The lake was about to end and beating into the breeze on the return trip would be quite a haul. The Swiss J-Boat dealer Peter Bangerter suggested turning back and his words suddenly interrupted the helmsman’s flirtations with the thrill of speed. Reaching up to 14 knots, the J/111 is motoring down the Lake Neuchâtel, running as if on tracks, fabulously well controlled and accelerating in the puffs like a sport boat – that’s terrific sailing and a lot of fun.
With the J/111 the US-builder J-Boats has again sharpened its focus on sport and performance. In the US, the J/111 already has been a hot candidate for top results. At the same time, the Johnstones did not subject the boat to any specific racing rule, instead opting for a good looking and fast craft.
Rather, the J/111 should put a stronger emphasis on the notion of a one-design class in J-Boats’ lineup. Accordingly, the builder offers few options for layout and equipment. With more than 30 boats built, there are already one-design fleets in the US and international class rules and one-design building specifications were issued. This development is being followed closely in Europe, especially by racers, which is why interest in the J/111on that side of the Big Pond has grown rapidly. Hence, J-Boats decided, contrary to their original plans, to produce the new model at their licensed builder JB Composites in les Sables d’Olonne. The first European-built boat was delivered to Switzerland, a formidable opportunity for this test.
To a sailor’s heart’s desire
Ahead of a squall the breeze piped up to 15 knots, in powerful gusts the pressure increased to 20 knots or more. Hard on the breeze, the J/111 sails along without reef, but remains well under control and fast. The hydraulic backstay tensioner, which comes standard, is invaluable as it bends the carbon fibre mast by Hall Spars (also standard and part of the class rules) effectively for the desired heavy-air trim. The calibrated log shows 7.2 knots and a true wind angle of 40 degrees, which will challenge the competition and please committed cruisers, too.
The fun-factor jumped another notch on the reach under gennaker. In prevailing conditions the small chute (110sq m) hoisted to 7/8 of the rig height easily put the boat onto a plane. Through all this, it’s easy to keep on the pressure, just like on a sport boat or a dinghy in a breeze. The steering is responsive and very direct. Adding to the good reaching performance is the unusually long retractable carbon fibre bowsprit. The pole can be pushed out of the hull to a length of 2.4m, which increases the efficacy of the gennaker and helps with gybing. Using just the wind pressure, the sail flops over to the other side nearly all on its own. A larger 150sq m gennaker can be flown from the mast top and the required halyard is already reeved in.
In general the boat’s equipment is first rate. The beautiful carbon rig comes standard with stays rod rigging, Dyneema halyards and a Vectran backstay. The kicker and the very functional low-profile roller furling system with a strap are also part of the standard equipment. Harken supplies all sheaves, cleats and blocks on deck. In addition, the manufacturer does not skimp on sturdy stuff. Accessories and winches nearly appear oversized, which has become increasingly rare. Naturally, this affects the price, which stands at 215.000 Euros, sails not included. Compared to the competition that’s a lot of dough, but considering the high-end standard equipment, it appears more reasonable.
Hardware and trim lines are perfectly arranged. J-Boats has a lot of experience and avoids strenuous compromises with a more cruising-oriented layout. Hence, the J/111 is a boat that wants crew. Cruisers can handle her too, but it helps to have at least some experience with handling sporty boats.
The Lewmar steering works impeccably with hardly any slippage. For cable adjustment, the quadrant is easily accessible via the stowage compartment in the stern. Tiller steering is not offered as an option, even though it would be desirable for a boat that is so well balanced. J-Boats continues to stick with a traditional mainsheet tackle and an effective fine-adjustment. Even with an extra pair of winches on the cockpit coaming, the option of a German Admiral’s Cup mainsheet system, which is practically standard with the competition, would be impossible to rig.
Systematically slimmed down
The J/111 only weighs 4.2 tons, which is light compared to others and one of the chief reasons for the boat’s good performance. Deck and hull are built with resin-infusion in a sandwich laminate that uses balsa and foam core. The outside layers are laminated with osmosis-resistant vinylester resins. The manufacturer offers a 10-year warranty against blistering.
A specialty is the keel construction, for which designer Alan Johnstone deliberately passed on the T-shape in favour of an L-shape, which should provide more lift upwind. On the leading edge, the steel fin has a cavity, which was poured with lead to position the centre of gravity as far forward as possible and under the rig, just as a T-shaped keel would. The yard is considering alternatives to the 2.2m draft, however a shoal-draft keel has yet to be specified.
The single-minded approach to weight consciousness continues below deck. Accordingly, the interior remains rather simple and prosaic. The salon table is offered as an option only and the joinery is less solid than on most competitors’ boats. Instead of cupboards there are only open storage areas, which is practical, because they can swallow a lot, but it makes the boat’s interior look somewhat untidy. And that’s not everybody’s cup of tea. For the European market, the yard is working on a more upscale interior option with hanging lockers in the saloon and closed-off storage areas.
A bit particular is the forward area with a simple double berth in the bow and an open lavatory. Sailors with a cruising bent will hardly be satisfied with this arrangement, as a potty next to the bunk takes more than a little getting used to. On a performance cruiser this size, at a minimum, a separate bathroom should be part of the amenities. This can be explained with the absence of forward berths in the US-version,which only has a sail locker forward. For this reason the hull and deck moulds make no provision for a separate head. And there is a European version without forward berths, too.
The two berths aft also are not separated from the saloon. Here too, the J/111’s regatta pedigree is obvious. Racers will want to store extra sails here to have quick access. Unusual is the direct admittance to this space through the cockpit seats (thwarts), which turns the aft cabins into giant open lockers.
The quality of the fit and finish merits critique. On the test boat the workmanship was lacking in many areas, the work was downright sloppy. The yard in France explained it with a tight turnaround for the finish of the prototype and promises improvement for the production boats.
Without a doubt, the J/111 has the potential to get established as one-design class in Europe. The standard boat already is well equipped for racing and the performance under sail is fabulous. However, sailors who like to go cruising off and on, perhaps even take the family, might find it difficult to warm up to the arrangement of the accommodation.
This article was re-published with kind permission of YACHT, Europe’s largest sailing publication.