We were about to run out of room on the lake, and beating into the breeze on the return trip would be quite a haul. The Swiss J/Boat dealer Peter Bangerter suggested turning back, and his words suddenly interrupted the helmsman’s flirtations with the thrill of speed. Reaching at up to 14 knots, the J/111 was motoring down Lake Neuchâtel, running as if on tracks, fabulously well controlled and accelerating in the puffs like a sport boat – that’s terrific sailing and a lot of fun.
With the J/111, US-builder J/Boats has again sharpened its focus on sport and performance. In the US, the J/111 has already been a hot candidate for top results. At the same time, the Johnstones did not subject the boat to any specific racing rule, instead focusing on a good-looking and fast craft.
With the notion that the J/111 would be a good candidate for a one-design class in the J/Boats lineup, the builder offers few options for layout and equipment. With more than 30 boats built, there are already one-design fleets in the US, and international class rules and one-design building specifications have been issued. This development is being followed closely in Europe, especially by racers, which is why interest in the J/111 on that side of the Big Pond has grown rapidly. Hence, J/Boats decided, contrary to their original plans, to produce the new model at their licensed builder JB Composites in les Sables d’Olonne. The first European-built boat was delivered to Switzerland, a formidable opportunity for this test.
A sailor’s heart’s desire
Ahead of a squall the breeze piped up to 15 knots, and in powerful gusts the pressure increased to 20 knots or more. Hard on the breeze, the J/111 sailed along without a reef, but remained well under control and fast. The hydraulic backstay tensioner, which comes standard, is invaluable as it bends the carbon fiber mast by Hall Spars (also standard and part of the class rules) effectively for the desired heavy-air trim. The calibrated log showed 7.2 knots and a true wind angle of 40 degrees, which will challenge the competition and please committed cruisers, too.
The fun-meter jumped another notch on the reach under gennaker. In prevailing conditions the small chute (110 square meters) hoisted to 7/8 of the rig height, easily put the boat onto a plane. Through all this, it was easy to keep on the pressure, just like on a sport boat or a dinghy in a breeze. The steering was responsive and very direct. Adding to the good reaching performance is the unusually long retractable carbon fiber bowsprit. The pole can be pushed out of the hull to a length of 2.40 meters, which increases the efficacy of the gennaker and helps with gybing. Using just the wind pressure, the sail flops over to the other side nearly all on its own. A larger 150-square meter gennaker can be flown from the masthead, and the required halyard is already reeved in.
In general, the boat’s equipment is first-rate. The beautiful carbon rig comes standard with rod rigging, Dyneema halyards, and a Vectran backstay. The vang and the very functional low-profile roller-furling system with a strap are also part of the standard equipment. Harken supplies all sheaves, cleats, and blocks on deck. In addition, the manufacturer does not skimp on sturdy stuff. Accessories and winches appear nearly oversized, which has become increasingly rare.
Naturally, this affects the price, which stands at 215,000 Euros (about $263,000 at today's rates), sails not included. Compared to the competition, that’s a lot of dough, but considering the high-end standard equipment, it appears more reasonable.
Hardware and sail control lines are perfectly arranged. J/Boats has a lot of experience, and avoids strenuous compromises with a more cruising-oriented layout. Hence, the J/111 is a boat that wants crew. Cruisers can handle her too, but it helps to have at least some experience with handling sporty boats.
The Lewmar steering works impeccably with hardly any slippage. For cable adjustment, the quadrant is easily accessible via the stowage compartment in the stern. Tiller steering is not offered as an option, even though it would be desirable for a boat that is so well balanced. J/Boats continues to stick with a traditional mainsheet tackle and an effective fine-tune adjustment. Even with an extra pair of winches on the cockpit coaming, the option of a German Admiral’s Cup mainsheet system, which is practically standard with the competition, would be impossible to rig.
Systematically slimmed down
The J/111 only weighs 4.2 tons, which is light compared to others and one of the chief reasons for the boat’s good performance. Deck and hull are built with resin-infusion in a sandwich laminate that uses balsa and foam core. The outside layers are laminated with osmosis-resistant vinylester resins. The manufacturer offers a 10-year warranty against blistering.
A specialty is the keel construction, for which designer Alan Johnstone deliberately passed on the T-shape in favor of an L-shape, which should provide more lift upwind. On the leading edge, the steel fin has a cavity, which was poured with lead to position the center of gravity as far forward as possible and under the rig, just as a T-shaped keel would. The yard is considering alternatives to the 2.20-meter draft, however a shoal-draft keel has yet to be specified.
The singleminded approach to weight consciousness continues belowdecks. Accordingly, the interior remains rather simple and prosaic. The saloon table is offered only as an option, and the joinery is less solid than on most competitors’ boats. Instead of cupboards there are only open storage areas, which is practical, because they can swallow a lot, but it can make the boat’s interior look somewhat untidy. And that's not everyone's cup of tea. For the European market, the yard is working on a more upscale interior option with hanging lockers in the saloon and closed-off storage areas.
The forepeak is home to a simple double berth and an open lavatory. Sailors with a cruising bent will hardly be satisfied with this arrangement, as a toilet next to a bunk takes more than a little getting used to. On a performance cruiser this size, at a minimum, a separate head compartment should be part of the amenities. This can be explained with the absence of forward berths in the US-version,which onloy has a sail locker forward. For this reason the hull and deck molds make no provision for a separate head. There is a European version without forward berths, too.
The two berths aft are also not separated from the saloon. Here too, the J/111’s regatta pedigree is obvious. Racers will want to store extra sails here to have quick access. Unusual is the direct admittance to this space through the cockpit seats, which turns the aft cabins into giant open lockers.
The quality of the fit and finish merits critique. On the test boat, workmanship was lacking, and in many areas the work was downright sloppy. The yard in France explained it as being the result of a tight turnaround for the finish of the prototype, and promised improvement for the production boats.
Without a doubt, the J/111 has the potential to get established as one-design class in Europe. The standard boat already is well-equipped for racing, and the performance under sail is fabulous. However, sailors who like to go cruising off and on, perhaps even take the family, might find it difficult to warm up to the arrangement of the accommodations.
For more information, visit J/Boats.
- Michael Good
- LOA: 11.00 m / 36.50 ft.
- LWL: 9.97 m / 32.70 ft
- Beam: 3.29 m / 10.80 ft
- Draft: 2.19 m / 7.20 ft
- DSPL: 4.2 t /9,300 lbs.
- Sail Area: 61.6 sq. m. / 663 sq.ft.
- DSPL/ Length: 119
- SA/ DSPL Upwind: 27
- SA/ DSPL Downwind: 65
- CE Category: A
- Engine: 21 hp.
- Price: 215,000 Euros
This story originally appeared in YACHT magazine, and is republished here by permission. Translated by Dieter Loibner.