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Good thinking, 99!

by John Curnow, Editor, Sail-World AUS 1 Nov 2020 13:00 PST
Power up with the 105m2 A2 © J Composites

Well yes it is, Max. So we thought we might Get Smart after reviewing this video once more, and come back to have another look at the J/99 after quite a hiatus.

So as it would happen, J/Boats actually did a lot of good thinking when it came to the J/99 Speedster. Right off the bat, 65 craft sold and right around the world means this is the sales champ of this burgeoning 30-something sector, and that's more than enough to sit up and pay attention.

Now at this juncture it's important to get into the thinking of the J/99, and who better to talk with than Frédéric Bouvier, who is the Commercial Manager at J Composites Europe in Les Sables-d'Olonne, which is where they build them. More importantly for us, he's also the one on the tiller in the aforementioned video...

"I must say this was pretty fun sailing. We decided at the last minute to go for it, as the only missing element in the weather forecast from the residual tempest 'Alex', was the sun. We were set to go at 1400hrs from the famous port of the Vendée Globe, and could already feel the backwash of the swell in this protected area."

"The direction of the wind meant that we could sail just two minutes on a reach before hoisting the kite. So it was a big adrenaline rush for Marion Boutemy and I. She's the young person on board, part of a local offshore academy, and also getting ready for a Mini 6.5 campaign."

"15 minutes after jumping on board we were sailing an average speed of 13 knots, and with each wave we would reach above 16 knots, and sometimes over 18! The wind was easily manageable, but the 3.5m waves were quite challenging for our 32'6" boat. In fact the wind shadow at the bottom of the waves was making the trim of the kite very challenging for Marion."

Just how much fun?

"Imagine running at 18 knots down (boat speed wind 25-30knots) the wave in 20-25 knots TWS and having the wind decreasing by more than 10 knots in the bottom half of your sail plan when you got to the bottom of the waves. So the most challenging part was the wind shadow. It was not easy, but pretty exciting."

Bouvier added, "Of course it meant you had to concentrate on the helm, but as you can see on the video, the boat was very much in control. I was able to place it like a 470 dinghy. We didn't broach at all even during the second run, just had to ease and flap the kite once, when we were on the edge of the lip of large wave."

"So the other part of this sailing adventure was the return upwind. As you can imagine it was slightly longer, but I was also very impressed on how the boat handled facing these tons of water. We had our heavy weather jib and full main up. I set the sail quite easily, and twisted it to keep the boat easy to place. We were sailing a bit more open in the angle, but constantly above 7 knots."

"Surprisingly we remained quite dry, except from one wave that I couldn't escape, and decided to break it on the side of the boat. With the stability that the bulb keel offered we went back on our feet in less time than you need to read it here."

"We took a bit of care in all our manoeuvres, with a retrieving line pulled from the cockpit for the kite. Again, I have to say how much I have been impressed with how easy we were. When back in the channel, and with daylight starting to decrease, we also realised that we had spent over four hours out there, when we thought it had been less than a couple. This gives you an idea as to the level of fun, which was really intense on board," said Bouvier about the day.

Now it would be easy to think that of course he's going to say that, but Benjamin Dutreux, a renowned Figaro racer and starting his first Vendée Globe on November 8 had the following to say after a few sails on the J/99. "What is the most interesting with this boat is how versatile it is in both performance and handling. It may not be the boat that will hit the world speed record of the year, but the speed is always high in any range of wind, and at any angle."

"I have also been surprised how easy it is to make her perform. Sometimes you need weeks on board a boat to start to understand the performance characteristics. In less than an hour with the J/99 you'll already get more than 95% of the potential speed," said Dutreaux in closing.

Versatility is the J/99's strongest point

The J/99 is designed by Alan Johnstone, in close collaboration with Didier Le Moal, who is the President of J Composites, to not be too extreme, and perform well all around, no matter whether it is in short-handed or crewed mode, and to measurement systems all around the world. It was also fully engineered in-house at J Composites.

Bouvier is confident that main reason for the boat's success (remember 65 so far and counting) in so many countries now is that versatility, so where others might be very localised, they have a global platform.

"We were clear that the hull, deck, and rig had to be the best, and then let other aspects be tailored to the owner's style of racing. Some will say they are One Design, but we know this space (think J/111), and this is really difficult for global markets. Often they get optimised for their own kind of racing. Most J/99s so far have been optimised for ORC."

Now we'll get into the permutations and combinations shortly, but for now take a look at this. "The boat is €115,000 ex-works standard, but most interestingly it can be ready to race with proper sails and electronics at €160,000, whilst all our actual competitors reach above €185,000. The main reason is that we have developed a high performance custom aluminium mast that negates the need for owners to stump up for a carbon mast. The feedback in performance has been highly positive so far, with confirmation of the ability to race at equal level in a J/99 with its aluminium mast, against the competitors with a carbon mast."

"The mast is a special subject because of the serious development and study that were applied to achieve such a good spar. We have won a lot of races with the J/112E that also deploys this kind of mast. In small boats a carbon mast is very stiff, and we wanted versatility, so that we could have a flat main. Interestingly, our tube is 75kg, and the carbon one on a Figaro3, which is a similar height, is only 69kg, so there is not a lot in it."

