99 Problems (but the boat ain’t one)
J/99 boat test
The J/99 performance cruiser has already become J/Boats’ most successful model of its size for a long time. Rupert Holmes put it through its paces
There are many attractions to choosing a boat with good performance potential for cruising, especially on that’s configured for short-handed sailing. For a start, the slippery hull shape and generous sail area boosts light airs performance, which translates to more time having fun and less tedious time spent motoring.
Equally, you can expect the boat to be more responsive to sail controls and trimming, adding to the fun factor and making the boat more rewarding to sail. At the same time, decent deck gear, in a carefully thought out layout can make sail handling a breeze, even when working alone, which helps to tame the powerful rig.
However, one of the biggest advantages of a performance design is fast passage making. In effect this makes weather windows bigger – you can get further before the following bout of bad weather – and helps to extend cruising areas.
First impressions are of a quick, easily handled design with a well fitted and comfortable interior, albeit with less space than a pure cruiser. The relatively broad transom is by no means radical by today’s standards, the boats aft sections are optimised for a single rudder and there are no chines. The rudder is positioned reasonably well forward where it operates clear of the most turbulent water – whereas twin rudders tend to be placed right aft so that they can be reached to clear weed.
Many high volume cruising yachts give the impression they were designed around a requirement to fit a certain amount of accommodation in a hull of a given length. However, the J/99 follows a much more traditional approach – draw a hull shape that’s optimised for efficient sailing and then craft the interior to fit that space.
The result is both pleasant in harbour and very workable at sea, even though there’s less space overall than a pure cruising boat of this size. There are two mirror image double aft cabins, forward of which is a galley to port and proper chart table with its own seat to starboard. The galley is of a reasonable size but in standard spec is relatively sparsely equipped.
There’s a good standard of finish, but without an abundance of timber. This is exactly in keeping with the ethos of this style of boat, while white moulded surfaces help to provide a bright appearance and are easy to maintain. There are also excellent hand holds and fiddles – factors that are all too often missing.
The saloon has a substantial table, plus two settees that also make good sea berths, while the heads is beyond the main bulkhead and sail storage area right forward.
Each of the aft cabins is a comfortable double and has well planned stowage, including deep fiddled shelves and bins in which items that need to be accessed easily can be kept. Both are well ventilated in port, with opening ports outboard and in the aft bulkhead to the cockpit.
J/99 on deck
The T-shape of the cockpit is configured to work with either tiller or wheel steering, though it’s hard to see how the extra complication and weight of a wheel could be justified on a boat of this size. Loads on the tiller are low, unless the boat is pushed far harder on a spinnaker reach than any cruiser would sail.
Sail controls include a cockpit mounted mainsheet traveller, powerful backstay, vang and mainsheet purchases, plus spinnaker gear. Deck gear is from a variety of manufacturers, with each item optimised to its purpose, including Antal clutches and Harken winches, while the test boat’s electronics were by B&G.
The keel stepped twin spreader aluminium mast from AG+ has a custom section created specifically for the J/99. This incorporates a track to accommodate either standard luff car sliders or a mainsail with a bolt rope . An extended masthead crane allows for a semi square top sail, while avoiding the need for running backstays.
A wide range of options include twin rudders, water ballast, wheel steering and a symmetric spinnaker. For our test the boat was equipped with main and jib from Incidences, plus a large North Sails asymmetric spinnaker and a latest generation furling North Helix Code 0. The latter makes for easy handling, even in boisterous conditions, as well as giving better sail shape in light airs.
J/99 under sail
Our test took place on a bright and crisp day with a north to north-westerly breeze in the upper teens, with occasional puffs well beyond 20 knots. We sailed the first boat out of the mould, configured with a single rudder and tiller steering.
The helm position is excellent, with the mainsail controls, including mainsheet fine tune, traveller and backstay all falling easily to hand. There are also reassuringly chunky foot chocks. If cross winched to the windward side the jib sheet winch could also easily be reached from the helm. Combined with pilot controls on both sides, as well as by the companionway, this arrangement makes for easy, yet efficient, sailing even if there’s only one person on deck.
Sailing upwind with full main and a general purpose jib the boat settled easily into a groove with minimal weather helm. The boat proved to be stiff and needed only the traveller to be eased to stay on its feet, even in the stronger gusts.
Downwind with the 100m2 kite in flat water we were nudging an indicated nine knots of boat speed, at true wind angles of 160-165 degrees. The boat felt very docile, even though the wind was building at this stage. When we luffed up to a true wind angle of 140 degrees, as the wind touched 24 knots, the boat speed leapt into the lower teens and had there been more of a sea state it’s clear we would have enjoyed some exhilarating sustained surfs at higher speeds.
For those preferring a very docile ride, reaching at this angle with just mainsail and jib would give speeds of 8 knots or more – perfect for fast yet easy passage making. For more power that’s easy to handle the North Helix furling Code 0 proved to be a very versatile sail.
J/99 under power
A combination of low freeboard, an efficient keel shape and big rudder make this a very predictable boat to handle in tight spaces. There’s minimal prop kick in reverse and manoeuvring astern holds no particular surprises or challenges.
The J/99 enters an increasingly crowded market place and stands out among many for being optimised for a single rudder. In many respects it’s a Contessa 32 for the 21st century – a thoroughbred design that offers more space, a drier ride and more performance that reflects the ongoing advances in yacht design. Yet it still offers the ability to ride out a proper gale at sea.
This is not a bargain basement boat – there are many craft with larger interiors that can be bought for the same money, but they’re nothing like as much fun, or as rewarding to sail. It’s easy to see where the extra money goes to create a boat like this – it’s akin to making the difference between a carefully engineered sports saloon and a lumbering people carrier.
Upwind sail area 53m2
Asymmetric spinnaker 101m2
Symmetric spinnaker 90m2