The J Boats line have bookended my sailing career to date. In 1980, back when I was 15, a neighborhood friend took me to St Francis YC for the J-24 North Americans. Fast forward to the present, September 2013, I had the pleasure of being invited to the Big Boat Series hosted by St Francis YC to sail on a new J-70. About 1' shorter than a J-24, the J-70 is as different as a boat can be besides the emblem up on the mainsail. When I sailed in 1980 you could order a J-24 in any color of the rainbow, the J-70 seems to be available in every color as long as it's white. One thing that hasn't changed is the wind in San Francisco Bay. Another is if they dropped a J-24 off a tall building it would be hard pressed to break 15 Knots, the J-70 carried us downwind @ 16 knots whooping and hollering and in full control!
Photo by Eric Simonson
In the 33 ensuing years from 1980-2013 I have completed 37 Trans-Pacific voyages, won a Moore 24 National Championship, and sailed with friends and family every chance I've had. And I can tell you the J-70 is a special boat. She's easily trailered behind most any vehicle and I can even put the light little carbon mast up by myself. The hiking rules are two people with legs in, two people with legs out. Any two people, big, small, fat or tall, you don't have to only choose your crew by their physical attributes.
In 1980 our J-24 had 4 winches, in 2013 the J-70 had 2 and we never even used them in wind up to 25 knots. Okay, so I'm 6' 2" 225lbs and a former Army Ranger but I know the winches are there for a reason, nonetheless, pull real hard and it all comes in real easy. The tuning guide is helpful and rig tension seems surprisingly important, but that individual with the tiller still rules the school. Upwind and down, reaching (yes we overcooked a few laylines) and listening to the feedback from the helm drove the boat. Get ready to play the vang, the outhaul, inhaul the jib sheet, and keep weight forward.
Check the results from Big Boat Series and you'll see we didn't win, but hey the skipper hadn't entered a regatta since college (20 years ago) our crew of four didn't even know each other's names until the day before the regatta and we still pulled a first and a third in a seven race series. I've always felt that fractional rigged boats favor good focused sailors; the J-70 is no different - little adjustments pay off big. Try vang sheeting rather than dropping the traveler when it gets windy, adjust the 4/1 jib halyard when it goes light. I don't know that we ever had the jib leads correct but we sure adjusted them a lot. It is likely if you are used to a nervous curl on the luff of the spinnaker you are going to have to get used to smaller adjustments. Of course if you are out to win, this treatise assumes a fresh bottom, first class sails, and motivated crew.
Photo by Eric Simonson
The J-70 is a special boat at a critical time and she likely owes her sportiness to the "Fast is Fun" cult ULDB's of the 70's and 80's. So what happens when you wipe out a J-70? Well we saw a few and she has plenty of reserve buoyancy and lead in the keel to keep her up and on her feet, (and she has a kelp cutter to). Criticisms? Is there something I did not like about the boat? I'm a thirsty fellow, what is the plan for the cooler? Why not fiber standing rigging? A central bilge pump would be handy on breezy, moisty days.
Did I mention this is a comfortable boat? Huge cockpit, all the controls within easy reach and nothing to trip over on the cockpit floor. The stock non skid grippiness is just about right, but you can't go wrong by adding some Raptor deck to the fold. The helm is surprisingly light and balanced for a transom hung rudder and we could easily tell when the skipper felt over powered on the runs and were able to ease the vang or spin sheet before he lost control. The jib simply rolls up on a Harken under deck furler, There is even hardware on the boom for a mainsail reef but ours wasn't fit with a reef point, nor did we ever feel it was needed.
Photo by Eric Simonson
The spinnaker is dead simple and no one in our class completely shrimped it all week long, though it typically gets a little wet on the hoists and douses. The Rig tension is controlled through an ingenious system that locks the upper and lower shroud together so you can easily slip a handy plastic bar in the turnbuckle and twist away. I'm sure this will take some practice as any adjustment directly affects forestay tension and your ability to point. We tended to go a little tighter than what the tuning guide called for and it seemed to work for us. The leech tension on the main was controlled through the use of the vang and seemed more important than backstay tension upwind.
Light air performance? I don't know that we had our legs over the side at each start, with the lighter winds in the starting area, but there was word, and it may be true, she feels fully under control on the upwind legs, but why speculate? Why not go for test a sail?
About the Author;
Andy Schwenk - Owner Northwest Rigging Inc. Anacortes, Washington. 360.239.1154
B.A. WWU, Elementary School Teacher
Instructor of sailing, navigation, engine maintenance
USCG Master since 1992, 100 Ton, with many deliveries
37 trans-Pacific crossings including deliveries and races
Former Hydroplane driver
Owner, skipper, crew, Santa Cruz 27 Wild Rumpus