"Then you add in J Boats premium quality with sandwich infused hull, deck, bulkheads and structure, level of finishing, and deck hardware higher than most offer as their standard package."

Just on that, the 3.8 metric tonne J/99 is vinylester on the outerskin all the way to the top of the gunwale. It is an average of 15mm foam and balsa. Now foam is lighter for the flat sections, but balsa is better for the curves, as you use less volume of resin in a batter ratio that is stronger. It also has another upside, which is that it is far better for compression, and thereby reducing the nasty subject of delamination. The deck is a sandwich of foam only.

The differences

"We have mainly sold the asymmetric version, which is clearly the J Boats DNA. It is probably something like 10% in the symmetric configuration, and this is mainly in France because here the double-handed scene with events such as the Transquadra Race across the Atlantic that usually has the lion's share of dead downwind angle. In terms of rudder configuration, our single rudder offers perfect control no doubt, and we have sold maybe 20% of twin rudder, which is mainly to racers who want to have a more offshore-orientated program," said Bouvier.

"There are so many boats that have a low starting price, but then the options kick in. We do not want to be double like some, but keep the overall difference small, and have the core boat at the best possible level."

"The bulb keel is the main expression of a boat set up for easy performance, and not rating optimised for one measurement system or another. Having said that, we also offer a fin only keel for those who are racing IRC. We even recommend this path for fully crewed IRC racing."

Trainspotters will note that the J/99 is not as beamy in the stern as others in the class, yet as it turns out it is beamer there than any other J Boat, in proportion of course. Bouvier adds, "We didn't want to go too extreme because of the versatile performance target, and knew VMG up and down would be fine, as well as light wind performance. We increase beam in a certain proportion to get better reaching performance, but without compromising too much."

"The J/99's beam is the same as the Jeanneau Sunfast 3300 BTW. And higher form stability also offers a more friendly short-handed boat, but the more you carry aft the more price you pay in light winds, with overall VMG and in a choppy sea state."

There is no square top main, and the J/99 is more like a 9/10ths fractional to again fall into line the versatile performance targets, and easy sail handling. There is a hefty 105m2 A-bag on offer and the polars you see here are straight from the software.

The big question

And that would be Paris... Not only does the Offshore Event still have to clear World Sailing, it then has to go through the IOC protocol. The J/99 is being used by some in preparedness for an announcement, and this is not just as single boats, but also small fleets to gain the best out of two-boating, and tight fleet racing.

Bouvier is very clear on this matter, and said, "Firstly, we are strong proponents of the event for our sport and industry. It is an exciting time, but do remember nothing is yet approved. The discussion does need to sit around risk from all angles."

"Our vision from day one is to have the simplest boat. Not only is budget a challenge (manufacturers will provide FOC), you also have the One Design aspect, which does cost more."

In other words you cannot start out at €110,000 ex VAT, but end up at €200,000 ready to race. There are production challenges with complex boat. The late announcement is designed to try and stop boats leap frogging over each other, but of course adds its own complexity with compressed timelines for building and training in the selected craft.

"Simplicity will be the best chance for OD, and also the budget. Look at the Laser, which has got to be the fairest OD dinghy. Our J/80 is 25 years old now, and the latest World Champions were on a charter boat that we supplied straight from factory. This is a simple boat. They just brought their sails and arrived a few days before, and it has happened before."

On the specifics, Bouvier added, "We build one J/99 a week presently. However, I'd be keen to see if anyone can definitely say here today that they will build 20 boats in 2023 due to our uncertain times. There is six months to make them after the equipment announcement, and the selected builder is said to be offered an early advice in the strictest of confidence, but one tranche versus private buyers you have in the pipeline remains an important aspect."

"Our J/88 is the one we feel will make the grade. It makes sense for all due to budget and simplicity."

That's got to be a segue, right?!

So the Offshore Doubles club just rolled over 1000 members, and just last Thursday, entries for the 2020 Sydney Hobart Race closed. Of the 100 on the books, 22 are in the two-handed division across IRC, PHS and ORCi. Tasmania even opened up the border with the entire population of New South Wales to help kick the tin along. Nice. Note too that the CYCA are working with all the necessary authorities to make it COVID safe.

One person very happy to see this kind of news is the new North Sails supremo in Australia, Mark Bradford. "This really is great for the industry as a whole. We'll be lining up with Black Jack for Peter Harburg in what must be approaching ten Hobarts for him over the years. We're really looking forward to it, and all the challenges it brings."

"It is also wonderful to see so much going into this to make it safe, and that too brings on a new set of challenges into something that is already takes of a lot of planning and always throws curve balls."

One vessel not entered is last year's veteran winner, Katwinchar. If you are in Queensland, or are able to go to the impending Sanctuary Cove Festival of Boating, then you'll be able to see her up close on the Maritimo stand.

Right oh - there is plenty of information on the group's websites for you to review when you can. Please avail yourself of it.

Now if your class or association is generating material, we can help you spread your word just by. Got this newsletter from a friend? Would you like your own copy next week? Just follow the instructions on our newsletter page. Whilst there, you can also register for other editions, like Powerboat-World.

Finally, thank you for keeping a weather eye on Sail-World. Your increased patronage and sensational, heartfelt comments have made our crew work even harder to bring you the best from all over the globe...

John Curnow
Editor, Sail-World AUS

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