There’s a lot to like about six-knot sailboats. The best ones are tame, predictable, easily managed, and forgiving. That’s what most of us were used to until 1991, when J Boats introduced their J/105. At about 34.5 feet (105 decimeters), the boat drew a deep 6.5 feet and did not have standing headroom belowdecks.
Its sailplan consisted of a big main, a small jib, and a jumbo asymmetrical spinnaker whose tack was attached to a strange (for the time) carbon fiber pole that could be extended well forward of the bow. For racing purposes those sails were, and still are, the only sails allowed in the class. The cockpit was very big. The accommodations were basic. Not spartan, but basic. It was all a very strange concept for a family sailboat back then.
But all you had to do was look at a J/105 to know something important was happening. It went completely against the cruiser-racer designs of the day. It looked sleek and fast, and the hell with headroom. And lo, when you sailed one in a breeze, put the chute up, and started traveling at 13 or 14 knots, you were living in a whole new world. Though weirdly enough, just like a six-knot boat, the J/105 was predictable, easily managed, and forgiving. You just wouldn’t call it tame.
Any performance sailor knows the rest of the story: There was a well-considered method in the madness at J Boats. The 105 became a tremendously popular one-design race boat. According to J Boats there are 680 sailing today. It’s also a boat of choice for double-handed offshore racers. And it has proved to be a successful family daysailer and weekender to boot.
The good sense and fun of the J/105 design was not only expanded into a line of other sportboats from J Boats, but it spawned similar designs from other builders, helping one-design racing all over—and providing excitement at well over six knots for a lot of people.
Editor's Note: Because of its popularity as a race boat, there’s a healthy turnover in the marketplace and great resources available for anyone interested in buying a used J/105.