J/92 Articles & Reviews

J/92 Retractable Rocket

Pacific Yachting Review of the J/92
by Graham Jones

Imagine sailing in the 1980s alongside 11 crew members, with a 10-sail inventory on an IOR racer that cost roughly nine times more to campaign than its owner could either afford or wanted to spend. Weighing eight tons too much for its size, this lead-sled begins to shake and groan as its speedo struggles to hit seven-and-a-half knots.

"Time to gybe!" calls out the helmsman.

"Are you nuts?" yell six spinnaker trimmers in unison, looking back in panic. "Someone’s going to get hurt!" Barely five seconds into the dreaded gybe it looks like the rig is about to fold in half...

Now picture this: four non-primate crew members with a three-sail inventory along with two rookie sailors gybe a huge America’s Cup-style asymmetric spinnaker with ease. Everyone onboard has only a single reason to be out on the water—to sail fast and have fun. Welcome to sailing in the 1990s onboard J-Boats’ newest 30-footer, the J/92!

When I first had a good look at the under-carriage of the J/92 (92, as in 92 decimetres, or 9.2 metres length overall), during the Toronto International Boat Show last January, my pulse began to quicken and my thick winter blood surged through my veins. With a deep 5ft 9in., high-aspect bulb keel, low freeboard and an extendable carbon bow sprit (now with the brand-specific name J-Sprit), the newest J-Boat looked like a mini-BOC racer. Even sitting on a cradle indoors while the snow swirled about outside, the 92 looked like it was moving upwind at six-and-a-half knots!

Accompanying the ‘92 at the Toronto launch was the boat’s designer, Rod Johnstone. Seated in the cockpit of his new 30-footer, I asked Rod to explain the design philosophy behind his new Decimetre line of boats—the 26-ft J/80, the J/92, the 34-ft J/105 and the 43-ft J/130. How did Johnstone intend to improve on his past success with boats like the J/22, 24 and the 35? Johnstone mentioned that when he sat down to design the Decimetre boats, with objectives of creating fast, easy-to-handle sportboats that would encourage family participation in either One Design of PHRF Fleets.

"Family participation!" I asked, now thoroughly confused. "How was this rocketship going to encourage Mom and Dad to go out racing? If anything, this boat creates the intimidating impression that it has been built for flat-out racing during Key West Race Week." Johnstone patiently explained that, yes, he had drawn a speedster, but it was nonetheless a performance racer that was user-friendly and both easier to sail and easier to pack up at the end of the day than, say, a CS 30.

With a 50 per cent ballast ratio (half of the weight of the boat is in the keel), the J/92 is extremely stiff. The boat’s high stability means that it doesn’t require six 200-pounders with their cheeks on the teak to sail flat uphill. So as to not discriminate against light crews, the 92 class rules specify a maximum crew weight of 880 lbs. Under this rule, a smallish crew (a family perhaps?) can reach the weight limit and compete on an even keel in One Design events.

Apart from its high righting moment, the 92 has many other features that make it attractive to a broad spectrum of sailors---from families to so-called factory teams. Speed-freaks, on the one hand, will be tempted by the prospect of screaming double-digit reaches while flying the j/92’s enormous America’s Cup-style gennaker from the end of a retractable carbon bowsprit that extends 17 ft out in front of the mast. Yet, without a conventional spinnaker pole and its tangled array of topping lifts, downhauls, lazy-sheets and guys, gybing is a breeze. All you need to do is let out on the old sheet, turn the boat and trim in the new sheet on the opposite winch.

The boat’s initial PHRF ratings, 90 seconds a mile in B.C. and 96 on Lake Ontario, suggest that the 92 has the wheels to be a first-to-finish boat in any club-racing fleet from coast to coast. These handicaps make the J/92 just about the fastest production 30-footer on the market. Only the Trip 26 and the Carrera 290 come close to the performance of this J in the under 30-ft range.

A brief comparison with some other supercharged 30s on Lake Ontario shows the 92 to rate around seven seconds a mile faster than the Canada’s Cup MORC Level 30s, nine seconds faster than the Olson 30, and a whopping 18 seconds faster than the 92’s closest cousin, the masthead J/29.

