In February, J Boats’ new “one-eleven,” was merely an assemblage of planed core panels, cutouts, and wooden stringers, but the boat was already a viable one-design class. On the drawings and concept alone, said its president Jeff Johnstone, 20 owners had opened their checkbooks and taken their place in line. This, of course, was a very good thing in a very bad economy, and Johnstone was outwardly smitten as he showed off the 36-footer taking shape at Custom Composites in Bristol, R.I. When later asked if the J/111 was meant to replace the similarly sized and conceptualized J/105—the original production sprit boat—Johnstone chuckled. “I don’t think anything could ever replace the 105, and there are a lot of 105 owners who also believe that, but this, the 111, is essentially a 105 on steroids.”
The 111, according to Stuart Johnstone, got its start from discussions with one devout J Boat owner (one of the earliest J/24 owners) from Lake Minnetonka, Minn. Looking to upgrade from his J/100, he wanted something with headroom (which the 105 lacks), and the sort of weekend accommodations found on the bigger Js. He also wanted a boat that could sail a tight groove upwind and a boat that would have the power to get up on a plane downwind. “We wanted something that wasn’t over-canvassed,” says Stuart, “and we didn’t want the cheese-wedge hull shape common to offshore boats today.”
With Alan Johnstone spearheading the design, the 111 germinated for two years before emerging as what Stuart describes as “a mash-up between the J/125 and the J/105.”
“Al came to a sweet-looking hull,” he says. “This is a boat in the purest sense of the word. It’s the ultimate sailing boat at 36 feet long.”
OK, so he’s biased, but he adds that there is some historical precedence to the 111’s June 2010 launch: at the outset of each of the past three decades, J Boats has launched three of their most popular models: the 109 in 2000, the 105 in 1990, and the J/35 in 1980.
Owners that bought into the aggressively priced first batch of 15 boats ($250,000), will also get their hands on the first nano-tube enhanced carbon-fiber spars from Halls Spars. Although Hall Spars is still “refining the laminate,” says Stuart, he likes the numbers he’s seeing from the mast builder: “We are getting a mast that has a 2-foot lower VCG [vertical center of gravity] than an aluminum rig. The nano-tube rigs will be a first in the production sailboat industry, and J Boats will have them exclusively . . . for a year at least.”
So what of this notion of it as a 105 on steroids? To this point, Stuart agrees as well, citing the mast is a no-joke 56-foot rig, 6 feet taller than that of the 105. Using their materials-efficicient “SCRIMP” infusion technique, it’s expected to be comparatively lighter than the 105, and the keel, a hollow stainless steel fin with lead L-shaped bulb, has allowed them to put weight where it’s most effective: 7-feet under the boat. The interior is intentionally simple and functional, with a standard nav station, galley, berths, and enclosed head. The finished forepeak is an option, but really, when did wet spinnakers and bricked jibs ever need a comfortable berth?
On deck, too, don’t expect any surprises. There are four winches, and all the control lines are lead where you’d expect them to be. The cockpit seats are on the shorter side, like the 105, so not everyone in the cockpit team will be clamoring over seats with every tack. The mainsheet traveler is floor mounted, and there’s a big 60-inch wheel (stainless being standard), which we’ll assume is big enough to place the driver outboard.
The 111’s sailplan is all about high-aspect cuts, including the spinnakers: there will be 100-percent jibs (heavy and light), mainsail, and two kites (reacher and runner). With there being one-design aspirations for the boat, says Stuart, owners can expect class sail-inventory limitations to be put into place once the class rules are established. Initially, the 111’s rules will mirror those of the 105s and 109s.
As of this writing, Stuart Johnstone says they’re facing the “good problem” of staying on top of their production-line demands. He reports two-dozen boats have been ordered thus far and two U.S. fleet deals, of six or more boats each, are “in the works.” As many as 15, he says, will be finished by the end of this year.
Back to the question of whether the 111 has the chops to displace the 105, it’s safe to say, “not likely,” and that too, is a good problem for J Boats. No matter how, or if, the 111 turns out to be successful, the 105, for the time being, remains the quintessential introductory boat to displacement sprit-boat racing: the fleets are active and inexpensive used boats are traded with regularity. But for longtime J/105 owners, I suspect, the 111 is a long time coming—something they can upgrade to without much of a leap. If there’s one thing to be said about J Boats’ success over the years, it’s their ability to keep their owners in the family. It is, after all, a family business.