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Nice way to celebrate

by John Curnow, Editor, Sail-World AUS 18 Jul 2022 15:00 PDT
First Kiss indeed! J/99 #100 goes for a swim for the first time © Sandra Entwistle

When is 100 not 100? When it is actually 115. No matter. Any of it is cause enough for celebration. This all started when I was under hull #100 of the super-popular J/99 as she was being commissioned at the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron in Brisbane.

Given the logistics issues of our time, I was seeing 100, and the factory will close for the August holidays having wrapped up hull #115. A great effort in anyone's language, so I went to Fred Bouvier of J/Composites to learn what it all means. "We will have another ten to do when we restart. The goal would have been to deliver almost to 120 before the August break, but the complexity in production dealing with the suppliers won't enable us to do that."

Still, 115 globally in just two years is a magnificent mark and really says a lot about the quality of the boats, the quality of the design and the aspirations everybody has for driving these things.

Fred then added, "I think the key to the success can be summarised in just one word: versatile. I think that's what we've been able to achieve the best with the J/99. We are super pleased by the number, and even more pleased because when we launched this model the market competition was quite intense. However, expanding interest in shorthanded and coastal racing has really helped everyone."

"We stuck to J/Boat's DNA and been monitoring the differences in the market around the globe. The target was always to make her a nice performance boat, but one that can be sailed by everyone from a pro to a pure amateur. The diversity of types of sailing the boat can do is a fundamental part of the success, I think."

"There were challenges as well on the production side, and at the peak we were doing four boats a month. Now, because production is a bit more complex, we are between two and a half and three boats a month, but we still have a strong demand and we still see demand going on, which is now very positive. This has allowed us to be quite open-minded and seek new potential with the J/99," Fred added.

Volume, as in sales, not displacement

So the volume has afforded many things, and one of those opportunities is fleet racing. J/Boats have a lot of experience with one-design, but this was never the mantra of the J/99, but rather to allow the vessel to be adapted to each owner's requirements and to meet local rules of favour.

There is a fin keel offered, and one with a bulb. You could have symmetric or A-bags aboard, and one or two rudders. Volume would afford options for future programmes, and being OD might not get to that kind of critical mass, and certainly not as quickly. However, as we'll see, the sweeping majority have elected to go down a certain path, and so whilst a World Championship may be a way off just yet, localised fleet racing is about to become a reality.

J/Boats know a lot about OD from their sportboats especially, but to highlight the idea with the J/99 it's best is to look at the J/109. This is a fleet that has seen 50 boats racing for several years in the UK, and they will even tell you themselves that it was not meant to be OD from the outset, as it is a cruiser/racer, after all.

"The hope was that we would be successful and could then start to see some regional fleets starting to appear. This has come to pass now, including Australia, which is one of the best markets for the J/99. It took a bit longer than the other markets to start, but since it started it's really worked well and now there is a fleet, and two more are to be shipped before our big Summer break.

"There is one more shortly after that, and another right on its heels. It will be over ten just in Australia by the end of 2022, which is more than enough to run like a kind of Australian National Championship, or maybe even an Oceania event, because we have a few boats further afield, and they want to come along."

Wherefore art thou?

So Australia is one, the UK is another one, France is another one, and the US for sure. Fred added, "In the US they have already done some owner training, where they team together four J/99s along with seven different owners and crew to try to make a training session; the aim is for next season to have all the owners together and start racing. The whole intention is to keep things simple."

"In general there are a few things that can be adapted quickly on the boat, with very minor costs, like switching from a symmetric to an asymmetric, you know that's easy. When we talk about rudders, in terms of pure performance, that's not going to make so much difference. So the only question is potentially about the keel. Now if we consider worldwide, except in France where we have a small mix, by far the ratio of bulb keels is more than 95% of the boats."

The next would be the rig, but all are alloy, and quite the deal. Also pretty tall, at over 17m...

"If you have a carbon rig and bigger sails options, then it distorts quickly. The J/99 is basically on the same platform, meaning the same rig, the same keel, just a rudder and the spinnaker configuration, which is an easy adaptation. Think Class 40 and you're on the money."

"In Australia it's super simple, because 100% of the fleet is aluminium mast, bulb keel, single rudder, asymmetric set up. We've only delivered the twin rudder in the French market, and maybe one or two in another country. It's the same for the symmetric set-up, where we have only delivered that in France, as too the fin only keel, and a few in the UK, which are ORC countries. So yes, the twin rudder is less than 5%, symmetric set-up is the same, and the keel is even less - probably 3% of the overall fit."

Naturally, a fin keel is less drag, but it is also less righting moment than the bulb, and also more finicky, shall we say, meaning higher level of skill by the helmer, and crew. It is also easier to recover from a broach with a bulb helping you out, primarily due to the lower CoG. If you put the kite in the water with a fin keeled boat, then any advantage seen on rating disappears smartly with the added time to recover, let alone the potential to damage/ruin the kite, or force your retirement.

Now Fred has sailed so many of them himself, so does the fin go downhill that much faster than a bulb due to drag? Do you find that it's significant, or it's just something that will tally up over time?

