Although the new J/88 has very similar lines to the J/111 and J/70 that precede it, the boat still has a personality that is distinctly its own.
For example, whereas the J/111 is almost in “big boat” range with its 9,300lb displacement, 36ft 6in LOA and 663ft2 of sail area, the J/88 is refreshingly nimble with its 4,990lb displacement, 439ft2 of sail area and a LOA of just over 29ft.
Similarly, while the 22ft 9in J/70 is almost dinghy-like, with its lifting keel and minimal cuddy cabin, the J/88 feels dramatically more substantial, with 6ft 4in settees in the saloon, a fixed head, an inboard 14hp auxiliary, and a kind of “micro nav station.”
The result—like the J/29 that preceded it—is a boat that is fun and versatile, a seaworthy little sloop in which you can muscle your way through a choppy seaway or take the kids out for a sunny daysail.
During our test sail we had a fluky 11-knot easterly under cloudless skies out on Narragansett Bay. J/Boats’s Stuart Johnstone apologized that the bottom hadn’t been scrubbed in a couple of weeks. But the boat still did just fine, easily hitting 5-plus knots sailing at apparent wind angles in the high 30s and 7-plus knots on a reach.
Equally impressive was the way the boat handled, both when sailing a course and going through maneuvers. The transom-hung rudder is deep and powerful, providing so much control you have to be a bit careful—almost like in a dinghy. I suspect the boat will also prove forgiving, yet powerful in a blow.
The rig provides plenty of horsepower for driving the slippery hull in light air, but is not so big that you can’t muscle it under control when things get hairy. The A-sail, while enormous in relation to the boat, can still be handled by mere mortals.
As for the cockpit and deck layouts, these are vintage J/boats, complete with in-hauler rings on the cabintrunk to create close sheeting angles for the headsail, a Harken belowdeck jib furler and a vang that sheets to both port and starboard. The mainsail sheets to a traveller on the cockpit sole and includes both gross and fine tuning for optimal control in a wide range of wind velocities. According to Johnstone, the cockpit itself is essentially the same as that of the J/111 (recognized in SAIL’s 2011 Best Boats), only about a foot shorter. See the video of the J/88 undersail here.
The build quality and overall look of the J/88 are spare, but solid. The hull and deck are both cored for lightness and rigidity, and the layup appears to be neat and tidy, even in those nooks and crannies where it doesn’t have to be. The carbon mast is deck-stepped for easy handling when trailering; the retractable sprit is also carbon fiber. All in all, it’s another sweet-sailing speedster that does justice to its predecessors.