J/120 Sailboat Review | Cruising World

J/120

We motored away from the dock in Newport on a calm pretty morning.

J/Boats

We motored away from the dock in Newport on a calm pretty morning. The GPS agreed with the speedometer -- flat out we were doing a respectable 8.6 knots on this 40-footer powered by a 38-horsepower Yanmar driving a Martec two-blade folding propeller. Optimal cruising speed would be a little less.

Under Sail
We headed for a light breeze and hoisted the long-battened mainsail on Harken slide cars with ease. The boat was responsive and maneuverable under main alone and came alive when we unfurled the jib. This J/120 was equipped with an optional carbon mast by Hall Spars. The reduced weight aloft made possible by a carbon spar increases the range of positive stability as well as performance overall. The mast is stepped through the deck for extra stiffness in the rig and better control of sail shape.

Off the wind, the boat sailed very well under the asymmetrical spinnaker. Once essential line attachments were made on the foredeck and the spinnaker pulled out of the forward hatch, all spinnaker operations, including using the snuffer, were possible from the cockpit. In light air the 120 moves fast enough to bring the apparent breeze well forward and thus, even with this sail tacked out on the extended seven-foot sprit, one needs to think like a catamaran sailor and tack downwind.

The boat we sailed had the standard seven-foot lead keel; a 5’9" shoal-draft keel is offered optionally. Both keels are narrow fins with an elephant-foot style bulb on the bottom for good stability and lift.

The Cockpit
The cockpit is very comfortable with well positioned foot bracing for the crew when the boat is heeled. The double-ended mainsheet has Harken 44 self-tailing winches on each side of the cockpit reached easily by either the helmsman or the crew -- as is the traveler. All halyards and reef lines lead aft on the cabin house and all winch handles clear the dodger comfortably. The 48-inch-diameter lightweight Edson aluminum wheel permits the helmsman to get well outboard on either side for maximum visibility. The helmsman seating is comfortable both when level or heeled. All of this provides a good balance between shorthanded and crewed sailing.

The Interior
Below, the ladder had a generous 60-degree slope and side rails kept one’s feet from sliding off when heeled. The interior was light and airy with double staterooms fore and aft. No Dorades were provided; however, the cabin ports opened. Both double berths were a little on the small side and the inboard end of the J sprit did occupy a portion of the forward stateroom; however, given the interiors of most 40-foot race boats, this cruiser/racer had very nice accommodations. The two main cabin settees were long and straight, and could easily function as sea berths with lee cloths in place. While the galley is compact, it is very adequate and the six-cubic-foot icebox is bigger than on many boats. An Origo non-pressurized alcohol stove with oven is standard. The stove gimballed well and was equipped with a protection bar.

Construction
The hull and deck are fiberglass with balsa core and the boat is built to
ABS-approved plans. The boat is laminated using the resin-infusion process, which gives superior quality over conventional production layup techniques. The hull-to-deck flange joint is extra wide at 4.5 inches, and it is glued using a urethane elastomer adhesive. While strength is gained wherever rail hardware is bolted through and where bulkheads are attached, the glue does most of the job. The lack of mechanical purchase in this hull-to-deck joint may make some nervous, but for reassurance one only need consider that most of the boat -- in fact most of any FRP boat -- is held together by various types of resin and glue in the first place. The new series of "J sprit" boats represents an excellent balance between cruising boats you can race and racing boats you can cruise coastally. Certainly, the boat can be made even faster by removing the lazy jacks, replacing the jib furler with a foil and adding a conventional spinnaker
for square running. But that’s not the point. The point is to create a
shorthanded cruising boat that can perform, and J/Boats has done a superb job.
-- Bill Lee

To cruising sailors who seek out new models at boat shows, the J/120 is
something of a quiet dove among pouter pigeons -- built more for flying than roosting. There are no button-tufted armchairs, vanities or mood lighting. There are powerful and easily managed sails, a responsive helm, a light but well-built hull and efficient maintainability throughout.

At the dock, the lack of frills gives the boat a Spartan or simplistic appearance, but a sailor’s appreciation builds immediately when under way. Almost invisible details make the boat a pleasure to be aboard. The cockpit is configured for convenience of steering and sail handling. The big wheel and semi-balanced rudder create a fingertip helm, and when I nudged it less than a half turn to leeward while we churned upwind, the boat fell off instantly without any need of easing the large-roached mainsail. An additional benefit of the light helm is that it puts a small load on an autopilot; the blade is powerful, balance point spot on.

Form and function take precedence over styling statements on Rod Johnstone’s designs. Moving around the boat is easy and there are handholds and foot braces just about everywhere they are needed. The winch placements are logical and the wide side decks have good non-skid. The deep cockpit locker has a gasketed lid and is also accessible through a door aft of the galley, which allows you to avoid the sometimes painful contortions involved with getting a sail or inflatable dinghy out of the nether regions. There is no awkwardness in getting below. The companionway ladder is sturdy and safe to use even when the boat is heeled and bounding over waves.

The J/120, as delivered, lacks a quilted homeyness found on many 40-foot
cruisers.It does not lend itself immediately to long-term live-aboards, but there is certainly enough space and stowage for two couples to cruise for a fortnight or more. A few accommodation innovations are worth a closer look. Bedding on this boat can be stowed inside throw-pillow covers -- solving the problem of what to do with bedding during the day and piles of pillows at night. Also dual-purpose seat back cushions on the settees serve as cockpit cushions. This solves the bulky stowage problem of deck cushions, but introduces some new concerns about lack of waterproofness and whether bringing damp, salty cushions below creates more of a problem than it actually resolves.

One of the few space conflicts on the J/120 is created by the asymmetrical chute in its snuffer, which can remain hooked up to its sheets and halyard and be stowed conveniently inside the forward hatch. This puts it on the forward bunk. The crew must decide whether sail stowage or human comfort wins out in the forward cabin.

The value of the J/120 comes from building costs that have gone into substantive structures and quality gear. The base price of $162,600 is certainly attractive, but typical buyers opt for a variety of extras that boost this figure up to anywhere from $220,000 to $230,000. The boat that we sail tested cost about $247,000, which included the carbon fiber rig, radar on a removable pole, full sailing instruments, and autopilot, among other things. It is worth noting that the following items are also on the option list: hot and cold pressure water, 110-volt shore power, refrigeration, propane stove and oven, opening ports in cabin trunk, molded anchor well and removable bow roller. Certainly, the advantage of this is that a buyer does not pay for items not needed.

Overall, I agree with Bill Lee’s comments about this boat. I found the J/120 handsome, fun and easy on maintenance.
-- Sheila McCurdy

J/120 SPECIFICATIONS:

LOA 40’0" (12.2 m.)
LWL 35’0" (10.7 m.)
Beam 12’0" (3.7 m.)
Draft (deep) 7’0" (2.1 m.)
Draft (shoal) 5’11" (1.8 m.)
Ballast 6,000 lbs. (2,722 kgs.)
Displacement 12,900 lbs. (5,852 kgs.)
Sail area 780 sq.ft. (72.5 sq.m.)
Mast above water 62’7" (19.1 m.)
Ballast/Disp .47
Disp/Length 134
SA/Disp 22.7
Fuel tankage 27 gal. (102 l.)
Water tankage 75 gal. (284 l.)
Auxiliary Yanmar 3JH2-E 38-hp. 3-cyl. diesel
Cabin headroom 6’2" (1.9 m.)
Designer Rod Johnstone
Base price $162,600 (alum spar)
$173,600 (carb spar)

J/Boats Inc.
557 Thames St.
Newport, RI 02840
Phone (401) 846-8410

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