"No it's not significant. There is a difference but, for example, it's less than sailing with sails that are not properly adjusted, for example. I would say maybe the main difference is not so much downwind, but more upwind in light conditions, due to the lift with the bigger surface a fin keel can give you. But as soon as you start to get a small reach or something like that, the extra stability for control and recovery is the difference, and in shorthanded you want some stability, so that's why even in IRC we say, not so much more of a discussion."

In for a penny...

"Even our own new J/99 for us to see how we perform against some of the top French teams and in different types of boats has a bulb keel this time."

They had hoped to be at the ORC Two-hander Worlds in Sweden, but with all that is going on it was not possible. There are some events in the Mediterranean in 2023 that the factory boat is bound to be part of.

"To summarise, what we want is for our owners to be able to have great fun. If you have ten boats, even if they are not exactly strictly the same, we know the boats are going almost at the same speed because you're on the same platform. If needed we can even do a kind of custom measurement system because no-one is better placed than us to know the exact difference between one keel or another to try to give the best equality between boats."

In the USA there will definitely be potential for an East Coast event, and also probably the Great Lakes. By the time that's all occurred the West Coast might have got to the magic number, as well. There will be France, the UK, and more than likely, the events will be trans-Channel. Then of course there is also the Mediterranean hub, as well, " account for Italy, the south of France, and Spain, where we have a strong fleet, too," Fred was quick to point out.

"I would say we will achieve four to five events. Again, we are optimistic, but also we don't want to be too ambitious as well. The most important thing is to run them well, so that they perpetuate themselves."

"In addition to that, we are also in discussions with some yacht clubs that have seen a growing trend of shorthanded and passage races to have a couple of boats for the members to try to train on and join in with. We really think that of all the boats existing on the market at the moment, that the J/99 is the easiest for a club because it's simple, low maintenance, and versatile. Not just for shorthanded offshore training, but fully crewed, or even a sailing school.

"This covers a wide range of needs in a club. I'm not saying it's definitely going to appear, because it's a long discussion and it will take time for the club to decide on that, but we are already having some discussions in different places."

The simple statement after all of that is, great news all round.

Notched up

After being with hull #100 of the J/99, Ray Entwistle spoke with Tony, who is the proud new owner, and shared the information with us.

Q: When did you start looking for a new boat?
A: I always look at boats, but more seriously after selling our powerboat mid-last year.

Q: What were your criterion for a new boat? What was on the wish list?
A: I'd been crewing on race yachts for many years. I decided it was time to go back to a yacht myself. Criteria was:

  • Offshore capable.
  • I like a boat that goes well to windward, but it must also get up and go downwind.
  • Easy to handle, no running backstays, and be competitive on handicap.
  • Whilst I'll sail more often fully crewed, I like being able to sail shorthanded, and not rely on a larger number of crew.
  • This also means the boat is easier to handle for delivery trips.

Q: What did you primarily want to use the boat for?
A: Club racing in the short term, building up to offshore next year, and then cruising when time allows.

Q: What initially attracted you to the J/99?
A: I was looking at secondhand boats, but didn't find one that suits. The J/99 fitted my criteria, and the early boats were having good results both here, and abroad. The J/99 is well priced; I was impressed by the build quality, the mast design, a good-sized motor, and as friends said 'you can't go wrong with a J/Boat'.

Q: Will your non-sailing partner join you for any sailing adventures?
A: Yes. Christine grew up on boats and she's keen to learn sailing, but not for racing.

Q: Now you have seen her, and she is hull #100 what are your thoughts?
A: It's very functional, and fits the bill as a racer with cruising capability. It's structurally strong, you can see that in the hull reinforcements, and it's interesting hearing the shipwrights say 'it's solid and well built'.

Q: As you know, Disko Trooper won the Sydney Hobart Double Handed division (and also came in first in the overall fleet on ORCi) - any thoughts of doing this or other blue water events?
A: Brisbane to Gladstone will be the first offshore distance race. I've done it many times on my mate's yacht with great results, culminating with an IRC win last year. So let's see if we can replicate that! Sydney to Hobart, it's not a must do, but who knows...

Q: The name, Balancing Act, is really cool. Apart from the obvious link to sailing connotations, were there any other reasons for the name?
A: When we spoke about how I'd like to get a yacht, Christine said, 'it will be a balancing act with sailing, home, work, holidays and yacht races'. Seems that stuck!

"Tony's J/99 is the eighth one into Australia, all spread along the east coast from Queensland, through NSW, Victoria, and down to Tasmania. There are another three arriving in the next few months. Of the eleven in Australia, eight are standard tiller steered, and thee have chosen the wheel version. There is ongoing demand for J/99's with orders currently in the system to hull #125. A real testament to the design, build quality and versatility of the J/99," said Ray in concluding.

OK. There it is. There is also heaps more on the group's websites for you, just use the search field or 'edition' pull-down menu up the top to find it all. Please enjoy your yachting, stay safe, and thanks for tuning into

John Curnow Australian Editor

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