Hundreds of exhibitors will be on site for the opening of the 2011 Tullett Prebon London International Boat Show. With nearly 100,000 square metres of event space, there are a vast variety of maritime services and wares on offer. And if fast, fun and competitive yacht racing flicks your switch, your first port of call must be the J Boats stand.
Readers may remember John Burnham's blog on the very first J/111 launched last summer - "J/111 Sighting in Newport".) Now Hull No. 6 is the first J/111 to make it to Europe, and it's already sailed a number of days on the Solent. With tooling nearly complete in France, European production is in place, and early signs are for the 36 foot one-design sailboat to be an absolute blockbuster.
Paul Heys has been selling J Boats since 1994 from their offices in Hamble, and he is excited about the latest model: "European production of the J/111 started in November in La Rochelle, and the first boat should be finished by the middle of February with a total of 12 boats scheduled for completion by August."
"We had 15 orders in the European yard before anyone had even seen a J/111 let alone sailed one," Heys told me recently. "I understand that there are 45 orders in the States and 30 of those were before the first boat was launched. Plenty of people have launched one designs that have faded away when sales stall at 6 or 8, but when J Boats put their mind to it, they have a track record of pulling it off."
There is no doubt that J Boats' design skills, global reach and fleet building experience is second to none and signs are that the J/111 Class is going to produce some outstanding racing.
“It was absolutely crucial that we built a big fleet early,” Heys said. “That is why we are ramping up production, the fleet is going to appear very, very quickly and that is crucial because if you want people to get off the fence and join the one design fleet - numbers talk and more people will want to join the party. At the moment we have 100 J/109s in the UK and we get a 40-boat turnout to race one-design at Cowes Week, so you have got to get 20-25 boats in a region to get a 10-12 boat turnout for a championship. One of the main reasons that the J/111 has been so successful is that owners really like the concept of the boat; they like the fact that it is a planing boat, that it is a manageable size of 36ft and that you are only going to need seven crew to race.”
The hull is constructed from unidirectional glass with vinylester resin infusion. J Boats have been using this patented scrimp system for 15 years, so nothing new there; nor is the carbon fibre rig, which has been an option on J Boats since 1995. However, the whole package delivers a fast boat that is extremely user friendly.
“The carbon fibre mast raises the base price of the boat," Heys said, "but it is essential to the performance. The J/111 is not especially beamy, which makes it an easier drive with less drag upwind. Other modern yacht designs have more beam to improve stability without additional keel weight. But the J/111 has a stainless steel fin and lead bulb, which is very efficient.
"Coupled with a much lighter rig this all goes to make the boat more stable and easily driven. Downwind, the hull form promotes planing above 15 knots of wind speed, so you have a good all-round combination. I can’t tell you how impressed we are with how easily driven this boat is, which is a result of the advanced hull form and foils.”
One-design rules are being finalised for national championships scheduled for 2012.
“The class will only allow one professional sailor and sail tag restrictions will apply," Heys told me. "This will keep cost down, to prevent the class from becoming an arms race. The fleet will build quickly, so we can say with certainty that the first North American Championship will be at Key West in 2012 and the first European Championship at Cowes Week in the same year.
“Looking forward, the keel is very simple to remove; it is bolted on with two flange covers as a fairing, which makes it easier and quicker to detach, which dramatically reduces the shipping costs. Initially, I think it is likely that European and American fleets will sail in their own home waters but once a few high-level campaigns have developed, Key West and the Caribbean may well appeal to a minority of European owners.”
“What really excites me about the J/111 is that it is a breakthrough boat, just like the J/24. In 1979 I was sailing on Three-Quarter Tonners and those boats would do eight knots on a good day and ten knots on an enormous wave with two blokes on the tiller trying to keep the boat straight. Then along came this J/24 surfing past the whole fleet doing 15 knots. The J/24 was the first production keelboat that could plane. Here we are back to our planing roots, blasting off downwind, which is much more fun. The J/111 is a fast, light less-compromised design.”
Whilst the primary use of the J/111 will be for one-design racing, the overall philosophy of J Boats has always been to design boats that can be sailed short-handed, and the J/111 is no different. One highly experienced European owner is planning a Rolex Fastnet campaign in the double-handed division.
The J Boat stand at the Prebon London Boat Show is H69 in the South Hall. The whole boat is on display with the keel, rudder and proper boom, but just a stump mast because of the height of the hall. If you want to take a look around, just rock up and ask for Becci. The show runs from 7-16 January 2011.
Price ex-factory in France is 180,000 Euros (£155,000). To that you can add sails, electronics and VAT, so on the water, ready to race will be around 291,000 Euros (£240,000). To contact J/Boats in the UK, visit the J/Boats Key Yachting website. For more information and pricing in the U.S. and other countries, visit the J Boats website to contact local dealers.