J/124 Sea-Trials Part II - Jeff Johnstone
After spending an hour knocking the ice off the deck of the J/124 in the Barrington River on a frigid morning in December, we concluded that as much fun as we were having sailing the new J/124 in Rhode Island, it was time to get warm.
So, just after the New Year, Rod J’s WILD BLUE was trucked south to Key West and then launched for what would end up being 10 straight days of sailing in mostly windy and wavy conditions - perfect for testing the mettle of any new design. The short report is that the boat stood up beautifully in the rough conditions encountered during Race Week, and proved herself to be very fast and stable. We think J/124 owners are going to rave about how this boat sails. It’s clear that the design has inherited both the responsiveness and solid feel of the J/100, but in a longer, quicker and more week-ending friendly platform.
For the Rhode Island trials we used a temporary Quantum Main and jib (while the carbon sails were being built). The main had a slightly oversized roach (extra 2” on top batten beyond normal ORC girths), and the jib was cut as an all-purpose class #3, quite a bit more powerful than a normal blade. The result was a great two-sail combo that allowed the boat to be fully powered up in 10-12 knots of wind. We learned right off the bat that for most people’s sailing, a powered up main/jib combination is probably ideal.
As Bob J. had done with J/100 #1, Rod decided to try most of the weapons on WILD BLUE. This was as much to test the boat as it was to gain early experience with different sail combinations for the benefit of the owners following. WILD BLUE carried a mainsail, 155%, 135% and 100% headsails (all cut for the furler), plus 120m2 and 106m2 A-sails. Also aboard was a Hall carbon spin/whisker pole which was used on occasion to square back the A-sails. The downside of the full inventory and squared back pole was the rating penalty under IRC (the J/124 ended up owing time to the J/133). The upside was that the IRC 2 division at Key West was a small group and included two J Boats stable mates, the well-sailed J/44 Gold Digger and Andrew Hall’s J/133. Gold Digger ended up winning the class with nearly all bullets.
Performance translated into PHRF rating
In race mode, we found the J/124 to be quick on the acceleration pedal out of the tacks and around the corners. For most of the week, whether it was 14 knots or 30 knots, we were sailing upwind in the mid 7s, with 7.4-7.6 being pretty constant targets, depending on the direction of the wave sets (which were often askew from the wind direction). Relative to the larger J/133 (which was rated for and sailed with a 105% jib) and the J/44, the J/124 gave up some speed upwind as expected, but generally always gained downwind. Of course in the big breeze on windward-leeward courses, one spends about 80% of the time going upwind. We did hit 15.5 knots with small kite up on Tuesday!
Following are excerpts from Rod’s updated PHRF recommendations (on the www.jboats.com website):
The results at Key West confirmed our target speeds for this boat, namely that the standard “Base Boat” configuration is 12 seconds/mile faster than the J/120 and 9 seconds/mile slower than the J/44. Standard “base boat” configuration includes 155% genoa, and maximum size asymmetric spinnaker of 120 square meters flown from the tack fitting at the bow (15.74’ forward of mast). No pole or sprit is used.
Wild Blue racing at Key West was rated with a 155% genoa and 120 square meter asymmetric spinnaker tacked to an optional 15.74’ spinnaker pole. It is estimated that the enhanced downwind performance afforded by the optional spinnaker pole resulted in a benefit to total elapsed time on the race course of about 3 seconds per mile. Wild Blue’s elapsed average speed around the course using the optional spinnaker pole (all windward-leeward courses) for the nine races was 8 seconds/mile slower than the J/44 and 15 seconds/mile faster than the top J/120. Without the optional pole it would have been 11 seconds slower than the J/44 and 12 seconds faster than the top J/120, El Ocaso, which raced on our same course five minutes later in PHRF Class 3.
It was a good speed test with only seven boats in our class, unusually steady winds, and an uncluttered race course. Winds were moderate for the first two and last two races. It was very windy and choppy for the intervening five races.
A J/124 rated with non-overlapping jib and standard asymmetric spinnaker (no pole) should be rated at 15 seconds per mile slower than the J/44.
Onboard the J/124
To truly test the ergonomics of a new design, one has to sail it in both the short-handed and the fully crewed mode. During the course of the week, we sailed with almost every combination of sails (except we never reefed the main), and performed almost every possible maneuver, with and without the spinnaker pole. Some observations:
Steering: The Lewmar carbon wheel is an object of beauty, so much so that we never put the wheel cover on dockside. The wheel is easy to remove (just unspin the brake knob) so you can hand it to your friends and show off, or simply remove to open the cockpit up for more space. More importantly, the wheel “feels” good on the hands. The wide rim (like the Edson Destoyer wheel) allows a more relaxed, comfortable grip, which translates into a more relaxed arm, shoulder and steering posture, all helping the driver to stay in the groove longer without fatiguing. It also helps that the J/124 rudder is well balanced providing good feedback on the helm without lots of tug.
