My thoughts on the J/88, by Don Finkle:
“I admit to being spoiled. For over 40 years I have always been able to sail the newest models when they come along, and there have been many. Each new boat represented the state of the art in production boats at the time. They varied from just OK to good to really good. The J/88 falls into the last category in my mind. With a season and a half of sailing the J/88 under our belts, I can say that with confidence.
When sizing up a new boat it is important to put the design goal in perspective. In the case of J/Boats any new model must perform well and be easily handled, with broad-enough appeal to be commercially viable and to sell in numbers sufficient to offer the promise of one design racing. Boats that are too exotic in construction or too extreme in any way do not fit the pattern that has proven so successful over time. Sometimes we hear the knock that other boats are faster, and that is true. There is room in the sport for higher-performance boats but they will always be limited in number. Examples of new similar sized boats that were designed for that top end speed-wise would be the C&C 30 and Farr 280, and before them the Mumm/Farr 30. They are each cool boats in their own right but are aimed at the top of the performance curve where fewer sailors reside.
The J/Boats mantra is to offer a level of performance that is fun and exciting but also not intimidating or limiting. We find that the J/88 is just that, fast and fun but not over the edge. It is hard to complain about the speed of the 88 when you realize that at 29 feet we are routinely sailing with boats 5-10 feet longer and often beating them boat-for-boat. At the same time the 88 offers a usable interior with berths, a marine head, modest storage and a comfortable cockpit for daysailing too. Add in the powerful diesel saildrive and you have a boat that can do limited cruising and overnight racing. These factors were all part of the plan when the J/88 was conceived; it had to meet a more varied usage profile. We think the Johnstone’s nailed it.
Race results are not the best way of judging the potential of a boat because so many factors enter into it beyond the capability of the boat itself. But at this point we are very comfortable saying that the J/88 is a step ahead of most other boats of its size that have gone before, as it should be. What has surprised us most has been the excellent light air performance, which we did not anticipate, given the lack of an overlapping headsail. The other aspect that exceeded our expectations is the pointing ability upwind when the in-haulers are employed; it is like riding up an elevator. The keel really seems to work.
The sail inventory that seems to work best includes a main, two headsails and two spinnakers. The light-medium jib is 105%, and the heavy jib is 100% but flatter. The crossover point between the two jibs is in the mid-teens, depending upon sea state. The heavy jib can be carried down to as low as 12 knots and the Lt/Med up to 18, so there is a fairly large spread where you can get away with either. The full size A2 spinnaker is 95 square meters, and the heavy/reaching A3 kite is about 80 SM. Our main has one reef point but if memory serves, we have yet to use it. Jib battens can be either vertical or roller; either style works with the standard Harken below-deck furler.
Sailing the J/88: We would normally sail with 5 or 6 aboard, but could take more if they showed up due to the large cockpit and clean deck. We hate to leave anyone at the dock but for most conditions five people is probably a good number. The main controls are set up for the helm to trim the main or for a dedicated main trimmer. Coarse and fine sheet tackles, traveler and backstay are close together. If you are using a main trimmer, the easy mode is to move the fine tune block on top of the coarse tune block with both in front of the traveler. For short-handed sailing, the driver can sit aft, straddling or in front of the traveler, any of those positions work. Tacking the small headsail is easy, one person can release, and then trim in on the other side so long as the driver makes a reasonable-speed tack!
We sail with many different people on our boat. We spend more time exposing people to the fun of J/88 sailing, and often their first exposure to asymmetric spinnaker sailing, as opposed to fine-tuning our trim. For sure we can get more speed out of the boat over time as we focus more, and we noted that as the season wore on we kept going better and better. There is a lot you can do with the jib, especially with the adjustable cars and in-haulers. The 88 really tracks well upwind when in the groove. When dialed-in, which is not hard, the boat has a very balanced and light helm.
Before we changed our backstay length (see below) we were probably sailing with a poorly-tuned rig much of the time. We often got to the boat from work with hardly any time to prep for the race so the rig was often too tight or too loose. It did not seem to bother the boat much but for sure our performance would have been even better if we tuned for the conditions. Because we seemed to be going well we also were a bit lazy about the rig. Finally, as the boat comes the shroud turnbuckles are not as easy to adjust as they should be but we now have a good solution for that (see below). Looking back on the season, we were probably too tight more often than not.
We found that the big cockpit tended to attract people who ended up sitting further aft than they should be for best performance. When we moved people forward it always seemed to make us go faster. The exception is downwind in a breeze where you want to slide people aft. It is easy to move around the J/88 so there is no problem placing weight where it should be. Of course, for daysailing, that big cockpit is awesome, you can fit a pile of folks aboard, and they will have a comfortable place to sit. Tim reminded me of the time we had the young grandchildren aboard this summer and they had a ball, even swimming off the back, easy with the open transom. The 88 works for daysailing, course racing, distance racing or limited cruising. The jib furler is convenient as is the Harken luff track on the mast for the mainsail cars. The boat seems to handle a wide range of wind velocities very well, the sign of a good design.
Toronto Boat Show: We are lending our hull #27 to Pat Sturgeon Yachts, the dealer for the greater Toronto area so that there can be a J/88 on display at the show. It will bring good exposure of the boat on the north shore and hopefully we can build out our Lake Ontario fleet even further. Pat has recently sold an 88 to a Toronto couple.