Hard on the heels of the 2002 introduction of its new 35-footer, the J/109, J Boats followed up this past fall by sprouting yet another high-performance sprit-boat. Bracketed between the 40-foot J/120 and the 48-foot J/145, the new 43-foot J/133 stakes a claim in the highly competitive mid-40s size range. An extrapolation of the 109, it seeks to combine the fun and performance of an easy-to-handle asymmetric spinnaker flown from a retractable carbon-fiber sprit pole with interior accommodations that are truly habitable. I hopped aboard hull number one in September after the Sail Expo show at Liberty Landing in Jersey City, New Jersey, on a delivery run to Annapolis, Maryland, to test the boat offshore.
J Boats is known for turning out vessels that are a joy to sail, and the new J/133 does not disappoint in this regard. Having always enjoyed sailing Js in protected waters, I was eager to try one offshore. The J/133 turned out to be a revelation. Running down the New Jersey coast our first night with just a light northwesterly blowing over our starboard quarter, I would normally have expected to spend several hours listening to a droning diesel. Instead we hoisted the asymmetric spinnaker. On a broad reach with just 6 to 10 knots of apparent wind, the big low-cut A-sail kept us moving at about windspeed. We made honest progress toward our destination and had the fun of actually sailing the boat. On deliveries this is known as Nirvana.
Flying a spinnaker at night does entail certain risks. The wind started building, the boat started hitting speeds well over 10 knots-and then a tug and barge appeared in front of us, apparently on a collision course. The options were to steer down and try to cross its bow or to head up and pass it port to port. In terms of collision avoidance the latter was obviously preferable, but the wind was strong enough that heating up the angle on the chute added some pressure on the helm. The 133's generously sized high-aspect rudder had no problem handling the load-steering stayed true and precise, with no hint of the foil stalling out.
We doused the chute, and later, after we passed Barnegat Inlet and shifted course more to the west, the wind came forward of the beam. Again, boatspeed was excellent-better than 10 knots under full main and jib in 15 knots-plus of apparent wind. When the wind built to 20 knots-more than we anticipated when leaving Liberty Landing-we regretted not having reeved reef lines for the main. No worries. We just rolled up the headsail and continued on under main alone. The helm stayed balanced, and boatspeed stayed up over 7 knots. After sunrise we ran the reef lines, and with two reefs in the main and a full jib our speed hopped up to well over 9 knots.
Next test: motorsailing. Because the rig is too tall for the Cape May canal, we had to turn the corner into Delaware Bay outside Cape May. It is a hellish place in a strong breeze and generates a steep chop calculated to loosen dentures and damage kidneys. We bashed straight into it, power-tacking into the 20-to-25-knot northwesterly with the double-reefed main sheeted down tight and the 56-horsepower Yanmar ticking away at about 2,300 rpm. I can't pretend it was a comfortable ride. Any light modern boat with shallow bilges will slam unmercifully in such conditions, and the J/133 was no exception. We did make good progress, however, and boatspeed stayed up around 7 knots.
From there it was all downhill. The wind died away as we worked our way up the bay, and once in flat water the engine had no problem maintaining a cruising speed just over 8 knots. That evening we tied up in the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal for about four hours to catch up on sleep and arrived in Annapolis early the next morning. All told, even with our little pit stop, we covered the 250-mile passage in just 36 hours.
Our boat had the optional two-cabin layout, which features a guest stateroom aft opposite a second head (the standard three-cabin layout is shown). On the whole, we found it very livable. J Boats has a reputation for designing hulls that maximize sailing ability, while at the same time filling those hulls with living quarters that make the most of what is available without offending performance. In the case of the J/133, this translates to plenty of headroom (6 feet, 4 inches), lots of attractive cherry joinery, and generous storage in the staterooms (large hanging lockers, plus lots of cabinets). The forward master stateroom seems particularly spacious for a performance boat of this size, in spite of the tube housing the sprit pole that slices down the starboard side.
For a boat on passage, other touches I liked were the excellent nav station, with a full-size desktop and adequate room for useful electronics installations, and the effective but simple wet locker in the aft head. The toilets in both heads are well positioned and easy to use in a seaway, and handholds throughout the boat are superb, with a nice mix of well-placed vertical and horizontal strong points that make it easy for both short and tall people to move around safely.
The shallow U-shaped galley does allow a cook to brace into place when preparing food under way, but stowage is stingy for a boat of this size. Aside from four quite small drawers, everything must fit into one open space behind long sliding panels. This works okay on port tack, but on starboard, if the boat is heeling at all, everything wants to leap out at once when you slide open a panel.
Rig and deck
No surprises here. Everything is simple enough for a small crew to handle. The carbon mast with double swept-back spreaders requires no runners or checkstays. The sprit makes flying the A-sail a low-stress prospect. (Be sure, however, to get a snuffer on that A-sail. Our sail was more than we bargained for on the takedown.) The 105 percent jib is easy to tack. Key lines (the main halyard and reef lines) are led aft to the cockpit. The spinnaker and jib halyards are left at the mast to reduce the spaghetti build-up around the companionway. The low-profile coachroof and wide side decks are easy to move around on.
The cockpit, likewise, is thoughtfully laid out. The lazaret and enormous seat locker offer scads of storage space. Winches and leads are well positioned, the helmsman can easily reach the double-ended mainsheet on the traveler right in front of the wheel, and headsail sheets can be smoothly led across the pit when in full racing mode. The size of the wheel (60 inches) is, in my opinion, perfect-just big enough to make it easy to steer comfortably from the rail, but not so big it is hard to move around. My one complaint is that the shallow cockpit coamings offer little back support.
The J/133 combines ease of handling, fingertip helm control, and stellar sailing performance with interior accommodations that can support multiple couples or a family in comfort on an extended cruise. The boat is powerful enough to do well on a racecourse and just big enough to lure in serious performance cruisers who find the living space on the J/120 or J/109 a bit too tight. Charles J. Doane
Price: $355,000 (base, FOB Warren, RI), includes Hall Spars carbon-fiber mast, Navtec rod rigging, hydraulic backstay, Harken MKIII furler, Force 10 propane stove, AGM batteries
Builder: J Boats; Newport, RI; tel. 401-846-8410; www.jboats.com
Construction: SCRIMP infusion-molded sandwich with biaxial and quadraxial E-glass and Baltek Super-Light 45 end-grain balsa core in both hull and deck. Vinylester resin throughout. Hull-to-deck joint bonded with Plexus MA550.
964 sq ft (100% foretriangle)
Sail area-displ. ratio