J Boats owners have come to expect single-handed ease of operation, and the J/124 is no exception. The hydraulic backstay is within easy reach, and the main sheet winches and traveler control are perfectly placed for the driver to adjust, while sitting in the normal steering position, athwartships of the wheel with front foot braced on the angled, molded pedestal base.
Main Sheet/Traveler: The floor-mounted traveler with belowdecks mainsheet system is a great feature that not only allows much easier operation of the traveler and easier step-over when walking to the helm, but as well it allows a forward crewmember to“sweat” the mainsheet (where it exits the boom) when rapid trimming is needed. The J/124 system is more elegant than most thanks to the mainsheet running internal to the Hall boom. This was started by J/Europe on the J/133 in 2004. The J/124 cockpit layout is set up beautifully for a dedicated mainsheet trimmer, that is if you’re having too much fun steering to bother with mainsheet trim. The trimmer can sit forward of the winch and either “cleat” their rear outboard of the splash molding or further outboard on the coaming. Either position allows easy grinding of the winch and adjustment of the traveler.
Forward Cockpit: In race mode, two crew can man the jib/genoa sheets, one on the release and fine trim, with the other on rough trim. In short-handed mode, one person can do both. The 2 ½” splash molding (which increases the backrest height of the cockpit seats) proved to be a nice spot to cleat one’s rear but as well never interfered with foot work (i.e. no one tripped on it all week). This subtle design feature enhances cockpit comfort, especially with 3” cockpit cushions in place.
Spinnaker Handling: The “base” spinnaker set-up on WILD BLUE is a normal A-Sail set-up, tacked to the stem fitting. Jibes are done mostly inside (with the lazy sheet run in between the luff and the headstay), except in more than 18 knots of wind, where outside jibing is easier. During Tuesday’s racing in 25-30 knots of wind, we sailed with small spinnaker, no pole and outside jibes, and we appeared to be much more in control than most boats. As mentioned above, for most of Key West, we used an optional pole to “square” back the A-sail once set. No change in deck layout was necessary to accommodate this set-up. All that was added was a topping lift and a set of guys. The guys were clipped together and attached to the tack line, and the guy ends were run outboard of the lifelines, through the base of the amidships cleats and to the cockpit primaries. Once the A-sail was set as normal, then the pole could be connected and squared back with the afterguy. Because the tack line functions as the downhaul, and has to be adjusted each time the guy is changed, we re-ran the tack line to the starboard secondary so that it could be kept on the winch in breezy conditions. For jibing, the pole would be disconnected at both ends, the spinnaker jibed off the tack line (as with a normal A-sail jibe) and then the pole would be hooked up on the new side and then squared back. On the takedowns, the pole would be removed early, and takedowns would follow normal A-sail procedure, running down through the foredeck hatch. As a side note, the wide opening in the main bulkhead proved invaluable for sail handling, not to mention how it opens up the interior belowdecks. “Squirrel” duty was actually a pleasure.
Here’s what we concluded about the pole program:
1) There would be no reason to contemplate adding a symmetrical spinnaker to the J/124. The A-Sail squared back on a pole allows you to go as low as a symmetrical and yet provides a much more efficient sail shape.
2) We’d recommend not using the pole for around the buoys racing or daysailing. While setting up and removing the pole is a step-by-step process that one person can manage, in race mode it requires extra people and coordination. In windier conditions, two people are needed just to ease the pole forward or trim back (one person on the guy and one on the tack line), and 7-8 were needed to execute perfect jibes with quick re-deployment of the pole. Certainly not a handling advantage over a symmetrical set-up and easily twice what is needed for normal A-sail handling.
3) The pole could be very effective on longer point to point races, when handling is less of an issue and the sea state is more variable, placing more of a premium on stabilizing the spinnaker luff.
Sail Inventory Conclusions: For daysailing, weekending and casual racing, the mainsail, #3 jib and a 120m2 A-sail with Rollgen type furler will work great on the J/124. The carbon jib boom will also be very popular with those who plan on solo/twin sailing or who otherwise don’t plan on flying a spinnaker very often. Larger headsails are probably only needed if you are planning on more regular racing in predominately lighter air areas.
Sea-Trials Part III
WILD BLUE will be on display at the Miami Boat Show through February 20th, and then available for several days following the show for demo-sails. The plan is then to truck her to Annapolis in early March and launch and store at J Port until early May. There will be opportunities to sail on WILD BLUE while in Annapolis.