As I drive down Broadcommon Road in the early spring of 2009, I enter Bristol, Rhode Island’s marine-industry hive: there’s Goetz Custom Technologies, Hall Spars & Rigging, numerous powerboat builders, and fabricators of all sorts. I turn left onto Ballou Boulevard and pass more non-descript industrial buildings before reaching the road’s dead end, where I find a sprawling new facility, surrounded by manicured grass, young trees, and a fresh asphalt parking lot. There’s no signage, just a few shrink-wrapped powerboats sitting on trailers outside the building’s bay doors. I’m not even sure I’m at the right place. But once inside the spartan main office of C&C Fiberglass Components, Inc., the scent of glasswork tells me I’ve found what I was looking for.
Jeff Johnstone, J/Boats’ affable president, is inside waiting for me, to walk me through hull No. 1 of J/Boats’ new J/95. As we catch up, Joe Daponte, CCF’s owner, passes through, quickly greets us, and continues on into the factory. Johnstone sings his praises: “He’d rather be on the shop floor getting dirty,” he says. “He’s really hands-on. He does beautiful work. It’s working out really well.”
We commence the tour, immediately stepping into the staging area for the 31-foot J/95. Nearby are molds for composite racecar bodies, powerboats, and pump-out barges. The hull and deck of J/95 Hull No. 1-eventually bound for Florida-have recently been married, and hardware is being installed. Because of its 3-foot keel centerboard, the deck is only at chest height as the boat sits in its cradle. It “looks” like a J/Boat, but it sure is different.
“What exactly is this thing,” I think to myself.
As soon as I finish the thought, Jeff dives into a running spiel about the design’s genesis and its potential: Rodney Johnstone, the J/95’s designer, saw a need for a boat that his aging customers (many, apparently, with waterfront homes) could hang off their docks or moorings and explore with ease the shallow nether regions of their home waters. As we inspect the boat’s shiny, 200-pound polished-bronze centerboard on the floor nearby (with Al Johnstone explaining the complex centerboard system), Jeff adds that this atypical daysailor will, perhaps, appeal to a wider audience than any other J/Boat before it.
For a sailboat builder with three decades and 40 models in its wake, could really this be, as Rod would eventually state, his “best design ever”? That may be so.
Seven months later, as I’m overseeing the final deliberations of our annual Boat of the Year testing, I’m hearing the same high praises. But this time, it’s coming from our three judges-Chuck Allen, Barrett Holby, and Greg Stewart. After sailing 14 new designs following the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis, they’ve pegged the J/95 as the best-their 2010 Boat of the Year. Johnstone had drafted a winner, and Dupont and his CCF crew delivered a custom-quality product that topped all others. As a nod to its versatility, by the way, the independent judging panel at our sister publication Cruising World magazine named the J/95 its Domestic Boat of the Year. Sail magazine, too, hailed it as one of its favorites. Johnstone gets the broom on this one.
“It’s a radical change for J/Boats,” says Chuck Allen in Sailing World’s January/February issue, due in subscriber mailboxes and newsstands soon. “If you want, you can do the whole daysailing thing, which is what they’re preaching-but it’s perfect for club racing in shallow bays-there are a lot of places out there that could use this boat.”
While the J/95 sails away with our Boat of the Year, the judges selected four others they deemed worthy of Boat of the Year honors: the Summit 35 as Best IRC Racer, the Beneteau First 40.7 as Best Crossover, the Weta Trimaran as Best Dinghy, and the European-built J/97 as Best Club Racer. As the judges will attest, all are impressive raceboats, sure to deliver great racing and great memories on the water. Check out the January/February SW issue for more on each of our five winners, and delve into our Boat of the Year resources online. We know you’ll agree that these are boats we’ll all love to race.