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J/30 Sailing Review

By Dale Mead

"Anyone who’s had even the briefest exposure to sailboat racing has heard of J/Boats. Ask a racer to list the hottest production racers active today, and they’re sure to Include J/24s and J/35s. Begun in 1977, J/Boats Incorporated, has defied the yacht sales slump with an ever-changing line that threatens to run out of numbers - 18 models through 1991, ranging from 22 to 44 feet.

For 1992, they’ve come out with a J/105 and J/92 (metric measurements equal to 34.5 and 30 feet respectively, opening the door to the European market), both of which have been pushed aggressively as fast, family oriented and very simple to sail. In addition, the J/130, a 42-footer, will debut in October, and a J/60 (feet) is in the advanced planning stage. Is there a length they’ve missed?

While the Johnstones understand that the weekend warrior with bucks to spend on a boat typically needs speed, they also know he’ll spend more time sailing if his family loves it, too. Those parallel concepts were driven home in the late ‘70s when Rod’s wife, Lucia, got tired of capsizing every time they raced dinghies. She refused to race anymore, and he determined to design a boat she and their children could race on -or at least stay on. The result was Ragtime, the prototype J/24, which swept race after race in Eastern competition’

When Johnstone couldn’t get his brother Bob’s employer, Sunfish builder AMF Alcort, to build a production version, the brothers struck out on their own, with Bob’s yacht marketing experience perfectly complementing Rod’s design instincts. They contracted Tillotson Pearson (now TPI Composites, Inc.) as manufacturer, and in 1977, the J/24 first went on sale. It was an instant hit, with 720 boats sold the first year. Having launched a company that performed as well as their first product, the Johnstones had to keep it afloat with new ideas. So in late 1979, Rod moved beyond the daysailer to an overnight version - the J/30.

The Johnstones’ second boat affirmed their philosophy that the family that plays together stays together. Its ample 11’ 2" beam allowed a spacious interior designed for family living, with six-foot headroom at the companionway tapering down to 5’6" at the forward bulkhead. And the Johnstones embellished it attractively with ash woodwork, a cramped but serviceable galley and a semi-enclosed head. The boat also slept six, although it lacked a double settee berth. An optional mid-cabin table also seated six comfortably for meals.

Despite its comfortable appointments, the J/30 was put together as a racer first. The entire fiberglass hull and deck are cored with balsa, with a strong fractional, single-spreader rig, double-foil forestay and lead fin keel for an overall displacement of about 7,000 pounds. The ballast/displacement ratio is a tippy .30, which necessitates the broad beam. The tiller is de-rigeur, and the rudder hangs off the back of the wide, vertical transom, so the boat turns on a dime. Of course, the maneuverability translates into busy steering. Extra crew makes a big difference keeping the boat flat. The side decks are wide enough to do laps around, and sufficiently sloped to be almost flat on the high side when heeled.

In 1984 the Johnstones added a cockpit coaming and lowered the bridge to the cockpit floor, as well as taking out a quarterberth to create a bigger galley, making the boat more yuppie-friendly, if a trace less raceable offshore.

In a reviewing, Practical Sailor summarized the boat this way: "The J/30 Is slab-sided, with little sheer, short overhangs, and little grace. Fortunately, it goes like hell under sail.... She is a boat that inspires confidence. She is a young sailor’s boat, a stepping stone to the big time." Practical Sailor also quoted a 1981 price tag of $35,000 for the 30-footer, which should make current owners feel good; a reasonably maintained used one still goes in the low thirties these days. Sailing the J/30 can be as simple or complicated as you choose. Although a crew of seven is optimal for competitive racing, one experienced and one inexperienced person can handle it easily with the stock rig. Leave the jib down and it sails like a dinghy singlehanded.

On the other end of the spectrum, a killer storm during the 1979 Fastnet confirmed the J/30’s strength. A total of 24 yachts were abandoned and 15 sailors died, but Juggernaut, skippered by Andy Cassel and crewed by Tim Levett, made It unscathed across the Atlantic, despite having to run under bare poles for 14 hours and taking two severe knockdowns. Bill Wallace of Houston, Texas, survived the same storm while delivering J/30 hull #29 to Britain singlehanded. Upon arrival, he was asked by a Yachting World reporter how he and his crew held up under the storm. He sailed alone, he explained. "In what?" asked the reporter. "In that J/30 over there."

Wallace told Bob Johnstone afterward, "The J/30 is the best goddamned sailboat in the world for its Intended purpose. Only once did I get rolled down by a huge wave. And I’ve got coffee stains on the cabin overhead to show that it was 120 degrees."

