It was the perfect test for the new J/108. We were in Key West, and the light southerly breeze was opposing an ebb tide, creating a nasty chop in the shipping channel, so we opted instead to make an end run between Sunset Key and Wisteria Island.
Doing so in a typical, deep-draft, 35-foot J/Boat would have been risky at best—on the chart the passage between the two islands shows a couple of narrow 8-foot channels flanked by unmarked shoals. But the J/108 is no typical J. Like the 31-foot J/95, which came out in 2009, the J/108 features a shoal-draft keel and centerboard, and twin rudders. The basic hull form is the same as the acclaimed J/109, which draws 7 feet, much too much for comfort in this kind of a situation. But with the centerboard up draws just under 4 feet—about the same as a J/24!
In fact, this is precisely why J/Boats created the new design. The company’s performance-cruisers and one-designs have been wildly popular over the years wherever there’s plenty of deep water. But J/Boats has achieved much less success in thin-water country, like the Florida Keys. Although many sailors, myself included, looked askance at the J/95—how could you have true J/Boats performance without a deep keel—the boat has been a success, both critically and commercially, so that it just made sense to upsize the formula.
“I had customers telling me they loved the J/95, but they wanted something bigger,” said J/Boats dealer Craig Crossley of Sarasota, Florida’s, CrossCurrent Marine. “This is something the market as been asking for.”
Sure enough, as we motored out of the dredged channel toward the anchorage in the lee of Wisteria Island, the depth sounder plunged to 14, 10 and then 7 feet. Aboard a J/109 we would have been biting our fingernails and likely touching bottom. Aboard the J/108, it was a piece of cake.
Under sail, the J/108 proved equally impressive. Although the light breeze never topped 10 knots, the boat proved nimble on the wind and tacked easily and without hesitation—even when we wandered into the light chop on the edge of the aforementioned shipping channel. As a testament to the boat’s ability, I completely forgot about lowering the centerboard until near the end of the sail. Doing so via a pair of control lines on the cabintop was a effortless. (The boat draws 6 feet 9 inches with the board down.) The boat is also purportedly plenty offshore capable, having had to contend with some pretty heavy weather during sea trials off the French coast.
As is the case with the J/95, the twin rudders provide fingertip control. The helm is so responsive you have to mentally readjust to avoid over-steering. At first I found this heightened sensitivity a little too much. But I soon grew used to it. Under power, you have complete low-speed control, both in forward and reverse. Spinning the boat around and then backing into our slip at the end of the boat test proved effortless. I suspect it wouldn’t take long before this kind of performance ruins you for conventional single-rudder steering.
Of course, twin rudders also mean a better chance of picking up weed—“twin kelp catchers” as one passing sailor remarked on the dock. But on the plus side, with the two rudders clearly visible from the helm position, it’s also easy to identify if and when you’ve caught anything. Midway through our sail, I noticed a brownish clump at the base of the blade. No problem. We just backed down until the clump went away.
Although, the J/108 employs the same basic hull form as the J/109, it is very a different boat. In addition to completely different underwater appendages, it features an open transom with a removable dock box, a restyled cabintop, German mainsheet arrangement, and a shorter rig and 500 additional pounds of ballast to accommodate the effects of shoal draft on righting moment. There is also a fixed bowsprit with a dedicated anchor roller and a tack point for a reaching sail. A retractable sprit, like that found on the J/109, is an option.
Belowdecks, the J/108 provides the same practical arrangement common on many J/Boats. Conventional settees in the saloon (no unnecessary curves) provide good, basic sea berths. A head and shower is located to starboard of the companionway, and includes a hatch in the aft bulkhead for accessing a large cockpit locker. There is a good-sized quarterberth to starboard, and the nav station is good sized for mid-30-footer. One of the nice things about having a permanent bowsprit is that it doesn’t intrude on the V-berth in the bow, as is the case with the retractable sprit found on most J/Boats.
The hull, deck and main bulkhead area all constructed using the SCRIMP resin-infusion method, and the hull includes a vinylester barrier coat to prevent blistering. The keel is epoxy-coated iron, standing rigging is rod, and the mast and boom are aluminum. The 30hp auxiliary was more than up to the task of keeping the boat on the go as the wind fell light toward the end of our sail. At 2,000 rpm we still did nearly 7 knots. The J/108’s wide sidedecks and well-designed cockpit are vintage J/Boats, making it easy to go forward or trim sails underway. The main traveler is located on the cockpit sole immediately of the forward of the helm, right where it belongs if you care about mainsail trim.
Alas, I was also in Key West to cover race week and had to get back to the regatta media center. Otherwise I could have stayed out on the J/108 all afternoon. I suspect we are going to see more and more of these shoal-draft J/boats designs. The combination of thin-water ability and sparkling performance is that compelling.
LWL 30 ft 6 in
BEAM 11ft 6 in
DRAFT 4ft (board up) 6ft 9in
DISPLACEMENT 11,400 lb
SAIL AREA 603 FT2
J/Boats Inc. – jboats.com
BASE BOAT PRICE – $249,000