2000 January 7

A true sailor's boat, ready to go offshorefast

The brochure lays it on the line. "This boat was created to the only rule that counts: The Rule of the Sea, which is timeless." Herein lies the philosophy behind the J/46, the successor to the well-established and highly successful J/44. J Boat's design brief called for a performance cruising boat that was supremely seaworthy and able to achieve 8-knot passagemaking speeds under sail, while treating its crew to a comfortable ride in the open ocean. The result is a sailor's boat, with an interior layout that reflects the realities of long passages and rough days at sea. The J/46 is a refreshing change from many boats of its size.

J/46While the J/46's sleek, streamlined hull with minimal overhangs and low cabinhouse has its ancestry in the proven hull shape of the J/44, new keel and rudder configurations contribute to its speed and ease of handling. The length-to-beam ratio is high and, combined with ample reserve buoyancy forward, makes for very controlled tracking in rough seas, with minimal steering loads on helm or autopilot. Greater balance of reserve buoyancy at both ends of the boat helps the bow lift up and over ocean chop and large waves. This was immediately apparent during a test sail in a moderate sea. There was none of the pitching and digging-in found in many boats with fine ends and full-midship sections. Even in 15 knots of wind and moderate waves, it showed no signs of hobbyhorsing and moved through the water without fuss and minimal motion. Although we didn't try this, the 46 would sail well under either jib or main alone. The J/46 has come a long way from the 44 in terms of construction methods. It's built by TPI Technologies using the company's patented SCRIMP method, a process that uses infusion-molded sandwich construction for the hull and deck. This method makes a light yet strong boat since the laminate has a much higher fiber content with less resin than in conventional layups. SCRIMP laminates, the company says, test out at double the strength of conventional hand-laid construction techniques.

One goal for the design team was to have plenty of sail power, but keep the center of effort low enough to maintain good performance in rough seas. A carbon fiber mast, with half the weight of an aluminum spar, provided part of the solution. A combination of a light, strong hull, a modern keel design with a lead bulb, and a carbon spar give the 46 a remarkable stability, which I could appreciate even on a 15-knot day. With a 110-percent genoa and full main, even a small crew can sail this boat hard in strong winds, an important consideration for a long-distance passagemaker. If the wind pipes up over 20 knots, simply roll up the jib and sail under full main, finally reefing in 30 knots.

Above the water
On deck, the layout is simple and efficient. A large, T-shaped cockpit separates the helmsman from the crew, with a comfortable bench seat aft that contains a lazarette and propane locker below.
The 60-inch wheel is partially recessed into the cockpit floor and just the right size for sitting to windward or leeward when hard on the wind. Unfortunately you have to reach through the spokes for the engine throttle, something I found distracting when maneuvering at closer quarters. I would have preferred to see it on the starboard side of the cockpit. The main traveler and its controls are immediately forward of the helm, with two Lewmar 46s controlling the double-ended mainsheet.

Two long, contoured seats allow for sunbathing and are extremely comfortable when heeled, with sheet winches (electric on the test boat) close to hand. All halyards and sail controls are led aft to the cockpit, with two convenient self-tailers and an army of stoppers close to the companionway. You can raise and lower the main from the cockpit, especially if you invest in a Leisurefurl mainsail, such as was fitted to the test boatÑpractically essential if you are shorthanded.

The J/46 has one of the least cluttered decks I have ever encountered, with good nonskid, well-placed stainless steel cabinhouse grabrails and a locker recessed into the deck forward. The builder provides a single stainless steel anchor roller, but I would recommend investing in the second, optional one too. A convenient anodized toerail with well-placed fairleads surrounds the boat.

Down below
You step down from the cockpit into a spacious main cabin, with a U-shaped galley to port and a navigation station to starboard. A small aft cabin lies under the starboard side deck, complete with double berth, a set of drawers and a hanging locker. This would make a valuable seagoing berth under way, but is hardly large enough for prolonged occupation. A head with shower is tucked behind the galley to port, with easy access to the Yanmar diesel from both the aft cabin and head as well as the companionway steps.

