J/65 SAIL Magazine Review- Kimball Livingston
In the business world, planners often wonder whether a given model will “scale.” In the sailing world that’s not critical, but it’s interesting when it happens, and rarely has a design concept been carried as far as J Boats has gone with its new J/65. Two are in the water now, in the hands of experienced owners. While the interior spaces and systems were customized for each owner, the underlying design for the company’s new flagship is very much a scaled-up version of the smaller cruiser-racers in the J Boats’s line. The design brief emphasizes performance under nonoverlapping headsails, easy doublehanded operation, and a minimum of ondeck maintenance.
Company president Jeff Johnstone says, “We’ve been seeing two trends. There are veteran sailors who want simple, elegant daysailers—it’s no accident the J/100 came out a year ahead of the J/65—but there are others who prefer to adventure offshore in events like the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers. Within that group are people who want something bigger and faster than a J/160 (both J/65 owners had owned J/160s), but want to be sure that when a puff hits, they can feel the boat accelerate.”
J Boats has many brand-devoted owners, including several who can afford much larger boats. But rather than hire a paid crew, they savor the role of an owner-skipper sailing with family and friends. Anyone familiar with the company’s cruiser-racer approach—from the 109 to the 46 to the 160—will feel very much at home aboard a J/65.
If you were to wake from a deep sleep in the interior of a J/65, you might wonder if you’d shrunk. Every element below is familiar, but larger. Probably this is as scaled-up as a true J/Boat can get. While the 65 certainly can be owner-sailed, most of them probably will not be owner-maintained. You cannot put an owner-sailor in a significantly bigger boat without creating forbidding layers of complexity. Customization is standard on larger yachts, and this is also true of the 65; there is far more potential for customization than in the rest of the J Boat line. Hull #1, which is home ported in Hawaii, has the standard nine-foot draft and is equipped for global cruising. Hull #2, built for a Southern California sailor who also owns a hot canting-keel racer, evolved as it was built into something racier than was originally intended. It has a 10.5-foot keel, and its shakedown “cruise” was the 2006 Puerto Vallarta race (in which, it should be noted, the crew did not lack for creature comforts).
The J/65 hull is a vinylester-infused SCRIMP laminate of unidirectional and biaxial E-glass. More carbon was used in the hull of #2 than in #1, and #2’s owner also chose an all-carbon deck and transom. The hull is cored with end-grain Baltek balsa; CoreCell 500 is used in the deck. The forward ring frame and the fore and aft watertight bulkheads are all made of carbon. Where ventilation shafts penetrate the bulkheads, glands are fitted to preserve watertight integrity. The shafts are built into the composite structure and also serve as longitudinal stringers. Active ventilation also clears the bilge and engine room. On hull #2, the vents also are part of the dehumidifying system in the showers, allowing them to function well as drying rooms for wet gear.
Bow-on, the J/65 has a fine, purposeful entry; in profile it looks very much a mem ber of the J family. Like its smaller brethren, it is a moderate-displacement design with a powerful sailplan and a light helm. The 65 is 11.8 feet longer than the J/160, but carries only 1.5 feet more beam. Though it is slightly lighter for its length than the J/160, it has almost the same amount of sail area relative to its displacement. “The boat could have been racier,” Johnstone says. “We looked at honeycomb floorboards, then asked if it was worth it to spend eight grand to save a hundred pounds in the middle of the boat. The decision was no, that’s extravagant.”
The deck is an easy environment in which to work and relax. The helm is elevated to improve visibility, and the traveler is recessed into the cockpit sole to keep from tripping up crew. The traveler is mounted in line with turning blocks port and starboard to minimize friction in the mainsheet. The well for the 72-inch wheel is plumbed, Johnstone says, so “we hope” it does not siphon water, which can be a problem with big, recessed wheels. A foot-stomp vang release at the helm provides assurance that, if you find the boat’s limit, you can also find a way out. And the steering pedestal is aft of the engine-compartment bulkhead, which reduces engine noise. As Johnstone explains, “A lot of engine noise can come up through a pedestal.”
