On-Board The J/130

By Sven Donaldson/ Pacific Yachting 1996

The J/130's combination of outstanding sail-carrying power and ease of handling for small crews translates into seemingly effortless speed.

This year's Southern Straits Classic attracted an unusually impressive assortment of high-end racing yachts. Conditions ranged from light to gale-force, and many competitors had hairy tales to tell afterward. But when the dust settled, the fastest boat on corrected time (and one of the quickest outright) was a stock J/130 from California called Break 'N Wind. The 43' production boat, sailing at a PHRF rating of 40, romped through the fleet in the windy conditions Friday night, impressing everyone with its apparently effortless speed.

Yet in contrast with more race-oriented competitors, the J/130 has exceptional cruising credentials. The cockpit offers bench seating and vast lockers; the interior is well suited to extended live aboard use at sea and in port. But what really makes it outstanding is its spectacular performance in shorthanded cruising mode-a breakthrough made possible by evolutionary developments in fiberglass construction, rigs and sail-handling gear.

When it was introduced three years ago, the 43' J/130 became the flagship of J/ Boats' new "decimeter series" which then consisted of the 33' J/105 and the 30' J/92. These two designs were high-performance sport boats with unabashedly spartan interiors. Their chief claim to fame was the novel concept of an asymmetrical spinnaker flown from a bowsprit-a feature previously associated only with radical Aussie 18' skiffs and high-performance multihulls.

Compared to a conventional spinnaker, the asymmetrical is almost laughably easy to gybe, and because its center of effort is so far forward, the boat is much less likely to round up uncontrollably when overpowered. Designer Rod Johnstone felt these features made the asymmetrical a "natural" for a serious cruising boat.

Asymmetrical chutes work best on boats suited to "tacking" downwind with the apparent wind well forward: lightweight hulls with long waterlines. The J/130 is notably long and slender, with the beam and displacement of a typical modem 36-footer but extended to almost 43'. The feature most responsible for the boat's outstanding stability and sail carrying power is an extremely low center of gravity. The standard high-aspect bulb-type lead keel draws a whopping 8' 6". (Break 'N Wind's keel is a shallower 6' 11" option.)

The hull/deck structure is exceptionally light thanks to high-quality, balsa-cored laminates produced by state-of-the-art resin-infusion molding technology. In the J/130 (and numerous other boats), J Boats' construction sub-contractor TPI Composites, Inc. uses a technique known as SCRIMP. Stacked, unidirectional reinforcing materials and balsa coring are positioned in the mold, covered with plastic film, and put under high vacuum before resin is introduced. A carefully calculated amount of catalyzed resin is introduced through ports in the mold so that it progressively "wets out" everything from one end of the part to the other. Done right, the result is a high-fibre-ratio cored panel which is essentially defect-free and considerably stronger than most hand-laid panels. The quality shows in thumping around on the deck of the J/130; it's a light boat that feels as solid as the proverbial rock.

The die-hard traditionalist might feel the J/130 lacks enough overhang fore and aft to be genuinely un-holier But everyone else will probably agree it's a lovely boat. Lean and low, with a bit more spring to its sheer and rake to its mast than commonly seen these days, the J/130 looks the part of a thoroughbred-a boat meant to sail, first and foremost.RIG A triple-spreader, "near masthead" fractional rig is supported by rod rigging. The rig geometry represents a nice compromise between reliable simplicity (checkstays but no runners) and high performance. The asymmetrical spinnaker is flown from the masthead, 18" above the hounds. Its tack is secured to the end of a carbon-fibre "J/Sprit" that retracts 7' into the forward cabin when not in use. The sprit passes though a big self-draining anchor locker with a gasket at each end-a system that appears to keep water outside .

In most respects, the deck layout is a conventional, proven arrangement. Twin jib leads can be adjusted from the cockpit under load. The Harken genoa furler features a removable drum for racing. A solid vang is standard, and the boom-end mainsheet/traveler system is first-rate.

With this boat's excellent light-air speed under sail, the 47hp Yanmar auxiliary may not get used much, but it's capable of driving the boat at around 9kts.

Having established a reputation for straightforward "sailors' boats," the Johnstones have steered clear of selling on the basis of fancy or unusual interiors. The J/130 is a case in point, with a classic aft-galley, forward-head layout, settee in the main cabin, and hinged pilot berths port and starboard. The interior is built up primarily from pre-finished, balsa-cored panels with just enough teak accents to avoid a sterile look. Fit and finish is workmanlike.

The galley features big double sinks, hot/cold pressure water, a Force 10 propane stove with oven, and generous stowage. The head compartment-one of the few parts of the boat incorporating a molded fiberglass liner-offers hot showers and easy maintenance, including easy access to all plumbing.

There's a generous nav station to port that can be either forward-facing (with the standard double quarter-berth arrangement) or side-loading (with the optional aft stateroom). A huge locker to starboard can be accessed from the cockpit or via a door behind the galley. Several large overhead hatches supply light and ventilation.

In a short-lived 8-10 kt easterly during an otherwise near-windless weekend, I got a vivid impression of the J/130's speed while I tried to stay within photo range aboard my own 30' cruising sailboat. This is one cruising sailboat with the potential for really fast passages (7kts-plus) in our typically light summer breezes without often resorting to engine power. As the Straits result suggests, it also shines in strong winds.

Jibes were accomplished with a minimum of fuss-turn the wheel, let one sheet go and haul in the other until the spinnaker refills. For short-handed sailing, a good snuffer system would help tame the giant asymmetrical.

Thanks to the legendary marketing prowess of the Johnstones (plus a little help from the equally famous Melges family and the '92 America's Cup), the asymmetrical concept has quickly achieved mainstream status in high performance keelboat racing. But the J/130 is notable as perhaps the first full-sized production sailboat to apply the race-bred concept to a primarily cruising mission. Ten years from now, I wouldn't be surprised if most new family sailboats have a lot in common with the J/130. The interior is built up primarily from balsa-cored panels, with enough teak accents to warm things up. Break 'N Wind has optional dark green Ultra-suede upholstery.

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Sailing is the ultimate freedom, the experience of being at one with nature and the sea, powered only by the wind and one's imagination. It's one of the few "life sports" that offers both a relaxing escape as well as an invigorating challenge. You pick your level of comfort and excitement. Sailing is never the same twice - each time on the water with your sailboat is a unique adventure that can enrich friendships, strengthen family ties, and refresh one's own sense of well-being. How many other outdoor activities can be shared with three or more family generations?  It's been said there are two types of sailors in the world - the young and the young-at-heart.

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