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J/95 Boat of the Year

The judges felt this boat would keep seasoned racers and causal sailors on the water for good. A feature from our January/February 2010 issue

January 27, 2010

J95 BOTY 368

Walter Cooper

With more than a few of its designs, J/Boats has been guilty of staying inside its own box. But with the J/95, Johnstone elder, Rodney S., didn’t just put one foot outside that box-he put both. In doing so, he delivered a boat so versatile it left our Boat of the Year judges at a loss. This 31-footer defied all attempts to categorize it: it’s much more than a daysailor or weekender-it’s a weeknight club racer, shorthanded distance sprinter, and yes, even a one-design. In the end, the judges agreed their 2010 Boat of the Year didn’t fit one category at all, but its versatility and sheer perfection launched it to the top of the fleet.

“It’s a radical change for J/Boats,” said Allen, who has spent much of his adult life racing J/24s. “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.”

It’s this vast, under-served, thin-water audience, says Johnstone, that will benefit most from his contemporary spin on the offshore-capable centerboarder. To achieve what he claims is his best design yet, Johnstone took what he knew of past centerboarders (citing the legendary Bermuda Race winner Finisterre), applied what he learned about twin rudders when designing his nephew’s Mini 6.50 Acadia, and added enough of the make-it-simple Johnstone touch that there’d be no mistaking it as a J/Boat. The result is a 6,800-pound 31-footer with 10 feet of beam, 5’6″ of draft with the board down (3’3″ with the board up), and accommodations for an overnight jaunt (two settees, a V-berth, an enclosed head, but no refrigeration or galley).

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The J/95 also marks a new builder for J/Boats-CCF Composites in Bristol, R.I.-and each of the judges lauded its build quality. This level of finish, says Holby, makes it well worth the price. The centerboard system is a technical marvel that required a lot of tweaking to perfect; the 200-pound, polished-bronze board pivots into a slot in the 2,250-pound lead keel by means of a block-and-tackle on the cabin top. For good measure, Johnstone, 72, demonstrated he could easily pull it up himself-no winch required.

While the J/95 looked slick at the dock, come test-sail day, the judges were anxious to see how the boat would handle with its short-chord double rudders tied into a 44-inch wheel. After nearly two hours in a punchy, 10- to 15-knot breeze, they were amazed with how well it settled into and held its groove, upwind and downwind. After they finished their test sail, while motoring away in the transfer RIB, all three of them looked it over once more in quiet admiration before Stewart commented aloud, “Now, that’s a cool boat.”

“As far as centerboarders go, they can be hard to control on a reach with so little draft for the rudder,” said Holby, who has designed and built double-rudder boats, “but with twin rudders, this boat sails great and is easy to control. It doesn’t spin out like any other boat of that size would.”

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With the 680-square-foot kite (optional and recommended) full and pulling, they nearly broached when they were caught off guard by a gust, but the boat quickly responded and settled onto its bottom. Later, when they bore away hard without easing the sails, it “turned on a dime,” said Allen.

In explaining the boat’s design purpose to the judges, Johnstone said the J/95 is intended for shoal-water sailors, but the judges felt he was hugely underselling the boat’s potential. “PHRF, club racing, you can do anything with this boat,” said Allen, “and do it well. They hit a home run.”

Judges’ P.O.V.

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• Quick, nimble, and stable hull shape
• Excellent helm feel and rudder
response
• Simple, efficient deck layout
• Low-maintenance, high-volume
interior
• Great for shoal-draft racing
and sailing

Test conditions: 15 knots, flat water
Recommended use: PHRF racing, daysailing,
short-distance racing and cruising
Recommended race crew: Six
Stats: LOA 31.2′ Beam 10′
DSPL 6,800 lbs. Ballast 2,450 lbs.
SA (u/d) 492/1,192 sq. ft.
Price (as sailed): $185,000
Contact: www.jboats.com

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