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2008 February 7

February 2008

J/Boats' latest stylish and spirited cruiser–racer

Bigger, faster, cooler-what more do you need?" This declaration was uttered by a very loyal J/Boats customer when asked what he thought about the new J/122 in comparison to his current J/109 and his previous J/35. J/Boats is an evolutionary company; it knows the formula of its boats and is constantly tweaking to make them faster, more comfortable and easier to sail. The program seems to be working, and the J/122 is proof.

I recently had chance to sail the J/122 on the Chesapeake Bay, in and around Annapolis. We had typical bay conditions with light, fluky winds, slight chop and unusual blistering hot October temperatures.

The 122 has been very successful on the racecourse. A few highlights are a second in the Marblehead-Halifax Race, domination in the Royal Ocean Racing Club's IRC class and named the RORC's "Best Overseas Yacht," and an IRC win at the Rolex Big Boat Series on San Francisco Bay.

The details
The cosmetics of the boat are classic J, with conservative lines, flat sheer and little overhang, providing for a long, lean waterline. That waterline starts with a forefoot knuckle standing clear of the water, giving a very high-performance look. The hull terminates in a classic J stern with a small swim step.
The 122 has a 7-foot, 3-inch draft. The keel is formed from an encapsulated cast iron fin and fitted with a lead bulb. It is through-bolted and bonded to a shallow sump, and is designed to be easily removed for transport. The deep keel with dense lead in the bulb produces a very low center of gravity. The rudder is a high-aspect composite structure featuring a stainless steel stock, and is supported by self-aligning JP3 rudder bearings.

Like its siblings, the J/122 is built using the SCRIMP process. In this process, the entire laminate is placed in the mold dry. Next, a high vacuum eliminates any air voids, and then resin feed tubes draw in only enough resin to "wet" the laminate. The process ensures a controlled, accurate and even resin-to-glass ratio, somewhere between 65 to 70 percent. In contrast, a hand-laid panel may approach 50 percent. Resin has little inherent strength as it is primarily used to bond the glass fabrics. The process also eliminates voids and entrapped air in the laminate. An air bubble here and there might not seem like a big deal, but even a small void produces a dramatic decrease in strength. The SCRIMP method produces a very strong, stiff laminate with minimum weight.

The hull and deck are molded with uni- and multi-direction E-glass and vinylester resin with balsa and foam core materials. An extensive SCRIMP-molded structural grid supports the keel and mast loads as well as the interior components. The J/122 has a five-year factory structural warranty and 10-year warranty against osmotic gelcoat blistering. The J/122, following in the footsteps of the J/109, was completely tooled and is produced at J/Europe of Les Sables d'Olonne in France.

On deck
The cockpit is the centerpiece on the J/122. The space is all business, but very comfortable. It is dominated by the 59-inch, five-spoke aluminum wheel and fiberglass pedestal. Just forward is the sole-mounted traveler. The pedestal also holds the hydraulic backstay panel. J/Boats added a nice system that stows the backstay adjuster handle on the pedestal guard rail.
The helm space is quite nice, very comfortable and offers great sight lines. The helm is set up to steer in any position you like-standing behind the wheel, sitting on the side deck behind the wheel or sitting on the side deck in front of the wheel.

The 122 has a sporty open transom, but an optional "dockbox" helm seat/transom is available. This gives the option to switch personalities-box in to close the transom and provide storage, box out to open the transom and lighten the boat. Storage on deck is reasonable with an opening anchor locker, two cockpit lazerettes and a cockpit locker in the sole aft of the wheel. The optional dockbox rounds out the storage.
The rig features an autoclaved carbon fiber mast, with an aluminum boom. The rig is fractional with a masthead spinnaker. The double-spreader mast has discontinuous Nitronic 50 rod rigging. The backstay adjuster is hydraulic with a remote panel mounted in the steering pedestal within easy reach from the helm or anywhere in the cockpit.

There are a few novel aspects to the rig. The most notable is the below-deck jib furler. This concept is not new but the implementation is. Most below-deck units force a large hole in the deck, which looks ungainly and results in a spot to catch lots of water. The 122 uses the Furlex TD (through-deck) furler. This unit puts the drum below deck, and the tack fitting right on the deck, with no exposed hole at all. The look is very clean. The benefits go beyond looks. With the tack fitting on the deck, the sail can be cut very low-yes, you can have a furler and a deck-sweeping jib.

Many boats have been set up with German-style mainsheets. The sheet is double-ended, both ends come up from the traveler, follow the boom to the gooseneck, down to the deck and then back to cockpit winches. J/Boats further cleaned this up by leading the sheet tails inside the boom, and then back to the winches below the deck.

