Alastair Walton, a sailor who works in the Boats.com/YachtWorld.com office in Fareham, U.K., sent me this report of his experience sailing on the new J/97 in a nearby regatta. Al works in sales for us, but we're happy to press him into service for an occasional report on a new boat.
"Having just gone from winning the prestigious Black Group at Cowes Week to scoring eight 1st places in the recent J/Cup, the new J/97 has certainly made a strong entrance in to the UK racing scene. Your humble correspondent was therefore delighted to be asked by UK agent Paul Heys to race with him at the Dartmouth Royal Regatta, which started on Thursday. The rating bands for this event put the J/97 right in the middle of IRC 4, amongst boats as a diverse as a Corby 30 and the Dufour 34.
"At first glance, the J/97 bears a family resemblance to the J/109 and J/122, two highly successful collaborations between the J Boats design team and J Europe of Les Sables D’Olonne in France. The cockpit features full length seats with back rests, tiller steering, and a unique, partially open transom. All the key controls are within reach of the helm and a retractable bow sprit with masthead asymmetric spinnaker allows great all-around performance for the cruising family or the full racing crew. The low VCG keel provides exceptional upwind stability, and she needed little trimming to maintain between 6.5 and 7 knots up the beats. Some smart crew work and well-chosen tactics saw us secure 1st place in both races, setting the crew up well for the remainder of the regatta.
"There is certainly no doubt as to her performance, so the question was, how would the J/97 fare as a cruising boat? I wasn't going to find out on this trip, but the J/97 is the first J for a decade to combine 6-foot headroom with a boat under 32 feet, so the indicators are that cruising comfort has been a priority for her designers. Indeed, the interior is laid out for one or two couples cruising, including a spacious main cabin with two settees, galley, forward-facing navigation station, enclosed aft head, V-berth and aft owner’s cabin. Cruising stowage includes a large “garage” aft of the head, accessed through the cockpit seat locker."
It sounds like a pretty quick new racer/cruiser, although quite different from the new J/95 I wrote about last spring. If readers would care to ask questions in the comments section, I'll ask Al to respond.