By Thomas Mitchell
Years ago in a Chicago bar over our last call drinks, my friend suggested we spend the following cold season sailing the Caribbean. Hoots of bitter derision naturally followed, and then quiet. Was it possible? Well, yes ... all we needed was a boat.
I don’t have to tell you she was a J/30. Most people down the Ditch who heard our float plan took one look at the boat and said - you guys are crazy. Well, sure. Connecticut to the Yucatan to the Virgin Islands and up 6,000 miles the wrong way around. Now my tan’s slowly being replaced with freckles of Blue Streak, and the guys at the yard have a kinder view of my sanity. And a pretty solid respect for the strength of J-boats.
Now, it may be heretical to talk cruising to a racing crowd. If you read this newsletter, you own a fast boat. You also own a comfortable, long-range offshore cruiser, with a little work. That’s what this article is about. I won’t bore you with things any boat needs for the blue water - this is just for J/30’s.
Jacklines are mandatory, as there’s no place to clip a harness tether and allow any freedom. Two 23-foot lengths of vinyl-coated 7-strand, nicopressed at one end to the same spring clip and with a clip on each free end, will fit comfortably from the foreguy padeye to the spinnaker block padeyes without interfering with the tackle or requiring additional holes in the deck. Just make sure the pads are adequately backed, and check the size of the clips to make sure they fit freely.
A liferaft, of course. We were not worried about windage and lazarette space was at a premium, so we opted for a deck-mounted canister with a 4-man Avon. It fits nicely on the hatch cover in teak chocks, and there is plenty of clearance above. Make the chocks full width from a good thickness of teak. Through-bolting them is necessary, and can be done with nut and washer stuck on the end of a yardstick with silicone, chewing gum, or whatever. Commercial 24" rubber straps with S hooks bent for quick release hold the raft down tightly, and don’t seem to deteriorate at all.
In keeping with the rest of the interior, the front and sides are made from white maple, the bottom from 3/8" marine ply. The comers can be butt- or miter-joined unless you’re feeling fancy and have a steam box handy. The screws should be countersunk far enough to go 1" into the deck undersides. The depth of the box is up to you, but anything over 4" won’t clear the quarterport if you have one.
Shelving for the main cabin lockers can almost double the useable space, though we left one free for exceptionally tall items. Since the depth and the hull joint of each shelf varies with the locker position, make sure your plane is as sharp as your pencil. You will have to make allowance for interior hull angle and extant furring strips. Getting the shelf in requires removing the locker sides. Remove the maple trim between the lockers, the screws on the inside furring strips, and knock them out with a rubber mallet. Determining the height of the shelf is up to you, but generally the formula 1-Triscuit box plus 1" does the trick, leaving room above for tuna cans, cookies, batteries and so on. No. 2 pine, quarter-round or planed molding and simple molding fiddle boards complete the job. Varnish, and screw it an together again. It’s easier than it sounds and really makes a difference.
Everyone has his own ideas about garbage, but anything that won’t (or shouldn’t) clear the helmsman and the backstay needs a place. This light canvas and elastic bag has a big appetite and holds standard "tall kitchen" liners. It’s also easier on the chef’s knees on a starboard tack. The top is elasticized all the way around (I used leftover shock cord.) the turn buttons should be fastened to the door to provide enough stretch so that the top will snap shut. The finished bag measures approximately 24"L x 18"W.
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The chef’s tools of the trade likewise deserve a place unto themselves. This doweled pine box screws in on the aft side of the galley unit and is shallow enough not to interfere with whatever’s in the quarterberth. It measures 4"D x 10"L x 12"W.
We bought a good set of plastic dishes and bowls for the trip, only to find that they wouldn’t fit in their allotted spaces behind the stove. Instead of taking them back, I rebuilt the shelf. Removing the old shelf with screwdriver and mallet, the bottom provides a convenient template for tracing out on a new sheet of 3/8" marine ply. The shelf can only extend in width beyond the stove aft, but the extra three inches provides a lot more space. With white maple sides, miter-joined, and diagonal divisions for long steak knives, everything eventually found its own place.
There are plenty of other space-saving alterations that can be done for your J/30. Split cedar rings of the type used for lobster traps will hold towels along the aft head wall, when hung with short leather straps. They’re more forgiving on the skull than hooks. The forward cabin cubbies work better with pine dividers, and stop your socks from walking around. Nylon tube net stretched from the aft end of the belowdecks grabrails to drilled holes in the galley or nav station trim, tied in half and fitted with cedar rings, will hold plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Dropping and hauling the hook was made simpler with the addition of a hawsepipe with cap located forward of the bow cleat. Once I’d gathered the courage to saw a gaping hole in the deck, the rest was easy. Siliconed and throughbolted, the pipe would feed 200’ of rode easily in or out, coiling itself in the fo’c’sle locker without a kink. We carried three anchors, three 200’ rodes and 60’ of chain - worth more for the peace of mind than any insurance policy.
There were times when we just couldn’t get high enough to get a good look at the horizon. After a few laughs about putting ratlines on a J/30, we hit on a compromise. A 12 inch length of 2" x 2" teak, notched at both ends to fit the shrouds, lashed in place high enough to give one great step up from the cabin top, gave us one hell of a view even in pitchy weather. The lookout could see coral heads from some distance, and still hold a beer with one hand.
There are plenty of other easy changes, only left to your imagination, that will make a J/30 a very livable boat indeed. The Formica chart table is perfect for laminating on the chart of your choice. Maybe one of the Caribbean?
Note about the author:
Six months and over six thousand miles later, MIDNIGHT DECISION reappeared in Stonington Harbor. The itinerary included St. Petersburg, Key West, an unplanned and involuntary stop in Cuba, on to Cancun, Mexico, then the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas and back up the waterway. The boat and its crew came through the adventure without a scratch, but not without some good yams to spin. Mitchell and his compatriots were all in their twenties at the time of the cruise.