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New Boats: A Mix of Speed and Smarts

While it’s safe to say that U.S. production boatbuilding is a shadow of its former self, one North American company that is still going strong is Rhode Island-based J/Boats. Not only that, but far from just surviving, the company continues to push the envelope, the same as it has done ever since it initially burst onto the sailing scene with the iconic J/24 in the mid-‘70s.

In his latest two designs, J/Boats designer Al Johnstone has decided to strike out in two very different directions that not only target two different points on the LOA spectrum but two very different types of sailing.

At the smaller end of the scale comes the 28ft J/9, what J/Boats is describing as a “comfortable, simple and easy-to-own daysailer.” Features include an expansive cockpit, tiller steering, basic but comfortable accommodations belowdecks (including a small head), and a surprisingly large swim and boarding platform aft.

In the interest of keeping things simple, the boat has been expressly designed to sail as well under mainsail alone as with the jib deployed; while below the waterline, the J/9 carries a high-aspect balanced spade rudder and 4ft, 11in keel in the interest of providing plenty of get up and go. (A shoal-draft fin is also available.) The hull and deck are both molded in E-glass with a Corecell foam core for light weight and stiffness. Spars are aluminum and finished in white. A spinnaker package is available as an option. And what’s not to love about that plumb—dare I say, tumblehome—bow?

Meanwhile, for those in need of a little more room to stretch out in, there’s the J/45, a new performance-cruiser that looks to be equally fun either on passage or on the racecourse. Highlights topside include twin helms, a fixed sprit forward, a powerful but easily depowered rig with an eye toward ease of use, and another one of Johnstone’s oh-so-flashy-looking plumb bows. The company’s SCRIMP infusion process is used throughout to ensure an ideal resin-to-glass ratio in the interest of stiffness and light weight, and the 7ft 6in keel consists of a cast-iron fin and lead bulb. (A 6ft 6in shoal-draft keel is also available as an option.)

Interestingly, the design credit belowdecks goes to interior designer Isabelle Racoupeau of France’s Berret-Racoupeau naval architects. In other words, J/Boats is as serious about making this new 45-footer as easy to live aboard as it is fast. After years of racing aboard the J/46 Vanish owned by Boston-area sailor Bill Jacobson, I find it fascinating to see how J/Boats’ idea of the perfect performance-cruiser in this size range has evolved over the past couple of decades. I can’t wait to see how both the J/45 and the J/9 perform out on the water when they launch later this spring.

Style Points to Burn

Of course, J/Boats isn’t the only boatbuilder with a knack for combining comfort, performance and style. Italia Yachts has also made a name for itself by checking these same boxes with a wide range of performance-cruisers, including its new Italia Yachts 14.98.

A collaboration between Maurizio Cossutti Yacht Design and the Italia Yachts design team, the first 14.98 to launch represented the “Bellissima,” or cruising version of the boat—as opposed to the “Fuoriserie” version optimized for racing. But don’t be fooled, the Bellissima version is as fast as it is stylish and will undoubtedly be effective on the racecourse as well.

The boat’s plumb ends maximize sailing length with the overall hull form optimized for sailing hard on the wind especially. The hull and deck are both vacuum-bagged in epoxy to ensure lightweight and rigidity. The layup includes a PVC foam core, with solid laminate and unidirectional carbon fiber in high-load areas, again with an eye toward both strength and rigidity. Two different T-keels with lead torpedoes are available drawing 9ft 11in or 8ft 4in. (A shoal draft keel drawing 6ft 4in is also available.) A single, high-aspect rudder will ensure a firm grip on the water both on and off the wind. The boat’s high-aspect, slightly overlapping genoa is deployed on a belowdeck furler—a sure sign the boat means business as maximizes the sail’s luff length—and a powerful A-sail can be flown from a combination anchor roller/sprit. Belowdecks, three different layouts are available. The overall look is sleek, but hardly stark.

Undoubtedly, those looking to max out their VMG’s will go for the Fuoriserie version of this great-looking 50-footer with its longer sprit, tiller steering and larger rig with square-top main. At the same time, though, it would be hard to imagine a more striking combination of speed and comfort than aboard the new 14.98 Bellissima. 

Italia Yachts

J/Boats 

March 2021

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