The saloon is airy, with three opening ports and lots of hatch ventilation, and the test boat was finished in cherry wood joinery. Teak is another option, but I found the cherry stunning. A U-shaped dinette with table is immediately forward of the galley, and with the conventional berth/settee opposite, you can sit at least six people down to dinner in comfort. There is a pilot berth outboard the dinette.

The galley is palatial, complete with a Force 10 three-burner stove with an oven, a large icebox (refrigeration is optional) and deep, double sinks. The U-shaped design allows you to wedge yourself securely in a seaway, but I would recommend installing a galley strap for the stove if bound offshore, as there is nothing to support the cook from the back while at the stove.

The navigation station opposite has a comfortable, forward-facing seat, with a large chart table with a hinged top. A useful shallow shelf outboard covers the battery space. There is plenty of room for electronic devices of all kinds, with the electrical panel behind your head. There is nothing particularly innovative about the saloon, but it is functional at anchor and at sea, with well-placed grab handles, rounded surfaces and a stainless grab post on the corner of the galley.

From the saloon you pass into the spacious forward cabin, with a larger head and separate shower compartment to port. Locker space lies to starboard of the head. Both heads have white plastic surfaces that are easily cleaned.

The forward cabin itself is a huge V-berth with central insert and shelves and lockers outboard. This is where I would sleep in port, for there is room to move about and stretch, a large hatch overhead for air and room to sit if you wish. No sartorial excesses here, just a thoroughly practical layout you can dress up any way you wish.

Under sail
The J/46 is a comfortable, well-appointed boat, with an interior finish that is very different from the somewhat austere decor of other racer-cruisers in the J Boat line. But this boat really shines where it matters, out on the ocean.

I backed the 46 out of the slip with fingertip control, the 76-horsepower Yanmar was barely audible in the cockpit. The remarkable steering, with only a full turn lock-to-lock, gave me the confidence to maneuver the boat at close quarters without wishing for a bow thruster. While passaging, the boat should cruise comfortably at 8 knots at about 2800 rpm, depending on the propeller installation.

Instead of the usual near-calms that seem to appear every time I head out for a boat tests, there was a magnificent 12- to 18-knot afternoon breeze, which suited the boat perfectly. We raised main and jib and hardened on the wind, making a comfortable 7 knots in the lighter puffs. When a gust came, the boat heeled and accelerated fast, with almost perfect balance and a level of control that I associate more with tillers than wheels. Above all, it was quiet, moving effortlessly over the chop and allowing almost no spray aboard. I got the impression it would be a dry boat in rougher conditions, an important factor when beating to windward for 20, 30 miles or more.

We cracked off on a reach and set the asymmetrical spinnaker from its convenient sock. Then the boat really came alive, reaching at speeds around 10 knots sailing on a beam reach. I never felt it was sailing out of control, and the boat could have carried the spinnaker in a lot more wind without a moment of concern. The ease of handling was also a revelation. True, setting spinnakers and large genoas on a boat this size can require a cast of more than a couple, especially on long passages and in strong winds, but the basic configuration of main and 100-percent genoa allows for astonishingly easy handling and safe passages under a wide range of open water conditions. A spinnaker snuffer with lines led back to the cockpit can ease the hoisting.

No 46-foot performance cruising yacht is cheap, but there is a lot for the dollar with the J/46. This is a boat that begs for sophisticated electronics linked to one another. I must confess to being a novice at such things, but it was fascinating to sail with an autopilot linked to GPS, radar and instruments. The boat could be fine-tuned effortlessly. Such electronic sophistication doesn't come cheap, but you would get more out of your 46 with such wizardry.

J Boats offers various refrigeration, power, and cruising packages, as well as a wide range of stand-alone options, so you can customize your boat to your heart's content. But what stands out with the J-46 is its blazing performance, exceptional comfort at sea and ability to make long passages in comfort.