“Want to go sailing Thursday afternoon?”
Now I’ve only been an employee for about eight months, but when the boss asks a question like that, I’ve already figured out there’s only one right answer.
The reason for the invite from John Burnham was to test out the J/88, the newest model from J/Boats. I’d been anxious to get aboard this 29-foot family racer/daysailer ever since writing about the expected launch (read J/Boats Will Launch New J/88 in 2013) and reading John’s follow-up story, Inside View: The New J/88 Takes Shape. I also had a secret burning question: Would this boat, which was launched only five months after its initial announcement, meet my high expectations for J/Boats quality?
As soon as we stepped aboard, I realized the answer was another unqualified “yes." This was no prototype, with a half-finished rigging layout, sharp fiberglass edges, or refilled holes in the deck where hardware had been relocated. Hull #1 looked and smelled like a brand new production boat, ready for turn-key sailing. And predictably, that high-quality finish was the result of careful planning—as well as a few small post-launch tweaks.
“While we announced it in February,” Jeff Johnstone, President of J/Boats, explained, “we had been planning on the boat for over a year before. As a result of sea-trials we tweaked several little items, mostly rigging related.”
We motored away from the mooring to test out the diesel, which is the same engine used in the larger J/111. The boat quickly got up to speed, powering through Newport Harbor faster than the posted speed limit, though without any wake to disturb nearby boats. Travel under power is not this boat’s priority, but it was nice to learn we could motor 100 miles on a full tank of diesel if necessary.
Putting up the mainsail was easy, thanks to batten cars sliding up the carbon mast. Halyards lead back to one of two cockpit winches set either side of the cabin top, and small hatches open in the aft face of the cabin that make convenient storage drops for excess line once the sails are up. Once the jib was unrolled Jeff shut down the diesel, and we headed upwind in 10 knots of true wind speed at a very comfortable 6.5 knots.
Steering the boat felt very similar to the J/70—after a gentle and familiar suggestion to press on the jib a bit more, the boat came alive. Simple barberhaulers pull the jib lead inboard, so the boat will point very high; but the result is a dead feeling in the helm. As soon as I sailed a slightly lower angle, our speed jumped enough to more than make up for the loss in height. And from anywhere in the T-shaped cockpit, I found a convenient foot chock well within reach of my short legs.
Downwind, the asymmetrical spinnaker is easily launched out of the forward hatch after the fixed bowsprit is deployed. We could always see under the kite, which didn’t sag much even in the lulls; good visibility will make this a safer boat both on and off the race course. J/Boats chose a conservative 95-square-meter kite as the single downwind sail, so the boat should be easy to control up the wind range.
The cabin is simple and useable, with a forward V-berth and plumbed head forward of a cutout bulkhead. The main cabin area is dominated by two settees; at the forward ends are a small sink to port (whch will likely end up as the default crew catch-all for keys, phones, and anything else that should be tucked away below while sailing). To starboard is a shelf/drawer large enough to lay out a chart book. I was able to walk forward on centerline quite comfortably, but anyone over 5'4" would describe it as "sitting headroom."
The companionway steps cover the engine, and the outboard areas under the cockpit will absorb more stuff than is probably necessary for daysailing and short overnights. The finish below is classic J/Boats; a warm atmosphere, without a lot of high-maintenance surfaces.
|Sail Area||439 sq.ft.|
|Diesel auxiliary||12 HP|
The J/88 is designed to cover the spectrum of inshore sailing wants: daysailing, club racing, or weekending. From what I saw, this new design will handle any and all of these goals while rewarding the sensitive helmsman. I certainly no longer question the ability of J/Boats to go from announcement to launch in six months.
I do have a new question, though. This feels like a big boat, which makes me wonder: will owners will take advantage of the single lift point and deck-stepped mast to haul and launch the boat on their own? I’m guessing many will still choose the convenience of a boat yard, but at least they have the option of avoiding this seasonal expense. Only time will tell if the answer to this question will also be "yes."
According to Jeff, orders are in for the first 25 boats, which fills production through early March 2014. “We're really excited about how well the boat sails and people's enthusiastic reaction,” he added.
And in case you were thinking of turning me in to my boss, here's a video from our test sail that proves he was having fun, too.
Sailaway price is listed as just under $150,000. For more information, visit the J/88 page.