The mainsheet winches are within reach of the helmsman, which is important for shorthanded sailing. The emergency tiller can be mounted easily and quickly through a port to the rudderstock. Its not very long, so it might be hard to manhandle in a blow, but tiller lines can be easily run to winches if the helm loads get overpowering. As Johnstone points out, the emergency tiller can be used while a steering-system problem gets fixed. In cruising mode, however, the backup of choice would be the autopilot. The standard winch package includes a pair of hydraulic three-speed Lewmar 77 primaries in the cockpit, with several lesser Lewmars strategically placed on the coachroof and near the helm. Thanks to the extra-high stanchions mounted outboard on the molded toerail, the deck feels secure and is easy to move around on. Forward of the dual-direction Lewmar hydraulic windlass, the bow can accommodate a removable anchor roller, another feature facilitating transitions between cruising and racing. The Hall Spars triple-spreader carbon mast is designed to perform without checkstays. The mast can be rigged with checkstays, however, to help support an inner forestay in high winds. On hull #1, the carbon boom has a deep V shape to catch the mainsail as it is lowered. Navtec rod rigging completes the package, and dual jib tracks port and starboard maximize the ability to shape headsails. The Navtec hydraulic boomvang, backstay, and outhaul are plumbed with the traveler to four-function panels on each side of the cockpit, accessible to trimmer or helmsman. The J/65’s companionway is one of the best I’ve come across, thanks to a hard-to-analyze combination of heights and angles, and it’s a joy climbing into or out of the boat’s interior. To port is designer Rod Johnstone’s familiar U-shaped galley. To starboard is a generous nav station and forward of the saloon the signature oval-shaped door. There is extra volume and elbowroom in all directions, plus room for a seaberth alongside the passage to the forward cabin and considerable storage in the bow (ac cessible from the deck). The owner’s forward stateroom has a private shower, while the twin aft cabins share a head and shower.
Among the many custom touches on hull #2 is climate-controlled stack of slide-out wine racks. The primary fridge box, located near the centerline, is accessible from the top and from port and starboard—easy to get into on any point of sail.
The cabin sole throughout is raised 4 inches to allow for the installation of wiring above the stringers; there’s still plenty of headroom, and the wires—there are lots of them—do not have to run through holes in the stringers. An aluminum grid, which can be removed to improve access to the bilge, supports the flooring.
A smart-looking electrical panel is mounted aft of the nav station. It had better look good; it’s big. And it’s a reminder that you can’t have luxuries afloat without a certain degree of complexity. The 12V/24V system on hull #2 includes nine AGM batteries, a 24V DC alternator, and a 12kW generator, for example. Tucked away under that perfect companionway is a 125-horsepower Yanmar four-cylinder diesel, well insulated and easily accessed.
But does she handle well? Of course she does. A bow thruster isn’t necessarily needed for docking or undocking, but it’s nice to know that it’s there. You’d rather sail than motor, but it’s nice to know that you can make 8.6 knots under power at cruising RPM’s, and that you can turn on a dime. And with this much sail area, having mechanical assistance for hoisting a sail or furling a jib—or trimming a jib—well, that’s nice too. And then, who could resist a boat with such quick acceleration and fingertip response on the helm?
Sailing off San Diego in a breeze in the teens, the J/65 easily made 8 to 9 knots upwind. The balanced high-aspect rudder is hung as far aft as it will go, so the boat responds to every tiny input from the helm. This is a machine for people who want to feel the boat alive beneath them. It’s proof that you don’t have to give that up just to have air conditioning, flat-panel TVs, a wine cooler, and pretty much any other luxury you could name. Jeff Johnstone likes to say, “We define comfort as comfort at sea.” And that’s what the J/65 delivers at every level.