Issue: January 2003
American boat builders define their market very, very carefully, then design and build their boats very, very carefully to suit that market. The consumer finds his choices easy to make because he has absolutely no doubt that the boat he has chosen will fulfil his requirements perfectly.
The intention of J-Boat designer Rod Johnstone was clear. He wanted a minimum-cost one-design racer that could also compete in mixed fleets and in limited offshore racing. And, by adding a few options, the buyer would also be able to take out the family at weekends, even spending the weekend afloat. But the predominant role would be to race.
On deck the J-92 is fitted out with straightforward, easily-handled racing gear. There is not one control line that is not necessary, which is as it should be.
Below decks, on the example shown here (the first in the country) you will find plenty of berths, a toilet in the forecabin, a galley (sink and single-burner gas stove) and a tiny navigation table. Beneath the cockpit floor is a 9hp Volvo diesel. This is a highly-functional racer with the simple accommodation options which extend its use to limited passage racing or modest cruising.
Like all latter-day J-Boats, a big part of the 921’s philosophy is the asymmetric spinnaker and retractable sprit or prodder or whatever term you prefer.
The J92 is a 10-year old design but because there are no extraneous fripperies it doesn’t date, apart from being fuller forward, in plan at least, than the latest hotties.
The boats that come to Australia are built in France. Hull and deck are of balsa-cored GRP, the keel is lead with antimony, with a bulbed tip. The mast is keel-stepped (carbon is an option) carrying two sets of spreaders with continuous diagonals, which are led down to the deck. There are no runners.
The tiller is of laminated wood and quite long so the helmsman sits well forward, as he should. This boat had one of those nice Spinlock tiller extensions with the press-button extension lock. “I like these”, I said.
“Everyone does”, replies North Sail’s Lee Killingworth. “Three have been stolen that I know of”.
The mainsheet traveller is on the cockpit floor. Also on the cockpit floor are longitudinal teak strips to support helmsman and crew when the boat is heeled. The 6:1 mainsheet is led forward. “This main is too big for the skipper to handle”, says Lee. “That’s what the mainsheet hand is for”.
Backstay (6:1) and traveller lines are both cleated on the vertical cockpit sides where they can be handled by crew or skipper.
Lee Killingworth was taping up the turnbuckles when I arrived. They are open-faced, and capable of snagging wayward lines.
“I’ve just set up the mast”, he said, “so now I know the rig is in the middle of the boat. I now know the caps are the same tension and the lowers are the same tension”.
But I notice the diagonals are flapping in the (very light) breeze. I think I have spotted a rig-tuning tip.
I ask Lee, who gives me a look. “I haven’t tightened the diagonals yet”, he says. “You do it when you’re sailing. It’s just a matter of sighting up the mast a couple of times”.
The owner of this boat specified Dacron sails to get him through the learning period with his new boat, and then he will change to Kevlar. North Sails built him a main, four headsails and a set of orange storm sails. At the time of our sail the boat had only the maximum-area (92 sq m) running spinnaker, but Norths were in the process of building a 68 sq metre reaching sail.
The big sail can be used when running in up to 22 knots in the ocean, 24 in flat water, but the minute the breeze goes forward of a three quarter run the sail is too big. On our outing in very light airs we carried it up to70 degrees Apparent, but Lee made the point that we would have been able to go faster under the No.1 headsail.
Lee has raced on the boat off Batemans Bay. “With a crew of six in 18 knots True, we were doing 6.3-6.4 knots upwind under the No.3 headsail, 6.5 in flat water”.
“Later in the day it blew in and we changed to the No.4, and with probably 24 knots in the gusts we did 6.6 and it was easy.
“You set up the boat with a fair bit of backstay because there are no runners, and a fair bit of vang. Besides, the boom is long, so you cannot over-vang.
“With the big spinnaker, in 17-18 knots of sea breeze building to 22-23, we got the boat to 13.8 knots and it was perfectly controllable. With no hands on the tiller it steered itself for ten seconds until a wave came and it needed a minor correction to send it down the wave”, says Lee.
The J-92 is easy to sail; the foot supports are excellent and I can easily reach and operate backstay and traveller. As the boat heels and you hike out onto the sidedeck you press the button on the Spinlock and the tiller extension goes with you.
When broad-reaching under the big spinnaker, with the breeze all over the place, the trimmer works constantly to trim the kite but the helmsman (me) is not giving him much to work with, either. I keep pulling away too quickly instead of letting the trimmer sheet on fast to accommodate a heading gust.
The joy of the spinnaker is that it behaves itself because it is fixed to the boat at two points instead of one. The owner of the J-120 we tested said it was the main reason he bought his boat. For the timid, for the faint-of-heart, for crews with little experience, for good crews sailing short-handed, or for anyone who finds the conventional spinnaker a hassle, the brilliant asymmetric spinnaker with bowsprit is a revelation.
In light airs two people can sail this boat under spinnaker.
This is a simple and extremely quick 30 footer. It goes fast and you can overnight aboard. You can race it at any level of involvement you care to nominate.
The price ? The J-92 starts at $140,000 inc. GST, plus options and sails, cheap for a 30 footer. The test boat’s options included the flexible freshwater tank, foot-pump in galley sink, hand pump in washbasin, single-burner stove, removable icebox and removable saloon table.
The owner also specified boot-top stripe, coach roof porthole, self-tailing primary winches (two-speed Harken No.40), aft quarter berth with mattress and light, and a second battery with switch, all of which added about $15,000.
This boat can qualify for Category 3 offshore racing, which means the owner has covered all his bases, all possible uses for his boat, from fast sportsboat to limited offshore racer. A lot of capability for the price.
Story by Barry Tranter