The Sailing Experience- Rod Johnstone

The first sensation upon leaving the dock aboard the J/160 is that the motor is very quiet barely audible from the helm station. The boat moves easily up to 8.5 knots under power. Maneuvering is no problem in forward or reverse. Docking and turning is not difficult even with cross-flow from wind or current. The J/160 can circle in her own length. A 22 prop delivers almost 9 knots at top speed.

The main goes up easily, especially with the help of an electric winch. Then, just like a dinghy, the boat sails easily out of irons (from a dead stop) under mainsail only. It feels like a J as it responds immediately to the helm with almost no way on. Then it sails like a J as it accelerates up to seven knots in about twelve knots of wind. The J/160 not only sails well with just the main, but feels good in cruising mode with main and jib, even in light wind. The mainsheet is a two-part, double-ended system leading to a self tailing winch on each side, permitting rapid trimming and easing of the mainsail. The ultimate test of maneuverability (a test that few other 53 footers can perform with such ease, if at all) is the sail-in-a-tight-circle-and-keep-going routine under mainsail only J/160 does it with ease.

The self-tailing electric primary winches take all the effort out of headsail trimming and hoisting sails. Tacking the boat is actually fun, because trimming the jib is as simple as pushing the button. The three-speed electric winch automatically switches from fast to slow as the load increases, so no need for gorillas in the cockpit, whether its for trimming, hoisting or reefing.

What distinguishes the J/160 from the fleet is its ability to sail well with a single non-overlapping furling headsail. Other 53 cruising boats require larger, more awkward, overlapping genoas to achieve equivalent performance. Electric winches do not work so well with large genoas, because there is too much take-up on the sheet for it to be trimmed quickly enough; and with coordinated timing being everything with a large genoa, one has to resort to rapid trimming by hand in order to execute a proper tack. The J/160 has the ideal cruising rig, because one never needs to change headsails or add staysails to get good performance and balance.

Upwind performance usually exceeds IMS speed predictions using a 100% jib. Upwind boat speed averages about 6.4 knots in 8 knots of true wind at a 45 degree true wind angle. This translates to a velocity made good directly into the wind (VMG) of 4.5 knots. When the wind increases to 16 knots, upwind speed is 7.8 knots, and VMG increases to 6.2 knots at a 37 degree true wind angle. The upwind performance is very forgiving of helming ability at 16 knots true wind, because the boat speed jumps up over 8 knots quickly when the boat is cracked off 5 degrees, still keeping the VMG over 6 knots. 


This is excellent performance for a 53 footer whose keel only draws a shade over seven feet. When the wind blows over 25 knots true and the jib is rolled up, the boat can sustain a true wind angle of 40 degrees and a boat speed of 6.8 knots. With the carbon mast, the single spectra checkstay (stowed alongside the mast) is only used when beating to windward in heavy seas.

Sailing the J/160 with the asymmetric spinnaker is mesmerizing, exciting, and easy. The key to hoisting and lowering the sail is to do things in sequence using snuffer controls and snuffer sock. Because only one task must be performed at a time, one person can do it. It takes longer with one person than with a full crew, but is just as manageable. It is as simple as hoisting the sail, unsnuffing the spinnaker and trimming the sheet. When you are done you cast off the sheet and pull the sock over the sail. Then let the sail down on the deck inside the sock. The light air reaching performance is exhilarating. Optimum reaching speed under spinnaker in less than 8 knots true wind is the same or greater than true wind speed. Broad reaching speed in 15-20 knots true wind is about 10.5-11 knots steady with speeds over 12 knots in puffs and on waves.

The J/160 exhibits those elusive qualities of good feel, responsiveness, speed, and control - which combine to put a smile on the face of anyone who takes the helm.