Herb McCormick reviews this fun and functional cruiser.

July 31, 2002

For any sailor, it’s always fun checking out a new J/Boat. The reason is simple — they’re a joy to sail. Sure, depending on the model, the crusty cruiser may yearn for more teak and displacement, and the fickle racer might be more swayed by this week’s hot one-design. But anyone who gets a jolt out of hoisting a sail, sheeting it in and grabbing the helm will find something to like in just about any J.

Still, it was with more than the usual sense of anticipation that I stepped aboard the cruising oriented J/32. I’ve spent good chunks of the last two years living aboard a 1975 C&C 33 with, give or take an inch or two, the same length overall — in my case 32’6″. I like the way my boat sails. My wife and I are quite comfortable aboard, and obviously it has become the focal point of our on-the-water experience. So I was anxious to compare the difference two decades had made in “state-of-the-art” production boats of similar size and — because we use our boat strictly for cruising — purpose.

The J/32 is the first design from young Alan Johnstone, the son of founding J/Boat designer Rod Johnstone. Alan says he got many of the ideas for the 32-footer after a cruise with his wife aboard a 40-foot J/120, a sporty racer/cruiser with an emphasis on performance. One of his big goals was to make an all-around boat even easier than that one for a couple to sail.


From the helmsman’s station alongside the big 48-inch Edson wheel and pedestal, everything (Lewmar two-speed self-tailing winches, Sailtec hydraulic backstay adjuster, Harken traveler and 6:1 mainsheet system — with coarse and fine trim!) is a simple twist or turn away. Moving forward, the efficiency theme continues. The cockpit seems plucked from a much larger boat; another set of Lewmar self-tailers and “Superlock” clutches is stationed on the coach roof for halyards and reefing lines. Lazy jacks, a Hall Quik-Vang on the boom and a Schaefer 1100 headsail furling system are all standard.

The difference between the circa ’70s rig and the J/32 approach is vast (as are the sailing characteristics). Gone are the days of high-aspect rigs with short booms and wimpy mainsails. The J/32 employs a low aspect, double-spreader fractional rig stationed fairly well forward, making for a relatively small foretriangle and easily managed headsails. The mainsail is big and roachy, and unlike my boat’s it provides plenty of drive without a jib. Once the headsail is unfurled, however, the J/32 really comes into her own. Our test boat, equipped with a 140 percent genoa, easily topped 6 knots close-hauled in 11 knots of true breeze.

For off-the-wind work, an optional spinnaker hardware package includes all the gear necessary to fly a cruising chute tacked to the stemhead fitting and to set and douse it using a spinnaker sock. No poles, guys or fuss — and again, an easy 6-plus-knots in moderate air on a beam to broad reach.


Like the cockpit, the belowdecks layout appears startlingly roomy. Freed from the overhang constraints of the old IOR rule, the J/32 employs a waterline length of 28’8″ — a full 2 1/2 feet longer than my once beloved antique. Add another six inches of beam, to 11 feet, and standing headroom for a six-plus-footer, and suddenly it’s apparent that the greater interior volume is not an illusion.

The accommodation plan is laid out for a couple, and the space has been used wisely. The forward cabin features a 6’6″ V-berth, with a good-size hanging locker. In the central saloon, the opposing 6’4″ settees make good sea berths. The starboard settee slides open to make a second double. The head, with wet locker, and a standing nav table are to port; an L-shaped galley, with two-burner Force 10 propane stove and six-cubic-foot icebox is to starboard. There is no aft cabin. Instead, the designer has opted for a dedicated, walk-in storage locker aft of the galley. It’s a sensational idea for a two-person layout, and extremely rare on a production vessel of this size.

The J/32 is built to a high standard by TPI Composites utilizing the SCRIMP resin infusion technique over a balsa core. It comes with a 10-year hull warranty against blistering. Though it’s a boat that would probably be classified as a coastal cruiser because of its LOA, nonetheless with oversize chain plates, a surprising 10,000 pounds of displacement and a deep, six-foot-draft bulb keel (a 4’8″ shoal-draft version is also available), it definitely has offshore capabilities. In fact during last year’s Boat Of The Year testing, California-based judge Bill Lee said he’d love to sail one to Hawaii.


The boat is powered by a Yanmar 27-horsepower diesel turning a 16-inch Martec two-blade folding propeller. With a 27-gallon fuel tank, the builder says a cruising range of 300 miles can be expected. On our test run, the boat made an easy 6.3 knots at 2,000 rpms, and was responsive and maneuverable in forward and reverse.

Along with the options listed above, this versatile cruiser is also available with a shore power package, a “systems group” that includes a second 50-gallon water tank and cockpit shower, a windlass, a carbon fiber mast and a quarter berth in lieu of the storage area. Base price for the J/32 is $117,500; with a reasonably tricked-out version, expect to pay between $120,000 and $130,000.

As one who has often wandered the docks muttering that nothing new has occurred in the sailboat market in the last 20 years, I walked off the J/32 ready to eat my words, my hat, or whatever else was offered. Young couples or retired ones looking for a boat that’s a blast to sail and still full of creature comfort should put this one on their shopping lists.


#####J/32 Specifications

LOA: 32′ 5″ (9.88 m.)
LWL: 29′ 0″ (8.84 m.)
BEAM: 11′ 0″ (3.35 m.)
DRAFT (deep): 6′ 0″ (1.83 m.)
DRAFT (shoal: 4′ 9″ (1.45 m.)
BALLAST: 3,850 lbs (1,746 kgs.)
DSPL: 10,000 lbs. (4,536 kgs.)
SA (100%): 518 sq.ft. (48.12 sq.m.)
Mast above water: 48’6″ (14.8 m.)
Ballast/Disp: .39
Disp/Length: 183
SA/Disp: 17.9
Fuel: 27 gal. (102 ltr.)
Water: 50 gal. (189 ltr.)
Holding: 29 gal. (110 ltr.)
Auxiliary: Yanmar 3GM-30 27-hp diesel
Cabin headroom: 6’3″ (1.9 m.)
Designer: R. Alan Johnstone
Base Price: $117,500

J/Boats Inc.
557 Thames St.
Newport, RI 02840
Phone (401) 846-8410
Fax (401) 846-4723


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