2011 January 3

A nice-sized boat for racing, cruising and daysailing, with the family or not

T he kids are outgrowing junior dinghy racing and starting to ask about a keelboat. And they have a point. It might be nice for the whole family to have a small racer that we could all sail together or perhaps the kids could take out themselves.

The obvious answer here is a J/24, but a small, well-performing boat can be fun to weekend cruise, and the 24 is just a bit too small. A 30-footer would be ideal, something the kids could handle around the buoys, but in which we could still cruise on the non-race weekends. We have $25,000 to buy and refit a good boat. This is a lot of money for a secondary boat but good boats will hold their value reasonably well.
Builders in the mid- to late-1980s produced a good number of boats that fit this bill-the Olson 30, Tartan 10, Pearson Flyer, and J/30 for example-and in good numbers. The boats were distributed nationally, but the Olson 30 was more popular on the West Coast, while the others were more Midwestern and East Coast boats.

After spending hours scouring SAILING's brokerage listings, and a few weekends looking at boats, we settled on a 1984 J/30. We found our boat in Michigan, it has been lightly used and of course laid up for the long cold winters. We'll need to do a little work but we are starting with a good foundation. We took advantage of the slow market and grabbed the boat for $16,500.

Designed as a racer-cruiser, the J/30 is essentially a larger J/24. J Boats stretched the J/24 and raised the cabinhouse to give standing headroom-six feet at the aft end of the cabin. The J/30 proved successful, with almost 600 boats sold before production ended in 1989. While the J/30 is a proven performer around the buoys and a capable cruiser, it proved its mettle during the 1979 Fastnet storm. Two J/30s successfully came through the storm, one in the race with full race crew, the other being delivered singlehanded from Bermuda to later participate in the OSTAR singlehand race. Both boats were knocked down and ran for a bit under bare poles, but came through the storm in good form.

After carefully evaluating the boat we decided to start by race-prepping the hull. The prior owner had planned to template the keel and rudder, and as such had stripped the foils and already fabricated the templates. I don't know if templating is that much of an advantage but since the prep work was done I decided to go for it. This process involves contouring the keel and rudder to the design specs using prepared templates and known stations on the surfaces. If there are high spots you sand them down, if there are low spots you build them up with thickened epoxy. The process took us three weekends total, with some stops at the boatyard midweek to slather on epoxy so it had time to cure by the weekend. The cost was $275 in materials-epoxy and thickener, solvents, and sanding disks.

To finish off our newly templated and faired hull, we needed barrier coat and some slippery bottom paint. We opted for Interlux Interprotect 2000E and two coats of VC17m Extra with Biolux. The barrier coat and bottom cost us $325, plus rollers and tape.

Now that our hull was in order we needed sails. Once again we enlisted the help of Peter Grimm of Super Sailmakers in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Peter has raced the J/30 extensively since the boat was introduced in 1979 and had lots of good thoughts for us.

The J/30 was designed to be a class boat and as such did not pay a lot of attention to PHRF rules. The class-legal No. 1 genoa is 163%, the No. 2 is 145%, and the No. 3 is 105%. The standard factory spinnaker pole on the J/30 is 12.5 feet, while the J dimension is only 11.5 feet. The typical max girth PHRF allows is 180% of J, but on the J/30 this dimension works out to be 180% of the spinnaker pole length. All of these dimensions, though over normal PHRF allowances, are legal in a base PHRF rating on the J/30. Unless your sailmaker is well versed in the details of the J/30 you could cheat yourself with undersized sails.

Peter suggested a few options for sail material. The trade-offs are costs and how careful you want to be handling the sails between races. He suggested the fastest sails that make fiscal sense for the average sailor are laminates made from an Aramid (like Kevlar or Twaron) or Pentex, both of which have come down in price over the years as more manufacturers offer load-path technology sails. Peter's club race fabric uses Twaron fibers inserted between Mylar films to create a fast sail with good lamination. But he cautioned that all laminates require extra care to reach a reliable four- or five-year lifespan. A mainsail and class genoa in the fancier cloth would cost us about $5,900.

Peter offered premium Dacron sailcloth as an option if we didn't want to have the crew roll and remove a laminated mainsail at the end of the race day. He reasoned that on a well-sailed J/30 with the proper rig setup and sail shape controls, experienced sailors can go just as fast with Dacron as their friends with the laminates who think fancy sails don't need attention. In fact, he often tells many club racing sailors to take the money they'll save buying Dacron instead of laminates and spend it on good beer to keep a regular crew happy. Dacron saves a few hundred dollars per sail.