As the J/92 has a rig configuration unlike any previous designs (with the exception of the new Melges 24), establishing a handicap presents quite a challenge to the PHRF measurers. American handicappers have come to the conclusion that the A-chute (A for asymmetrical), and bowsprit configuration does not broad reach or go downwind as well as a conventional symmetrical spinnaker with a squared pole. For proof, they point to the results of last season’s successful racing onboard the J/92’s bigger brother, the J/105.

The A-sail is rated as slightly slower than a conventional kite. At Key West Race Week last January, two 92s sailed in the boat’s first major regatta. The two boats, one with the class A-sail and one with a conventional spinnaker, were matched against each other to determine which configuration was faster around windward/leeward- and Olympic-type courses. With a spinnaker the J rated 99 seconds/mile, while the classboat stood at a slightly slower 102 PHRF.

By the end of this summer, J-Boats and PHRF handicappers will have established a reasonable database of race results of the more than 70 J/92s built so far at TPI in Rhode Island. From boat information currently available, it appears that the A-sail is noticeably slower than a conventional chute in heavy conditions when the J/92 is sailing deep angles downwind. Without the ability to square the sprit while sailing at wind angles greater than 160 degrees apparent, the gennaker will suffer. At the other end of the wind-scale, in light conditions with the apparent wind well forward, the A-sail will excel and should prove to be faster than a 92 with a conventional spinnaker, provided the crew is able to execute smooth, speedy gybes.

To improve the J/92’s performance when sailing deep downwind, the stock boat comes equipped with tweaker lines that run to either side of the cabin-top. These tweakers help crew members to close the upper leech of the gennaker to make it appear more symmetrical and to give it the shape of a conventional spinnaker when running. Provided the gennaker has a full design, these things should significantly improve the performance of what is possibly the only weak suit of the 92.

Even with a high speed potential, this J is setup to make sailing to its PHRF rating as easy as possible. A simple double-spreader 7/8ths rig, large, uncluttered cockpit, and an ergonomically designed, fully Harkenized deck layout, simplify boathandling and will help a lightweight crew of three or four to win the race against its sub-100-second-a-mile handicap.

From the factory, the 92 comes equipped with a Harken cockpit-floor-mounted mainsheet traveller, Harken No.40 two-speed primaries and No.32 secondaries, and Antal sheet stoppers and mast blocks. As the J/92 comes out of the box in its One Design configuration with a 100 per cent jib, there are no tracks for an overlapping genoa. To set up for a PHRF-size headsail, J-Boats recommends screwing down inboard adjustable lead-cars.

A Clean and simple decklayout suggests that Johnstone did his homework before this boat hit the water. As is not the case with various earlier J-Boat designs, all of the hardware on the 92 seems to be in the right place for quick, efficient adjustment from either the high or low sides. For example, with winches in the correct position (unlike the J/35), no future owner will be making Swiss cheese of his or her deck in an attempt to set the boat up to avoid overrides when tacking.

Both the back stay and the traveller are led to the finger tips of the helmsman or mainsail trimmer. This way, either the crew or helmsman has their hands on the boat’s accelerator to power-up when sailing out of a tack, or to de-power when riding out a puff. The luff tension of the asymmetric spinnaker is adjusted with a tack downhaul that runs from the end of the J-Sprit to the starboard side of the dog house. The carbon fibre sprit is extended from a control line that is also led back to the cockpit. A powerful shock-cord purchase inside the forepeak and led back to the cabin trunk retracts the bowsprit into the boat once the A-sail is doused.

Off the wind, the A-sail is trimmed using a sheet and lazy-sheet that leads out and around the forestay. The stock boat is rigged for cross-sheeting from a ratchet-block on the leeward stanchion base to one of the Harken No.32s on either side of the cabin-top. The interior of the 92 is perhaps the least exciting aspect of this boat. With low freeboard, there is no headroom to speak of; there will be no ballroom dancing down below. But then again, who wants to be downstairs when all the fun is on deck? While the cabin of the 92 is spartan and does not have living-room ambience of earlier cruiser-racer designs, there is no reason to think that a crew of four would not be able to camp out comfortably during a weekend regatta.

