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Upffront 2020 Foredeck Club LEADERBOARD

For the sheer joy of it. (Part I)

by John Curnow, Global Editor, 28 Oct 2021 09:00 BST
Yes it was this image of the J/45 that started the ball rolling here at Sail-World © J/Boats

J/Boats' new J/45 is here. So alert the media. Oh. That'd be us... Anyway, we not only know about the J/45, we very much kind of love it. It actually all started with this hero image, and the sheer line it so very well portrayed. The profile image then added to it all with that slightly reverse bow, and transom, along with a touch of overhang for both. They showed there was more than a hint of power, and more than a soupçon of grace in the lines penned by the Johnstone family.

Yes. That sheer line is something else. A proper boat you might say. The J/45 has a lower freeboard than you might think, and her maximum beam of 4.25m is carried at about the same point as the leading edge of the companionway hatch. These two attributes are significant for they certainly mark the J/45 as distinctly different from other vessels in the class, do not afford the easiest path forward to delivering volume down below, and actually highlight exactly how the new J/45 came into being in the first place.

Undeniably you are left with the impression that this is one real passage maker. She has slick lines, clean decks, and together with her sail plan, the J/45 has all the elements of being the sailor's fast cruiser. It is a stylish craft for sure, and forward orders have her spanning the globe already, with the first ones going to reside in Europe, the USA, Australia, and the UK.

To learn more about how she came to be, we asked Fred Bouvier from the shipyard, J/Composites, to detail the rationale. "It all started more than four years' ago by us looking at the market, and where we have come from. A bigger boat is not something new for J/Boats, but it has been more than two decades since we have been in this space. Our biggest boat for years was the J/122, so it was clearly time to get our foot back inside this segment, and it just took us almost three years as a project to achieve the outcome that is now with us as the J/45."

"The main reason for the long gestation is because of everything we wanted to offer. This boat clearly had to remain a J, you know fit perfectly into our DNA, so a lot of attention was paid to the profile view; making it for cruising, not making ugly, high freeboard, and wide."

"All of that was so that we could keep proper performance, working a lot on the hull shape to make it, as is any J/Boat, the most versatile of performing boats. This encompasses light wind setting, upwind, downwind and everything else, which seems to be rarer and rarer, especially the light wind VMG on cruising boats."

"Then on top of all of that, fitting close to the same down below as what you can find throughout the market of performance 45-footers", said Fred by way of explaining the conundrum.

Now a boat is always a compromise. Somewhere. More comfort is against performance, and more performance is most of the time against comfort. Here was the nexus for the J/Team, for they relied on the quality of building with infusion for all the composites, which delivers a known level of weight saving, and also provides for a definitive level of stiffness that again is well inside their knowledge bank. See this video to learn about infusion.

Now the really clever part was to turn their collective thinking from that of compromise, to instead one of combination. Voila. Now you see possibility, where once there was just more of the same.

"Only then can fit as much as the others inside, without increasing the weight of the boat, nor compromise the mass of the keel. The really tricky part was to do so, whilst retaining the hull shape, which is not as beamy or high. This meant a lot of work into the details in every single corner of the boat, looking for centimetres or even sometimes millimetres to gain, pushing everything as much as possible."

So the big challenge resulting from this is providing room to all the systems, and this is very complicated. "Others have a decent margin of space everywhere to run all the systems easily, including all of the options on their price list. We had to ensure that when you went down below the feeling you get would be the same as afforded by having a more voluminous hull form."

"This is the essence of our philosophy: to always do everything better. We don't talk about it as being 'This is new, this is new, this is a new concept, we have these new features, and new, new, new.' On the J there is nothing really new, but we don't care, we don't want to find new things; we just do things better everywhere", explained Fred.

"We don't try to reinvent the wheel, just stick to the essentials, and do things better. It's reflected in us getting a 45 that is the easiest to handle for the crew on the water, and most importantly has a J level of comfort, finishing, and equipment that you never experienced before in our brand, all as a result of better design, inside and out."

How do you make it so?

To achieve their perfect combination, they pushed everything as much as possible inside, without starting to stretch to the limit of what can make a nice, high performance cruising boat, and a J on the outside. A lot of discussion took place about the overall design, and alas we can now see why three years were spent in the making of what we now have in the form of the J/45.

Isabelle Racoupeau was given the interior for this vessel, whilst J/Boats and J/Composites took care of conception, naval architecture, and engineering. "This ensures the brand does not lose consistency with its DNA. You know, the J/45 is the perfect combination between US pragmatism and French flair."

No matter how you put it, we just love the J/45's slightly reverse bow and transom to increase LWL so significantly, especially on heel. Then her total hull form is what produces the magic when under way, in addition to the beauty at rest, which is what caught our eye so strongly in the first place.

Clearly being slender in freeboard brought some challenges, especially with territory down below. Fred commented on achieving such volume when there would not appear to be as much on offer in the first place by saying, "Sometimes this is simply obtaining half a centimetre there and over there in the corner, change that, just so the POB have the proper headroom in the aft head, or deliver the air-conditioning, and piping, or if you want to add something as an option without getting into trouble. This is where the years went." Millimetres take time it would appear. Percentile gains and all, hey.

Stiff is good!

It's not that long ago that a cruising 45-footer would be 14-15 tonnes yet the J/45 is just ten and a half metric tonnes. That's quite a significant achievement, especially because you have two additional elements affording great benefits. There's the full resin-infused structure, and a nearly four tonne bulb at the end of the 2.32m (std. total draft) fin.