We opted to go with Aramid sails for the main and genoa, and will fill in with new jibs as the seasons progress. Our total bill for the two was $5,900. Peter threw in oversized spreader and stanchion patches to help protect our new genoa.

Our spinnaker was a little tired and Peter suggested using top-quality three-quarter-ounce nylon. He chose Contender Nylite 60, which is often referred to as a cruising fabric but in fact is great for club racing; it's very durable with good tear resistance. Contender also offers a high-end fabric called Superkote 60 but the cost difference is substantial. A spinnaker in Nylite costs $1,700, while upgrading to Superkote will cost us $2,500. Peter didn't feel that the cost difference was justifiable, and we tend to agree. Peter pounded this home by saying, "Bottom line, a club racer will not win or lose because of the difference in spinnaker fabric."

Peter offered us a few more tips on setting the boat up. He suggested that it would be a good idea to label all the rope clutches and cam cleats. Marking the halyards allows everyone to know when they have proper settings and makes it easier, even for core crew, to repeat the settings. He suggested that we get a copy of a tuning guide but not to go crazy working on every last detail. Proper headstay length, mast step position and shroud tension are the most critical.

Our sails and hull are in good shape, so we now need to connect them with some top-notch running rigging. The rigging that came with the boat was OK, but modern cordage is far lighter and less elastic. We'd rather use the power of the wind to push the boat than to stretch some old rope.

We started off with halyards, and to keep things within budget we decide to use New England Ropes VPC. VPC has a blended core of Vectran and polypropylene covered with a high-quality Dacron cover. It is a very nice rope and costs just $1 per foot in 5/16-inch, but has a 4,000-pound tensile strenghth and very low elasticity. We had our local rigger fabricate a jib and main halyard. The main halyard was 95 feet, with a Wichard headboard shackle spliced on, and a reeving eye on the bitter end to make the halyard easy to install. The jib halyard was similar but used a Wichard Snap Shackle. The spinnaker halyard was made of New England Ropes Sta-Set in 5/16-inch, and we had our rigger include a halyard ball to help reduce masthead chafe. The cost for the halyards was $450.

Our boat came with a nice gross/fine trim mainsheet system but the cordage was a little tired. We decided to replace the gross trim system for now and evaluate the fine trim system in a couple seasons. A single braid works really nice in a mainsheet tackle system and we just saw a cool rope from Yale Cordage called Ph.D at the Annapolis boat show. Ph.D, a Dacron and Vectran single braid, is really lightweight, low stretch, strong and handles really well. The sheet, with an eyesplice and whipping, cost us $160.

Our spinnaker pole was intact but appeared to be a victim of some boatyard wars. We had some room in the budget so we opted to replace it. We started out looking at aluminum poles but found a good deal on a Forte class-legal carbon fiber spinnaker pole. We ended up paying $1,100 for the pole, freight included.

The lifelines on our boat were original and not in the best of the shape. The plastic coating was missing in a lot of places, and bleeding rust in the places where it was intact. We opted to replace them with Spectra 12-strand-this option is just as strong, but a bit less resistant to chafe and UV damage. We chose 3/16-inch Amsteel Blue for the upper lifeline and 1/8-inch for the lower. We lashed the lines in place with some Dyneema core twine. Our rigger charged us $225 installed for all four lifelines.

The electronics on our boat were not real reliable so we decided to replace them all. In the interest of easy installation we opted for a Micronet wireless system from Tacktick. Our system consists of speed, depth, wind with two displays and all the transducers. We added an NMEA interface so that we could interface our GPS into the system-it is handy to monitor VMG and COG on the large cockpit display. This system cost us $2,400 and $75 in installation materials. In addition to the Tacktick gear we added a simple GPS and new VHF radio with a cockpit microphone. We have always had good luck with Icom radios so we decided to go with them again. We chose the M422 radio with a CommandMicII. This combination allows us access to all the important radio functions right in the cockpit. The radio and mic cost us $280. We chose the Garmin GPSMAP 421, which gives us all the GPS functions and basic chartplotting we need to help us get into unfamiliar harbors. We found a good price on the GPS at a boat show and snapped it up for $415.

We are all set to go racing and I have already planned some cruises on the off weekends. We'll see you out there.

Project list and
cost summary

1984 J/30:  $16,500

Retrofit budget:
1.    Template keel and
rudder    $275
2. Paint bottom    $325
3. Aramid main and
genoa    $5,900
4.    Nylite spinnaker    $1,700
5.    Running rigging    $610
6.    Spinnaker pole    $1,100
7.    Electronics    $2,475
8.    GPS    $415

Total retrofit work    $12,800
77.6% of purchase price
Grand total    $29,300