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J/97 Best Club Racer

This boat has plenty of room below for the crew to crash during race week. A feature from our January/February 2010 issue

January 27, 2010
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J97 BOTY 368

Walter Cooper

The J/105 kick-started the whole sprit-boat racer/cruiser movement nearly 20 years ago. And while the 105 is holding its own, its successor could very well be the J/97, an impressively simple 31-footer that, according to the judges, sails beautifully and has the volume, look, and feel of a 40-footer. Designer Alan Johnstone told the judging team that the J/97 is a “family cruiser and handicap racer with wide appeal, and an entry into the J/Boat line,” and he’s right: somehow, in the populated J/Boat world, he found himself a sweet spot between the more racing oriented J/105 and the cruise-able J/109 and J/122.

“This is a really versatile boat,” said Allen, who was most impressed with its simplicity and comfort. “The perfect sort of boat for taking to an out-of-town regatta. You could stay on it and race it. It definitely feels bigger than it really is.”

This roominess, said Stewart, is the result of a hull shape that’s much different than the traditionally narrow J/Boat. It’s a shape influenced by IRC and its encouragement of stiff and forgiving designs. The maximum beam is just a hair over 11 feet, and carried virtually all the way back to the cockpit, creating a lot of volume inside and a whole lot of working space on deck. “It’s beamier, more flared, than earlier J/Boats,” said Stewart. “There’s a different styling to it as well; it’s got a wide cabin top to go with the beam, and when we sailed it, it felt really light and lively.”

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Belowdecks, there’s an aft double berth and enclosed head; the rest of the interior is wide open (due in part to the forward bulkhead being in front of the mast). The European-style layout is more casual hangout than liveaboard: there are two big, plush settees, an open V-berth, and a centerline table, but not a lot of excess cabinets to weigh the boat down.

On deck, the layout is as straightforward as it gets these days: a pair of cockpit primaries and cabin-top winches, raised mainsheet traveler, adjustable jib-lead tracks, and an “old-school-style” split backstay system tied into an aluminum, Sparcraft, double-spreader rig. “All the control systems are really good,” said Holby, “and this really helps it sail well.”

J/97s are currently built in Europe, where the first boat knocked off a big win at its first big event (2009 Cowes Week), but Johnstone says production will be added in the States, if the boat gains popularity here. With an endorsed IRC rating of .978 and a PHRF equivalent of 108, the J/97 fits right into a highly populated PHRF bracket, allowing would-be owners competitive sailing virtually anywhere in the States. All up, commissioned and delivered, the price would fall in the $195,000-$200,000 range, which the judges agreed is a lot of boat for the money. This would be an easy one to sell the spouse on, and therein, said Allen, might just be its strongest selling point.

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Judges’ P.O.V.
• Good construction with newer
European “look”
• Balanced helm, low-friction in
the sail controls
• Open, high-volume interior
• Great family raceboat

Test conditions: 10 knots, flat water
Recommended use: Weeknight racing,
IRC events, weekend cruising
Recommended race crew: 6
Stats: LOA 31.5′ Beam 11.10′
DSPL 8,600 lbs. Ballast 3,900 lbs.
SA (u/d) 574/1,282 sq. ft.
Price (as sailed): $195,000
Contact: www.jboats.com

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