The story of J Boats is a classic entrepreneurial tale: With a $20,000 investment, and a speedy 24-foot sailboat that Rod Johnstone built in his garage, Rod and his brother Bob Johnstone went into business. That was 1977. Now, that boat (the J/24), has become the most popular recreational offshore keelboat in the world.
The Johnstone family has made an undeniable mark on the sailing world. In addition to the 5,300 J/24s cruising the waves, there are nearly 4,000 more J/Boats, ranging from the International J/22 to the 53-foot J/160, that sailing enthusiasts have bought at prices ranging from $10,000 to $850,000.
While other manufacturers may sell more boats, the Johnstones have won the high-end, performance-oriented segment of the market. Theirs is the so-called racer/cruiser category: boats that perform well enough to race but which are comfortable and easy enough for the family to daysail and cruise. The Johnstones have done best with knowledgeable, experienced sailors.
The J Boats story begins in 1975. Rod, then an ad salesman for the sailing trade magazine, "Soundings," and an active one-design sailor decided to build a sailboat he had been designing since completing a Westlawn School of Yacht Design correspondence course in the 1960s. With $400 worth of fiberglass and wood, some rigging and hardware left over from a Soling of Bob's, he built the 24 foot by 9 foot wide Ragtime on weekends in his three-car garage at his home in Stonington, Connecticut. During the summer of 1976, with an all-family crew aboard, Ragtime beat everything in sight. Rod realized he had created something special.
Enter Everett Pearson, the owner of TPI Composites, Inc., a highly respected boat builder in Warren, Rhode Island. He was quite taken with Rod's design and agreed to produce the boat on spec in return for the U.S. building rights. Display ads in "Soundings" got the word out. That winter they set up a makeshift factory in an old textile mill in nearby Fall River, Massachusetts, and began producing J/24s.
The effort might well have remained there had it not been for the marketing experience of brother Bob, a vice president of marketing at AMF/Alcort (the makers of Sunfish sailboats at the time). He saw the potential in the boat Rod had designed. From 1975 to 1977, Bob had helped to take Alcort from the red into the black, and then began trying to convince AMF to start producing a boat similar to the J/24. But, he says, in spite of overwhelming market research results showing 50-percent purchase intent in a boat like the J/24, AMF really didn't care anything about gaining share of market or investing any more in sailing. So, in February of 1977, at age 43, Bob left AMF and threw in his lot with J Boats.
With Rod contributing the design and Bob investing $20,000 to cover start-up costs, office space, and advertising, their 50-50 partnership was launched. Expecting to sell 250 J/24s that first year, they sold 750. Each successive year marks unique achievements in the sport and industry. While the next generation of Johnstones is now manning the helm, founders Rod and Bob continue to contribute in the areas of their strength, design and marketing. Rod's sons Jeff (president) and Alan (vice-president) and nephew Jim (sales director) manage company operations and sales from J Boats headquarters in Newport, Rhode Island. A total of five of Bob and Rod's sons (Jeff, Alan, Stu, Drake and Phil) serve on the J Boats board of directors.
Brothers Bob and Rod Johnstone finish 1-2 in J/24s in MORC Division at Block Island Week. J/24s go on to dominate the MORC Internationals in Annapolis.
20 boats attend first J/24 one-design event at Key West. 68 boats attend North Americans in Newport. 1,000 boats are sold with builders set up in the United Kingdom, Brazil, Argentina, Australia and the U.S. West Coast, where Trask family joins Johnstones to build J/24's.
J/30 #1 Warhoop finishes third in SORC Class. First J/24 Worlds in Newport with 78 boats.
Nissan Motors becomes Japanese builder. J/24 wins Caribbean Ocean Racing Circuit, becomes IYRU International Class and named by SAIL (10th Anniversary) as "best keelboat in 30 years."
Stu, Drake and Jeff Johnstone start J/World Performance Sailing School. J/36 Wins Class A in Antigua.
New J/29s finish 1-2-3 to sweep Class in Block Island Race Week
J/22 and J/35 introduced. J/22 wins Class at MORC Internationals.
New J/27 is overall winner of MORC Internationals with J/29 winning Class A. J/35 is 1st Overall MHS in Chicago — Mackinac. J/41 has 1-2-3 sweep of One Ton North Americans and Bermuda Race class.
Charley Scott's J/41 Smiles wins SORC Overall. J boats introduces it's first purpose built cruising boat, the J/40, that then goes on to win Class in Chicago — Mackinac. J/34 becomes best selling IOR design in America.
J/40 named Sailing World's Boat-of-the-Year among U.S. designs. J/35 is first Overall in Miami-Montego Bay and New England Solo-Twin. J/28 and J/37 Cruisers introduced.
J/35 becomes America's fastest growing big-boat one-design with 24 sailing in Class at Block Island. J/37s win Class in three major race weeks.
J/34c named Sailing World's Boat-of-the-Year. New J/33 wins Class at Block Island Race Week. Jeff, Stu, Drake, and Alan Johnstone commence management of company operations at J/Boat office in Newport. TPI (J Builder) introduces industry-leading 10-year blister warranty.
