Rodger Martin designed the Johnson 18 for Skip Johnson of Johnson Boatworks. The idea was to combine speed and stability without the use of trapezes. The result is an exciting dinghy with some near-novel features. It's a rocket.

The Johnson 18.

The Johnson 18.

Compared to my own 15-foot Tasar, there are several areas of departure for the Johnson. The Johnson is 18 feet long and uses a retractable carbon fiber pole to fly a big asymmetrical chute. The Tasar carries no flying sails. The deck edge or sheer of the Johnson is radiused off with a tapered radius that tightens up in the ends. This feature is echoed on the inboard cockpit-deck edge. These soft shapes provide a very comfortable deck for hiking or moving about inside the dinghy. Dinghy sailing can make you black and blue, especially if you are the crew and have to climb over the daggerboard trunk.

The obstruction created by the daggerboard or centerboard trunk was overcome by designing a long semicircular bump down the middle of the cockpit sole. The centerboard trunk is encased within that bump and the crew has a clear shot across the boat. There is more room in the Johnson than there is in the Tasar, and this translates to crew comfort.

The extra size of the Johnson also means stability. According to the brochure, an adult can "stand out at the deck edge, and the boat heels only 8 degrees." The Tasar tries to capsize at the dock half the time, and you wouldn't even try to stand on the rail. The Johnson's 6-foot 7-inch beam also helps keep the boat on its feet in a breeze.

The one advantage the Tasar has over the Johnson is weight. A Tasar that is rigged and ready to go weighs less than 175 pounds, whereas the Johnson weighs about 480 pounds, which would make launching off a dinghy float difficult. This means that you would probably sail the Johnson off a trailer or a beach dolly.

So let's look at some numbers. We'll put two average men in the boat to bring the all-up displacement to 855 pounds. We will use LOA for DWL due to the lack of substantial overhangs on this design. This gives us a D/L of 65.4 compared with the 73.21 of the Tasar. The SA/D is 32.85 for the Johnson and 33.51 for the Tasar.

Certainly, the addition of the big asymmetrical chute will add a dimension to the Johnson that is missing from the Tasar. Jibs on whisker poles are so sedate. The chute is 190 square feet and that translates to horsepower off the wind — lots of it. Adding the area of the chute to the main, our SA/D increases from 32.85 to 56.48.

Three boat builders with time on their hands built the prototype for the 18. They used Corecell foam for the hull and deck, and Skip Johnson rigged the boat. This allowed minor refinements to be made to ensure that the production model was near perfect. Reports say the Johnson 18 is a very well-mannered, fast and manageable dinghy.

I can't wait to sail one or race against it with my Tasar.

A beamy, trapezeless dinghy with speed and stability.

Boat Specifications
Draftboard up 5", board down 4'6";
Weight480 lbs.;
Sail Area184.3 sq. ft.;


SAILINGlogo-115This story originally appeared in Sailing Magazine, and is republished here by permission. Subscribe to Sailing.