It is apparent that J-Boats has avoided the so-called full interior because of the way in which 300lbs of teak and cabinetry will ruin the performance of a cruiser-racer (not to mention what it will do to the sticker price). With only a small amount of wood trim down below, could this J be the first of a new generation of rain-forest-friendly boats?

The interior is clearly designed for low-maintenance care with moulded counter-top surfaces throughout. My first impression after a messy day of sailing: the quickest way to clean up the 92 down below was with a hose! While the base boat is relatively bare inside, J-Boats offers a forepeak option (removable V-berth, cushions, reading lights, hanging locker and canvas curtain) for those who do not want their boat to be so empty that it echoes down below. Other options include: conventional spinnaker gear, shore power, a full galley with a teak dining table and Origo stove, and hull colour other than white.

Hans Fogh, Eastern Canada’s J-Boats dealer, passed me the helm as we approached the mouth of Toronto Harbour on a crisp May Saturday morning. I grabbed the Spinlock tiller-extension and was instantly amazed at how great this boat felt, unlike any other I had steered. Even with a good deal of heel, the helm was light and responsive. At that angle, I was expecting to be wrestling with 20 degrees of weather helm, and was surprised at my two-finger control of the tiller. The 92 had a solid feel and tracked well upwind. In spite of these keelboat attributes, the 92 has a lot of dinghy qualities. Its steering, for example, is precise and responsive thanks to a balanced spade rudder.

As Hans and I sailed upwind across the Toronto harbour, an occasional whitecap told us that the breeze was between 10 and 12 knots. With Hans on the helm, we were charging at a steady 6 knots. Our sail inventory consisted of a North Sails class Dacron main and Mylar tri-radial 100 percent jib on the J/92’s standard Harken roller-furler. Onboard, I felt like we were sailing the yachting equivalent of a Lamborghini Countach because of the number of heads that we were turning as we tacked our way toward Toronto Island. Even the fleet of International 14 sailors on their high-speed skiffs were casting envious glances in our direction.

With the J/92’s small jib, I barely needed a winch handle to grind in the sail on the new tack as we played the shifts in the harbour. It became apparent that the crew only needs a handle to grind in the final 12 or 14 inches of sheet after tacking. The combination of this self-tacking jib and a powerful rudder suggests that this boat will be extremely manoeuvrable both at the starting line and while sailing upwind. The 92 is a cinch to tack and with just two of us sailing that morning, Hans and I were ready to take on any fully crewed 30-footer in a tackingduel---well, almost...

Turning an imaginary top mark, we prepared to set up for a downwind sleigh ride home. With me at the helm, Hans prepared the gennaker for a side-launch up at the shrouds. First, he extended the J-Sprit, set up the sheet around the leeward winch and then pulled furiously on the halyard. As Hans set up the gennaker, I pulled on the furling line to wind up the jib. All this with no one on the foredeck!

Next, Hans sheeted-in the gennaker and we took off. The acceleration practically knocked me to the gelcoat so I braced myself against a stanchion and prepared for some good, fast fun. I felt my neck jerk back as the speedo surged above eight knots while the 92 developed a roostertail off the transom.

While it is not noticeable from onboard, the huge A-sail dwarfs the rest of the J. In spite of its size, the two of us didn’t have any major problems handling the gennaker. To gybe, all we did was release the leeward sheet, turn the boat and pull in the sheet on the new tack.

With the apparent wind just in front of the beam, our boatspeed peaked at 8l7 knots. At this angle in a traditional J-boat, I would certainly have been fighting, two-fisting the helm to prevent the boat from broaching. In fact, sailing on a J/29 in similar conditions with only two crew would be downright frightening, but on the 92, all I experienced was exhilaration and a few degrees of lee helm.