"As part of the whole J/45 project we undertook a deep survey of our competitors. If they would like to get the same ballast ratio, the same bulb weight that we get, then they would all be at least 10% heavier than what we are."

I mean if you've got four tonne downstairs out of ten tonnes overall, it means six tonnes in the boat, and more importantly it also means that you can carry a wicked sail plan, even though your form might not have the same inherent righting moment. The proof is in the 180m2 ace, which definitively suggests this is the case, because that's a big ace for a 45-foot cruising boat.

All in all it comes straight back to what does performance really look like? "If you just say performance it means nothing, and everyone says their craft is a nice, high performance cruiser. If you're racing, then winning is a good way to define what it means, but for cruising, you're still after the key point."

"Talking a lot with customers at Cannes I got to define what it all means. If you are cruising you are relaxed. You are not in a hurry. You are not making a race to be the first one somewhere, so is it really important to be 0.8 knots faster? Maybe not. So is this a key point of the J/45? Probably not."

"We are clearly the fastest overall of the actual market but this is not the biggest point. Whereas, if you have a proper performing cruising boat, like the J/45, it is what the performance will offer you not in terms of speed, but in terms of pleasure and feeling of your boat. This is the answer to cruising performance."

If you ponder it a bit longer, you understand that most people cruise in 5-18 knots. Yes. Some will push the limit further, and the boat has to be built for that, but it is not where the bulk of your time is spent.

Fred would add, "In 15 knots all boats go fast. Because all boats start to get fully powered then, even the ones with small rigs and small keels. What makes your speed on semi displacement boats is your dynamic waterline length. So this is not the key to be fast here. Everyone will go at their hull shape speed."

"Between 4 knots sometimes and to 9 knots of wind is where the performance translates easily into pure pleasure with boats like the J/45. This is because even from 5 knots of wind you will be the only one to be able to start to do proper sailing, even upwind where you will achieve a proper speed. Now it's not that you are in a hurry to reach the next stop or the next mooring, it's simply about how much pleasure it will it give you, and this is when our point of difference will be even more than just the 10% speed gain you have."

Fred is at pains to elaborate that the exponential gains in feeling is directly attributable to the sail to ballast ratio. Boats with smaller sail plans and less keel cannot deliver power early, and will therefore take longer to overcome inertia. Concurrently, you will not get as much gain from correct trimming, so your pleasure factor goes down. Way down. A bit like the size of the hole in the water you are making.

If it is just 5-6 knots of pressure and you're making the same in boat speed, then you have the smile on the dial, as the boat accelerates with every puff, and then this translates back on the wheel, too. You will feel exactly what you are doing. It is totally symbiotic. More fun equals more application, which translates to more concentration, delivering better results, and thereby yet even more pleasure, and so the cycle continues.

Stemming from his time sailing the new large cruiser, Fred states, "So yes you are faster, but that's not the key for us. The key is to be able to sail a boat that you are going to fully enjoy steering in 6 knots of wind, as well as playing with your boat. Meaning things like taking on the jib sheet and the inhauler, and just take a centimetre there, open the leech, or close the leech, and then see directly the effect on the numbers."

"It's a part of the whole concept and that's part of what we call a performance cruising boat. This is pure J/Boat DNA; a boat that's a pleasure to sail easily in any conditions. It is what we think is a proper performance cruiser."

What does it all translate to?

"To give you some idea of the performance itself, whilst doing a delivery from Spain to Cannes, with the dealer on board, they were sailing the boat uphill in 6.5 knots of wind, so VMG tacking, and they were achieving 6.5 knots of speed with just the jib up. No Code Zero, which is something you don't find on any other of our competitors. You're going through 80 degrees for your tacks, and you're close hauled, sailing at the speed of the wind." The video of the J/45 sailing is below.

By way of reference, Hull #1 had only been in the water a few weeks when Fred and I spoke, and because of her overall pace, he'd already amassed 200nm in her, in all manner of conditions, as well. So the numbers are real, and so too is the pleasure it would seem. These are proud sailors, very happy with the outcome of such a process to get right here, right now. Take the J/45 virtual tour below.

Right oh. As the headline said, this has been Part I, and it is now done. However, fear not, for Part II will be along soon enough. Stand by please.

Seasonally adjusted

It was always one of my favourite terms when doing economics, and I guess you're a full-blown nerd if you think statistics is cool, but if the shoe fits...

At any rate, as the Northern Hemisphere winds up from Boat Show season et al, the Southern Hemisphere is emerging from lockdown with a vengeance, and Beneteau seem to jumping in hard and fast, with their Rendezvous at Sydney's Darling Harbour slated for Friday November 12, and Saturday November 13. Flagstaff Marine will be offering test sails by booking only on the Excess 12 cat, Oceanis 30.1, and First 27. On display only will be the impressive Oceanis 40.1, and also the mighty Oceanis 51.1. Book Here.

The Multihull Group will be presenting the lagoon 42, and you can book for that here.

So you see, there are stories, lessons, inspirations and history to regale yourself with. Please use the search window at the top of the home page if you are after something specific, as only the latest news appears on the site as you scroll down. We enjoy bringing you the best stories from all over the globe.

If you want to see what is happening in the other Hemisphere, go to the top of the Sail-WorldCruising home page and the drag down menu on the right, select the other half of the globe and, voila, it's all there for you.

Finally, stay safe, and ready for all that the rest of the year will offer.

John Curnow
Global Editor,

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