|ON BOARD: J/160
by Dennis Caprio
"Around the world, or the buoys: this J/Boat's got you covered"
BY THE TIME WE CLEARED THE channel out of Barrington, RI and made our first waypoint, the sun groggily peeked through the fog and promised a clear passage down Naragansett Bay. Wind out of the west at about 10 knots put us on a starboard tack, and the skipper ordered the engine shut down and the working jib unrolled. Silence.
J/160 hull number 1, Medallion, curtsied to the wind, then accelerated like an Olympic sprinter. Next stop, Port Washington, N.Y., 147 nautical miles away on the western end of Long Island.
Say what you will about boats being inanimate objects, the good ones come to life in the wind, and this 160 decimeter J Boat is one of the good ones. Although she feels magical, the design characteristics - she's narrow for her length, the rudder is large relative to the keel, and the vertical center of gravity (VCG) is low - that provide this feel aren't revolutionary. The way in which designer Rod Johnstone combined them, however, is what makes the J/160 special. For starters, the large rudder and significantly rockered bottom makes her willingly respond to the slightest input from the helm not in a nervous twitchy way, mind you, but confidently. A dead nuts accurate, quick and light steering system adds to the feeling of handiness.
Her motion in the moderate seas that we encountered off Point Judith and in The Race at the eastern end of Long Island Sound was gentle, soft even when she fell off the occasional square six footer. She gets her motion from a fine entry, more deadrise forward of the keel than you will find in a typical IMS hull, and the low VCG. Ballast concentrated at the flaring bottom of the keel and weight savings aloft from the Hall Spars carbon rig keep the VCG low and damp pitching.
WE EXPECT RACE BOATS TO BE very fast, but not cruisers. We saw nine knots and change in 15 knots true at apparent wind angles of 30 to 35 degrees; eight knots in 12 true at about 25 degrees apparent. Top speed under power is 9.5 knots. These speeds may not win the BOC, but they're most entertaining in a cruiser.
She ought to be a good ghoster, too, because Johnstone kept wetted surface area within reason. Low wetted surface area, lots of stability from the deep ballast and lightweight rig allow the boat to carry a lot of sail.
The J/160's performance and handling definitely put her in the offshore category. To ensure her integrity, her hell-for-stout is built at TPI Composites, using this company's patented SCRIMP resin infusion method. SCRIMP permits an optimal resin to fiber ratio and allows the builder to bond in the stringer system during layup. This avoids the weakness of secondary bonding.
Readers who know J Boats for its smaller simple racer/weekenders will be surprised by the comfort, spaciousness and luxury below. The teak joinery aboard hull number one may not be up to the standards set by Able, Hinckley or Morris, but you'd be hard pressed to fault it on quality for the price. A pair of after staterooms sleep two each on doubles and share the head (with telephone shower) starboard side at the foot of the companionway. This head is a little tight, but not enough to grieve about. The nav station, though, is extra roomy and equipped like a NASA spacecraft. It has two chart plotters, two GPS, radar, a barograph, Navtex weather fax, four radios, a cellular phone, two depth sounders, two speed logs and a B&G 790 instrument system.
The galley is big and easy to use, though the stowage outboard of the counters is a long reach for short folks. Not to worry - the cabinet door next to the stove has a foldout step built into it. A folding table spans the entire width of the saloon and will seat eight. I spent my 3 1/2 hour off watch in the pilot berth and slept like as brick because the foam adjusted to my shape - comfortable.
The deck, arranged for racing and cruising, has three-speed electric Lewmar primaries right forward of the wheel; main halyard, Cunningham, vang and reefing lines led via sheet stoppers to winches atop the house top; jib and spinnaker halyards, plus the furling and tack lines led to winches on the house top near the saloon hatch. The deck is large and uncluttered, but I'd prefer the optional teak toe rails for cruising. Is she perfect? No, but the compromises push my buttons.