The new 92 has all of the qualities to turn it into the prototype of all future designs in the 1990s. With more than 70 boats built so far, the class is growing more quickly than did the J/24 during its first season. With luck, this new Decimetre sport-boat will bring back some of the excitement that has been missing from sailing in Canada over the past few years. In spite of a steep base price, the operating costs of the 92 should be reasonable, thanks to a sensible set of class rules that ban expensive sail inventories and electronic gadgetry. At around $90,000 (Canadian) with sails and electrics, this new J is not cheap, but it does guarantee a lot of boatspeed and fun for the buck

1992 Overall Boat of the Year
PHRF/Performance Category & Reader's Choice

Reprinted from March 1993 Issue

Once again Sailing World's Boat of the Year extravaganza is complete. Even as you read these words (assuming you read them fresh from the mailbox), the 1993 winners are being announced at the first annual Sail Expo in Atlantic City. If you're not here in New Jersey, settle back and consider the boats that the BOTY panelists have chosen to recognize as the premier designs for the year.

Consolidating and improving upon previously successful formulae are conspicuous traits among this year's nominees. In six of the seven categories, the winners are boats with obvious antecedents from the same companies. And in all, only three boats out of 43 nominees came as offerings of new companies (the Carrera 290 from Carrera Performance Yachts, the Expo Solar Sailer from Newport R & D, and the Tripp 26 from Smart Boats). Of those remaining, 21 boats are direct offshoots from previous designs, some even utilizing the same tooling (not including the nine boats considered in the Modified category). The panelists apprehended this trend as a "sign of the times," and collectively ascribed it to a soft market.

But such economic pressures often prompt resourceful strategies in production boatbuilding. Consider that all the winners this year come from tough, steady companies that have been in the game for a long time. And each winning design is a development of those companies' greatest strengths. Let's head into the ceremonies.

The Envelope Please
The competition in the PHRF/Performance category was very close, so close in fact that the panelists found they had to go back and take an additional look at the finalists (J/92, Carrera 290, Tripp 26, and Tripp 33). Afterwards, by almost unanimous approval, the J/92 emerged as the category winner and went on to be selected Overall Boat of the Year. By a margin of almost three to one, confirming the panelists' findings, you the reader voted the J/92 Readers' Choice Boat of the Year as well.

Utilizing the proven aspects of previous designs in a new package is a practice almost synonymous with the J/Boats company. Last year, their J/105 was selected BOTY in the Racer/Cruiser category by virtue of its performance, simplicity, and what we then termed "flexibility and innovation." Her smaller sister, the J/92, surfaced last spring as a refinement of that model, exhibiting almost identical characteristics, yet presenting new possibilities in a less expensive, and just as versatile package.

"The J/92 has several merits," signaled panelist Sheila McCurdy. "It is an easy boat to sail, and it's a good family boat. I'd be inclined to buy one because I could take it out sailing by myself." Implicit in McCurdy's comments is the notion that, although this niche boat is by nature purpose-oriented, it can also serve the varying needs of a fair spectrum of sailors; it is PHRF racer, one-design competitor, short term cruiser, and family daysailer all in one.

This smallest of the J/Boats line of metric designs offers simplicity in form and handling, as well as performance that the most aggressive racers would appreciate. "You've got to look at two things in this category," said Nick Nicholson, "And that's bang for your buck as far as performance goes, and bang for your buck as far as anything else you want to do with the boat. If you want to go off cruising for your week's vacation, then you start looking at little marginal increases in comfort as being meaningful. The J was the best in her category in that sense."

Stacking the J/92 up against the other category winners was not an easy task. How do you compare a $50,000 craft with one costing well over 10 times that? The panelists went back and forth, but it was Robby Robinson who offered an insightful perspective: "Among the boats we 've got to judge, this boat presents something different, a step forward." Additionally, naval architect Carl Schumacher made the point that "There are a lot more thing to put on this boat than on previous boats. There's a lot more being left up to the imagination of the owners, but I think the owners are going to solve the problems better than anyone else.

Schumacher also made particular mention of the boat's hull/deck joint. "It's a whole new thing, the deck is glued down with just a few bolts in it, and with the inward turning flange it has the look of a custom boat."

It's fitting that the last word on this winning design come from a reader. John Kimura of Shelburne, VT., commended the boat in these terms: "The J/92's stable and efficient hull form combines with an easy to trim sail plan. The boat offers a smaller nuclear crew, which means reduced campaign management (more time on the water, less on the phone); a sail inventory within most budgets; a big, easy-to-sail groove, and more time for tactics and strategy; the game we like!"