance race.  Full functional galley, large forward facing nav area, large double bunk aft cabins port and starboard, double drop leaf table center of the salon, two very comfortable settee bunks port and starboard with an enclosed forepeak cabin housing the head and sail storage, and ample storage throughout the boat.  It’s even got a headliner!  Granted it doesn’t have 6’ 6” headroom like a true cruising boat, she does have a very functional 5’ 10”ish hair draft that for a race boat of her obvious caliber is astounding.

So I’ve touched on the similarities of the space and feel of arguably one of J/Boats best performance cruising designs, the all new J/99 also incorporates many of the desirable modern performance traits of the big fast warhorses of today.

Sound familiar again?

She has a fixed carbon sprit off the bow to easily handle both the A-sails and various code zero type rags that excel in different areas or point to point racing.  She also can have water ballast, yep water ballast on a production every man’s boat, approximately 55 gallons per side.  Not the type of water ballast that has to be managed constantly to keep the boat upright but water ballast that assists in the boats sail-ability.  This type of water ballast, while at its base is weight on the rail, will enable more people to go sailing and perform duties they otherwise wouldn’t be asked to do.  Smaller, lighter and less agile sailors can now do the job of that affectionately named deck potato or grinder or can simply stay in the cockpit if they are unable to get out on the rail for a physical reason and the boat can still perform well due to the water ballast holding the rail down.

Seriously, imagine a scenario that you are able to take your 80+ year old grandfather out sailboat racing and benefit from his years of sailing knowledge being shared with you and your 14 year old lightweight kid while they trim the sails and have a chance of competing against that fully crewed deck filled with butt’s race boat.  As silly as this sounds it’s a real thing this type of crew assist water ballast enables.  Sure you can still pack the rail and use the water ballast at the same time – but your boat would be that much heavier doing so.

Her big sister, the J/121 – in the vein of Orwell’s 1984 newspeak, if my reaction going below in the 99 was wow, the J/121 invited a quick double wow!  This boat is big.   Yeah it’s 40’ on deck but she is wide, open and utilizes every bit of that 40’ for working purposes.  Below you can swing your wet foulies around over your head there’s so much space and then quickly wipe the spray off the carbon fiber countertops.  A touch that floods the senses, carbon fiber panels trimmed out with teak edging – it’s cool, it’s really cool.  Double French doors forward leading into the spacious forward bunk, deep and wide aft cabin to port and open aft head to starboard with easy access to what J/Boat sailors worldwide describe as the garage storage area.  Her large crew assist water ballast tanks, similar to the 99’s but more volume, are obvious but trimmed well and every system aboard seems to be easily accessible without compromising fit and finish.  The galley with double basin sink, top loading deep frig and double burner stove/oven looks super usable and the large forward facing nav area looks about as usable as you find on a 40’ sailboat with plenty of working space and also room for electronics.

On deck everything at first glance looks well thought out.  From her hybrid mainsheet system that leads through the deck to the port and starboard mainsheet winches to all the very raceable control lines led to easily accessible areas along with her outboard twin wheels to get you the visibility you need to react and respond to all inputs for optimal control while sailing.  While standing behind the wheel at the true aft end of the boat looking forward I couldn’t help but think how similar everything looked and felt in size and function to being at the helm of the  J/145 and I expect this boat to outperform that amazing vessel both on the course and with her accommodations below while cruising.

With these two designs J/Boats is bringing the modern performance aspects of the big amazing performance machines like the TP 52’s and the offshore Open 40’s to the yacht club near you in a package that will keep your crew list long while also impressing your non-racing family and friends when they hang out in the cockpit while daysailing or enjoy the accommodations below while on a cruise sailing from port to port rather than motoring simply because you can, because the design enables it.

We were able to view these boats while back east for the J/Boat dealer meeting held at the Harken offices in Middletown, Rhode Island in March 2019. Dealers from across the country and as far away as Alaska made the trip to spend the day with the Johnstones discussing what J/Boats is doing currently and is planning on doing in the future.  Everything from the current models and their build schedules and demand to some great new ideas for smaller and larger models and fleet purchases that are being considered by the family and their network.  Exciting stuff actually, and some very promising ideas for what is coming in the near future.  For a company founded by the everyday sailor that built itself into a successful family business now on it’s second generation of leaders J/Boats continues to move forward with designs that incorporate modern attributes in attainable platforms accessible for the every day sailor, their families and friends.  A model that will never lose it’s market appeal.