Long-term sales confirmed the J/30’s market attraction. It established J-Boats as more than a one-product company, and confirmed the Johnstones’ readings of the yachting market. More than 580 J/30s were sold before production ended In 1987. For comparison’s sake, 240 Olson 30s were built, and (so far) 300 J/35s. Some 5,000 J/24s have been sold since 1977.

Ironically, some early owners blamed the decline of the popularity of the J/30 on J/Boats’ introduction in 1982 of the J/29. This was a stripped-out racing version of the same hull with virtually the same rig, a foot-lower deck, and typically no inboard diesel, making It 2,000 pounds lighter. But Bob argued that the strategy actually resurrected J/30 sales, which had virtually stopped. When the J/29 came out, 40 or 50 more J/30s were sold. The speed and price of the J/29s drew people to dealers, he explained, where many bought the J/30 for its more versatile, practical design.

At last count in 1990, the National J/30 Association was more than 250 members strong. It holds its own Nationals every year, and the slickly printed, annual J130 Journal is crammed with fleet news, national results, sailing tips, racing regs and a membership roster.

Unfortunately, the Nationals aren’t about to happen out here. Built in Rhode Island, the vast majority of J/30s are berthed on the East Coast, with the rest scattered In the South, the Great Lakes and out west. Perhaps 10, no more than 15, have found their way to the Bay according to local J/Boats dealer Don Trask, who built J/24s here and almost began production of the J/30s.

The wind here could be a factor, since the boat was designed and built in an area with lighter winds. Competing with the stock 163 percent genoa, spinnaker and spinnaker pole takes a hefty 9 points off the local 141 PHRF rating. But that hasn’t kept owners from racing, both PHRF and one-design. In 1981 Nicholas Molnar of Piedmont bought lone and served as president of the San Francisco Bay J/30 Association, organizing races for roughly 10 active boats, mostly on the San Francisco waterfront. By 1985, he recalls, enough J/30s left the Bay to end one-design races. As Molnar became less active the organization faded. But gradually Paradise Cay on the east side of the Tiburon Peninsula has become the de facto J/30 Fleet Headquarters - thanks largely to Harry Blake, skipper of the killer J/30 Limelight.

As intense a competitor as you’ll find, Harry took delivery of Limelight, hull #51, in Newport, Rhode Island, In 1980 - and has been winning trophies ever since. Perhaps his most prestigious recent win was the 1991 Larry Knight Regatta with Tim Parsons aboard. This year, without a rockstar, Limelight’s regular crew took third in the Larry Knight. Blake has won the Corinthian Midwinters four times, the Golden Gate Midwinters this year - his first time - and the San Francisco YC series twice. Last year he won going up on the Vallejo Race. This year the whole division was DNF the first day; but Harry won the return race, with Break Away second for a one-two J/30 finish. He also took second place in this year’s Big Daddy.

In fact, Blake competes in upwards of 60 or more races per year and wins so consistently that when competitors do finish ahead of him they boast, "We beat Harry!" no matter how they placed.

The Tiburon YC holds several series for members, but makes outsiders feel welcome. In addition, they have several open contests each year including a J/Boat Regatta in the fall where the 30s can count on a one-design start. And the St. Francis Yacht Club hosts an annual J/Fest West, a grueling series of six races in one weekend In the spring when the wind blows hardest.

My wife Janice and I fell in love with our J/30, Break Away, the minute we stepped into the cabin at Trask’s J-Boats West dealership in Alameda in 1989. Unlike every other 30-footer we looked at, it was capacious, not cramped, and finished not in teak but golden ash and pine, with tasteful powder-blue upholstery. On the test drive in gentle winds it responded as briskly as our 23-foot Ericson - wheel-driven 30-footers seemed like slugs by comparison - and covered twice the distance of a Catalina 30 that started out with us. At first we wrote it off as twice what we could afford, but kept going back, even though friends told us we were crazy. One couple, experienced Southern California offshore racers with lots of trophies, respectfully cautioned that It was "too much boat," especially considering our grand total of 10 months owning the 23-footer.

"But if you buy it," the man said after a half-hour warning, "let us know and we’ll be up within two months to sail with you."

Sure enough, we inaugurated BreakAway by taking them to Petaluma for an overnight cruise. Then, without taking off the sleeping bags or pots and pans, we won a beer-can race that same night, beating the 42-foot Centurion Contessa Il to the finish line by half a boatlength. Now that’s exhilaration. (Okay, Contessa did make a few mistakes.)