The boat also uses very cool shroud terminals from BSI. The terminals fit flush to the deck and do not have any exposed fasteners. J/Boats placed these out at the edge of the deck to maximize the staying angle and to open up the sidedecks. Normally outboard shrouds would impact headsail sheeting angles, but with the swept spreaders and small jib overlap it is not a problem.
The deck is securely enclosed with artfully tapered stanchions and double lifelines. Security is further enhanced with a molded integral toerail. The stanchions are placed right at the edge of the deck allowing your rail meat to hike out a bit farther, and they give a few more inches when you are cruising with the family.
All the sail controls are led to the cockpit. Combined with a good cockpit layout this means the boat can be easily sailed by a couple or in a pinch singlehanded. As expected, the deck hardware is top notch, featuring gear from Harken and Spinlock.

Down below
The J/122 has a beautiful, spacious interior, with no qualifiers of "for a performance boat" necessary. You won't find any huge surprises in the design, just a tried-and-true layout that works. There are two interiors available. The classic two cabin with a forepeak cabin, aft quarter cabin and two heads, one at the base of the companionway and another forward. The other is a three cabin with twin aft cabins, a forepeak cabin, and a single head just aft of the forepeak.

The cabin is finished in light mahogany with lots of white surfaces to brighten things up. The wood components are top quality and are implemented as solids, cold-molded pieces and laminates. The cabin sole is done in a teak-and-holly-styled laminate. The material is low maintenance, non-skid and lighter than traditional materials. The sole is divided into removable panels and those panels are fixed with fasteners to assure offshore security.

There are four deck hatches and a total of 10 portlights. There are also two passive air-exchange vents integrated into the companionway to provide more than adequate ventilation.The saloon features a drop-leaf centerline table that encapsulates the mast and opens to seat five comfortably. There are opposing settees with storage both below and outboard.

The galley has two forward-facing polished stainless sinks in a molded countertop. The entire counter is framed with a cold-molded wood fiddle and handhold. A two-burner LPG stove and refrigeration are standard. There is plenty of storage in the galley drawers and lockers along the hull.

The nav station is opposite the galley. The space has a large tabletop and plenty of storage. There is plenty of room outboard to hold the breaker panel and as many electronic toys as you wish to install.
The boat features a Volvo D2 40-horsepower saildrive engine. Access to the engine and mechanicals is great. The boat has a 35-gallon fuel tank and a 42-gallon water tank (with an additional tank as an option). The designers worked hard to locate the engine, tankage and batteries as central and low in the boat as possible to reduce pitching.

Under sail
Actually sailing is what a J/Boat, and especially the J/122, is all about. I have sailed several large J/Boats and I continue to be impressed by the feel. Good feel is a tough thing to quantify, but you know it when you experience it. This is painfully trite, but the feel of a J/Boat is like a fine German car or top-quality guitar, not excessive or extreme in any one direction, but pleasurable in every way.

The first thing that you sense is the fingertip control on the helm. The large 59-inch, low-mass aluminum wheel is effortless in your hand yet very responsive. The helm is responsive but not in any way twitchy, and the boat tracks well.

You don't need to take the helm to sense the motion of the boat. The motion through chop is impressive, the boat just smoothly shoulders its way through without fuss. I did not have a chance to assess the boat in bluewater conditions, but I would relish the opportunity.

The last component of that elusive "feel" is the incredible acceleration of the boat. In puffs, the boat heels slightly and just plain takes off. Once accelerated, the boat holds onto that speed; the big slippery hull effortlessly slips through holes just as well as it accelerates in the puffs.

The 122 was already out on the bay when I boarded via our photo boat. We sailed off under full main and 110-percent jib. We started off with some close reaching in the light conditions. Winds speed varied between about 5 to 10 knots and there was powerboat induced chop on the water. We sailed smartly upwind at 5 to 6 knots.

To make things interesting we decided to beat up the Severn River and then run back down the river, along the Naval Academy, under asymmetrical chute. A few long tacks got us up river and it was time for the chute. We extended the sprit, rolled up the jib, hoisted, trimmed and took off. When it came time to take the chute down, we snuffed it and reversed the procedure.

While sailing under the chute we jibed a few times and there is little to report other than it occurred with little work. In a sprit boat of this size, you turn the wheel, let off the old sheet and pull in on the new on. There is plenty of room between the sprit and headstay to allow the chute to slip through and invert.
J/Boats keeps producing boats that are decidedly J/Boats, but they continue to improve and evolve the designs, keeping the boats fresh and new. The J/122 fleets are growing, and you can see them comfortably cruising. Check this boat out soon, it may just be the bigger, faster, cooler boat that you've been dreaming of.