New J/44 wins New York Yacht Club Queen's Cup and Cowes Week on way to becoming Sailing World's Overall Boat-of-the-Year.
J/35c named Sailing World's Boat-of-the-Year among 30-35 footers. J/44 wins NYYC Cruise. Motor Boating & Sailing names J/24 as one of two best sailboats of all time. New J/39 wins MBYC Fall Series. J/35 wins class in Sydney-Hobart Race. J/44 J-Hawk wins CHS class at Cowes Week.
Nick Brown's J/44 Iona wins Fastnet is IMS. Fortune Magazine names J Boats as one of the world's 100 best American made products. J/39s and J/35s sweep top four positions in CHS at Cowes Week. J Boats pioneers carbon-fiber retractable bowsprits and asymmetric spinnakers on offshore boats, introducing the first of its new "sprit" series, the J/105.
J/105 becomes Sailing World's Boat-of-the-Year among racer-cruisers, and ushers in the sport boat revolution. J/92 is introduced and destined for the 1992 Readers Choice Award from "Sailing World." J/24 number 5,000 and J/35 number 300 are launched. Rod Johnstone is inducted into the Sailing World Hall of Fame.
J/92 is Sailing World's Overall Boat-of-the-Year. J/80 One-Design is launched- the first J model to be built with TPI's patented SCRIMP molding technology. J/22 celebrates its 10th anniversary by becoming an IYRU International Class with 1200 boats. J/33 Daybreak overall winner of Chicago — Mackinac. Newly launched J/130 and J/92 sweep Andaman Sea Race in Asia.
J/130 named Sailing World's Boat-of-the-Year among Racer-Cruisers. J/22 and J/24 selected for inaugural IYRU World Sailing Championships. J/44 is first one-design class ever given start in Bermuda Race. J/120 introduced at SAIL EXPO with carbon mast and wins New England Solo-Twin. J/110 introduced at Annapolis Boat Show.
J/120 named Cruising World Magazine's Overall Boat-of-the-Year and Best Value in a Full-Size Cruiser. J/24 is first of five inductees into the American Sailboat Hall of Fame. J/130 Starlight Express takes line honors in Newport-Ensenada Race. New J/42 Cruiser is introduced. Hull number 1 Gannet wins two New York Yacht Club events and Class A Downeast Racing Circuit with a cruising asymmetric spinnaker and short-handed crew. J/35 class rebounds in participation with 35 entries at its North American Championship. J/105s are featured on ESPN in the Brut Cup professional match-racing circuit. J Composite of France begins European production of the J/80 and J/92.
The first two of six J/160s are launched in early May. These deluxe flagships go on to win several offshore point-to-point races including a course record from Annapolis to Bermuda! J/44 Class returns for the 1996 Bermuda Race in force with 11 starters. J/105 reaches critical mass for class racing throughout the United States with over 165 boats numerous regional events and a successful North American Championship. The new production J/32 Cruiser, designed by Alan Johnstone, is launched in July with over 20 sold in the first six months. J/Boats website is expanded with a growing on-line class association presence, owner forums and monthly updates.
100 J/24s attend the 20th anniversary J/24 Midwinters in Key West, Florida. Johnstone Family receives The Industry Leadership Award from "Sail" Magazine. Harry Smith wins 1100 nm Marina Del Rey to Puerto-Vallarta Race on his J/160 Bushwacker and J/160 Hull number 3 Pipedream begins the Round the World Rally. The Moorings Company purchases a fleet of J/120s for an innovative "race weeks" charter program in Tortola.
J/160 Pipedream wins Round-the-World Rally (American division) with a crew of five. Owner Scott Piper departs on cruise around the world in opposite direction! high-tech built J/90 and J/125 usher in new wave of technology — carbon composite construction with 50 percent ballast/displacement ratios. J/90 wins "Sportboat of the Year" from "Sailing World." J/125 wins at Block Island Race Week and St. Francis Big Boat Series. J/120s sweep top three spots in Newport to Ensenada Race. J/22 featured in ISAF World Championship in Dubai for women's match-racing and fleet disciplines. US Master's Championship held in J/105s in San Francisco. J/80 becomes fastest growing one-design in Sweden with 20 boats sailing. J/120 reaches hull number 100, with 28 boats sailing in Southern California.
J/35 inducted into the American Sailboat Hall of Fame ceremonies in Atlantic City. J/125 wins "Sportboat of the Year" from "Sailing World." J/120 J Bird clean sweeps the Puerta-Vallarta race with 1st to finish, 1st in class and 1st overall — only the third boat in history to do so (other two were 70-foot sleds). J/46 performance-cruising yacht is launched. J/22 featured in Santa-Maria Cup (women's match racing) and for the ISAF Women's Match Racing Worlds. J/30 and J/35 classes combine efforts to run their 20th and 15th North American Championships in Annapolis. 25 J/105s sail one design at Block Island. Over 275 J/105s now sailing in 15 fleets worldwide. The Rolex Int'l Women's Keelboat Champs return to Newport in J/24s.