Less is More, Again.
An uncommon mix of proven ideas - the unique J/105.
Reprinted from Sailing World Magazine.
By Doug Logan
The evolution of boat design works on a cross fertilization of ideas between the worlds of racing and cruising, monohulls and multihills, planing hulls and displacement hulls, ancient and modern. New ideas are rare, but new combinations of proven ideas are common. Even so, once in a while a boat exhibits a combination of proven ideas in such a way that it deserves to be called unique. The J/105 is such a boat - it's a return to the notion that a simple sailplan, clean deck layout, practical interior, and high performance are the best ingredients for both racing and cruising. It's a return also to the idea that a boat's looks can be as tangibly important as its interior volume.
During the 1980s this particular idea mix was more or less forgotten. Elements of the mix appeared once in a while, like Carl Schumacher's Express 34, which stemmed the rising tide of plush, C-shaped settees with a spare interior trimmed nicely in light wood; and his Alerion Express, which flatly rejected volume in favor of beauty. Bill Lee's Santa Cruz boats were similarly basic down below. The "high speed for the whole family" element was addressed by Ian Farrier's F-27 design for Corsair Marine. And envelope-pushing boats like the International 14, the Ultimate 30, and the BOC and IACC racers, as well as so many multihulls over the years, have proven the effectiveness of asymmetrical spinnakers and bow-launching poles. But all these ideas are brought together forcefully in one package by the J/105.
Here's what happened during our test sail: We came out of Miami's Government Cut, turned southeast in a 20-knot northeasterly and three-foot waves, launched the bow pole, and hoisted the asymmetrical chute. Then we had as much fun as can be had on a sailboat with the sails up. We shimmied down through the wave trains, stalking the best rides with a flat, hissing rooster-tail astern. For the better part of an hour we maintained speeds between 12.5 and 13.5 knots, never lower than 12 and up to 14.8 at the top end. This wasn't stomach-churning reach either. We had excellent control of the boat, and didn't have to work hard. Twice we rounded up halfway and collapsed the chute. This was strictly operator error, no doubt caused by the sudden and overwhelming recollection that the J/105 is a family racer/cruiser, and such boats are only meant to go about half as fast. Even the round-ups were no cause for tension; the boat was so stable, light, and maneuverable that all we had to do was steer back downwind. Then it was like the LIFE magazine photo of the guy undergoing acceleration tests on a rocket-sled, with the patches over his eyes and his face mashed flat by the wind. Man, this boat is fast. We didn't have a reefing line set up, so when we snuffed the chute and turned back upwind, we were overpowered. Even so, we made 7.5 knots with the sheets just slightly eased.
The J/105's extraordinary speed stems from a number of factors, starting with a fast overall hull form and a lack of wetted surface. The waterline beam is narrow and carried well aft on flat, underwater sections to a relatively wide transom. The topsides are flared somewhere between moderately and radically. The freeboard is low, which reduces headroom inside, but also eliminates windage and weight, keeps the weight low, making the boat look slicker than a greased weasel. The fin keel is deep and carries a torpedo bulb. The rudder is a big, high-aspect foil that allows boat reviewers to steer nonchalantly out of their mistakes, and will make a big difference to buyers who have never raced planing dinghies and who may have sailed auxiliaries at six knots all their lives. The basic sailplan is powerful and straightforward - a tall, double-spreader fractional rig with a big main and roller-furling jib. There's a bit of latitude in the J/105 one-design rules regarding choice of sailcloth, mainsail batten locations and lengths, roller-battens in the jib, and so forth, but the idea is to keep things simple. The deck layout reflects that idea - it's empty, except for a couple of very short jib-lead tracks.
The 105 makes one of its main points when it sails off the wind. J-Boats, figuring that by now everyone knows enough to tack downwind, fitted the 105 with an asymmetrical spinnaker in a snuffer, and a carbon-fiber bow pole that is launched through a tube out of the forepeak. The boat will race one-design with the main, jib and asymmetrical spinnaker, but in fact these three sails are all that 98 percent of J/105 owners will ever need. The arrangement is simple and it allows maximum VMG off the wind almost al the time. If fact, if this becomes a trend we may eventually see the demise of the pole-stabilized symmetrical chute, except on those few grand prix boats that have to carry sails for every possible angle. And good riddance.
The J/105 is completely optimized for shorthanded sailing; it can be raced easily with three or four, and cruised easily by two. "Anyone who has sailed a variety of so-called racer/cruisers in the last 10 or 15 years will be able to confirm that statement. The J/105 is exactly the boat many sailors would have bought in the 80's, even if they could have afforded something much more expensive. That's one reason it won the Racer/Cruiser category in SW's 1991 Boat of the Year Awards (Jan 1992) - it made a unified promise to a large cadre of sailors who haven't been able to find their idea of a true racer/cruiser. These are sailors who love racing fast auxiliaries but hate the complications - the rating hassles, the requisite heaps of gear and sails, and the problems of finding crew. They're the same sailors who like to sneak off for long weekends with their families once in a while, but either have to set and douse their chutes shorthanded or sit and grumble if their destinations are downwind. When they get where they are going, the don't want to live in pipe berths down below, but on the other hand they don't care for the weight and clutter of furnishings that are supposed to make them feel at home. All they really want is a light, fast boat that is easy to sail shorthanded, and maybe a cockpit where they can stretch out under the stars.
According to the Johnstones, the first batch of J/105s have gone
to a fairly wide cross section of sailors - young families looking for an
all-purpose recreational boat, racing sailors tired of the expense and
complexities of larger boats, J/Boats owners moving up from 24s and 30s, and
high-performance dinghy sailors who want bigger speed platforms without loss
excitement. One thread seems to link these buyer types: Experience. Surfing at
13-plus knots on a 34-foot monohull with no spinnaker pole on the mast, no
foreguy, no topping life, no lazy sheets, no runners, a clean deck., and four
relaxed people in the cockpit is a revelation. The more who sail this boat, the
more revelations there will be.