The J/99 – Our initial thoughts

From Paul Heys of Key Yachting

J Boats was founded in 1977 with the launch of the J/24. In those days there were plenty of crew available and there was no real consideration about crew numbers. J Boats developed a large model range, all of them designed to keep a lot of people busy whilst racing. At the beginning of the 90’s, with demographics changing and the J/Boat founding partners maturing, a need was identified to develop boats that remained fast, or could be faster, yet required less crew.

Thus began a new generation of boats beginning with the J/105 launched in 1991. Featuring a hull with flatter aft sections to allow strong wind planing, a very efficient bulb keel for high stability, yet not punitive in terms of draft. The revolutionary feature was a carbon fibre retractable bowsprit extending way out in front of the bow, which coupled with a large asymmetric spinnaker gave blistering down wind performance.

The up wind sailing had two configurations; a 155% Genoa for sailing with a full crew of 6 or 7 or a non-overlapping 106% Genoa for cruising short handed. In either mode the headsail was flown on a Harken roller furling system, thus reducing foredeck work to a minimum.

The 105 was a breakthrough boat that lead to a large range of retractable bowsprit boats, the balanced hull form, high stability and ease of handling ensured that he boats soon became successful on the double and single handed scene. For more than 20 years J Boats have been built using a sophisticated resin infusion system that was pioneered by a J boat builder. This is a cost effective way of building a light yet immensely strong structure.

Anticipation for the arrival of the J/99 in the UK has been really evident, with much speculation on web forums, and lots of requests for specifications and pricing in the months up to the launch, more than we’ve had for any model in recent years.

Hull #1 arrived on December 19th, fresh from Paris Boat Show. We had one full day to fit the keel, rig her, and fit the electronics, before she was due to be splashed for the first time. On Thursday 20th, the Commercial Manager from J Composites along with the mast builder and a collection of sailmakers joined us for her maiden sail. When we returned to shore, the entire group were elated with how the boat felt.

We have now sailed the 99 five times, the most breeze was on the launch day, when in 23-25 knots of wind, Dave Lenz on the helm, heated her up and had her sailing at 14 knots under A2. We were not in race mode, no weight on the rail, a cockpit full of people fiddling with ropes. So we know now that the new hull shape developed from the J/112E, does allow her to get up and go in a manner that just can not happen on a J/97 in flat water. The loads are a lot less than the J/109.

The boat has the standard single rudder and fixed bowsprit. We took the “all lead” IRC keel option as we like the effect of this keel design on our J/112E GP “Davanti”. The keel is heavier, deeper, with less drag and more lift.

The boat is definitely stiff enough, the wider stern boosts the form stability.

The cockpit works well, it feels much more spacious than any of our other J’s under 40 foot.

The boat is definitely targeted at regaining our position on the double handed circuit, as well as working with a full crew of we think 6.

It seems that the optimum set up for double handed demands;

-Spacious cockpit

-Tiller steering

-Comfortable side deck benches with great cockpit sole footrests

-Great stability

-A rudder or rudders with great grip, with a light balanced feel

-Sufficient sail area to have decent light weather performance

-The ability to lead all controls to the helm position including the jib/zero/spinnaker sheet.

The J/99 gives all of these in a package that is well mannered and wrapped in a hull shape that has neither excessive beam or a fat stern with chines. It is no secret that boats with chines are effective in a breeze, but can be very sticky in the light. To win a series, an all round good performance is very helpful.

A large number of the double-handed fleet are sailing with symmetrical spinnakers, thus the boat is designed without the normal J retracting sprit. Boats that are equipped with the optional symmetric pole will also have a short fixed prodder to carry a zero or A-sail. I think that of the 34 orders in, the split is pretty even between the two spinnaker types.

The length of the standard sprit is sufficient for us to sail down to 168 TWA in 12 knots of breeze and on a reach it is long enough to keep the boat balanced.

There is an option for twin rudders which some folk are very keen to have, having sailed her I am completely happy with the single rudder and in fact prefer it for slow speed handling, whether on a light weather start line or docking under power in strong tide or breeze. Blasting across the Ocean on autopilot in the Trade Winds might be another matter….

Spi Ouest at Easter will be a great opportunity to see how the boat fares in both fully crewed and double handed mode.

We have from North UK a fluor yellow A2 of 100M. A black A3 of around 90M and a cable-less code zero. Interestingly we find that the range of the cable-less sail is greater than the one with a cable that we have on Davanti. We were sailing at 145 TWA yesterday in 8 knots of wind. We can see that at times of fluctuating wind speed and direction, this sail might get more use when sailing shorthanded than we had envisaged. We have added a second eye on the sprit and a rope clutch near the bow for the zero tack line. Our second spi halyard will be super low stretch to be used primarily for the zero.

We have a loan main and jib from France, made by Technique Voile in La Trinite, they were a perfect first time fit. The jib has a very neat soft hank system, which is used by the Figaro fleet of which Technique Voile boss Fred Duthil is a leading light.

The alloy mast is a new Custom extrusion from AG+. Designed to have more stiffness than off the shelf extrusions, it stands up very well supported by Dyform wire rigging. Neat details include that fact that as part of the extrusion there is combination mainsail luff track that will handle either a bolt rope or Antal 40 slides. Mast cables exit above deck which allows a 100% waterproof internal dam to be installed.

The next public viewing will be at the Düsseldorf boat show from 19th January, please stop by and see us if you would like to know more.

Happy New Year!