With much more modest racing ambitions than Harry, we claimed second at the 1991 J/Fest West, first in the ‘91 Silver Eagle, second in TYC’s J/Boat Regatta and, as mentioned, second in this year’s return Vallejo Race. We’ve also done well in a few beer can series, and can even claim we’ve beaten Harry a couple of times.

The track record, the endorsements, the construction and the resale value all speak well for the J/30. But more importantly, most of the J/30s around here are used a lot - for cruising, YRA series racing, specialty races or offshore competitions like the Windjammers. Find a J/30 owner, and chances are he or she has the boat out at least a couple of times a month. That’s the bottom line on the success of a yacht."

Sailing for Life in Better Sailboats

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.

What a Difference a J Makes

Fulfilling those sailing dreams starts with finding a sailboat that fits you - whether you aspire to sail close to home, cruise to distant shores, or take up the challenge of competitive sailing. Performance differences between sailboats are greater than differences between golf clubs, tennis rackets, skis or cars. A well-designed sailboat, like a good sports car, is an extension of its owner. It could take years of sailing other boats to learn the difference that good design and quality make to one's sailing enjoyment. Or, you can save time and take advantage of what we've designed into every "J."

J/121 Offshore Speedster for 5 or fewer Crew

J/121 offshore speedster sailing off Newport The J/121 is a 40’ offshore speedster that can be day raced or distance sailed by just 5 or fewer crew…. the best short-handed J ever…. capable of winning on any race track while also excelling in daysailing and weekend mode. J/121 redefines offshore sailboat racing as a recreation and shared adventure with friends - fulfilling the growing need to simplify life and reconnect with those you really want to sail with on a boat that’s pure magic to sail. Learn more about J/121 here.

Elegance, Comfort & Style- J/112E

J112E 01 19986J/112E is the newest “E” Series of sport-cruising yachts.  An Evolution of Elegant performance cruising design. This dual- purpose 36 footer has a spacious two-cabin layout and a roomy, comfortable,  cockpit.  Perfect for the annual club cruise, offshore racing or short-handed blue-water sailing.  Learn about J/112E here.

A Family-friendly One-Design & Daysailer - J/88

J88 SolarSailer cockpit 001 18209The J/88 combines big boat feel with sportsboat- like acceleration.  Add a weekend interior, inboard head, engine and huge cockpit and you have a versatile 29 footer.  Blistering upwind speed of 6.5 kts and trailblazing speed offshore means smiles all around as you collect both the silverware and priceless sailing memories. Learn more about J/88 here.

J/99 - Offshore Shorthanded Speedster

J70upwind 1117 665 400 80J/99 is the newest offshore speedster. It combines headroom and comfortable interior accommodation with the tiller-driven response of a sport boat. The sail and deck plan are optimized for easy handling with fewer crew, and incorporate the latest developments from the award-winning J/121 and the new Offshore Sailing World champion J/112E. Learn more about J/99 here.

J/70 - The Sportboat Changing Sailing

J70upwind 1117 665 400 80The J/70 speedster is a fun, fast, stable, 22 footer that can be towed behind a small SUV and ramped launched and rigged by two people.  J/70 sails upwind like her larger sibling (the J/80) and off the wind she simply flies - planing fast in moderate winds. With 1,400+ boats delivered worldwide, the choice is clear. Learn more about J/70 here.

J/Sailing Gear For 2019

JGear marquee 2018Look great this season in J sailing apparel. Check out the comfortable and fashionable sailing clothing, tech shirts, polo shirts, sailing jackets and sailing hats at the J/Sailing Gear site. Also backpacks, totes, J battleflags and other fun items like half-model sailboats are available as gifts and trophies. 

J/Gear is fully customizable to your needs.  When you order, you can specify just about anything you wish, including boat name, boat type, yacht club, hailing port, etc.  Please visit the J/Gear store here.

Upcoming Sailing Events

Oct 11-12- J/80 Copa de Espana- Coruna, Spain
Oct 17-20- J/88 North American Championship- Rye, New York
Oct 18-20- J/105 Masters Regatta- San Diego, CA
Oct 19-26- J/24 World Championship- Coconut Grove, FL
Oct 19- Rolex Middle Sea Race- Gzira, Malta
Oct 25-27- J/24 East Coast Championship- Annapolis, MD
Oct 25-27- J/Fest Southwest- Lakewood, TX
Oct 25-27- J/105 Lipton Cup Regatta- San Diego, CA
Nov 1-4- French J/80 Championship- La Rochelle, France

Better Sailboats for People Who Love Sailing