By Tyler Colvin
Introduction and History: The Start of an Empire
In 1975, Rod Johnstone built a keelboat named Ragtime in his garage in Stonington, CT. Ragtime was the first J/24, a class that started the wildly successful J-Boats Empire and has grown into the world’s largest one design keelboat class. Since the class’ inception, over 5400 have hit the water and competed worldwide.
The Boat: A Keelboat for the People
As a small, light keelboat, the J/24 displaces 3100 lbs with a waterline length of 19’5” and an overall length of 24’. Maximum beam is 8’11” and it draws 4’, making it easily trailered behind a truck or utility van. It is constructed of fiberglass/resin with end grain balsa core which serves to maintain strength while saving weight. The deck/hull joint is secured with an inward flange and stainless steel nuts, bolts and washers. Original boats (first two years of production) were sealed with silicone sealant which has since been replaced by 3M’s bulletproof 5200 sealant.
The beauty of the J/24 is the parity across decades of construction. 1970s era boats can be just as competitive as the newest boats off the line from Waterline Systems, and place at the countless local, regional, and national regattas held annually. As a racer on a budget, a competitive boat can be had inexpensively and campaigned reasonably due to class restrictions on sails and equipment.
Pre-#3000 series hulls often require keel work to move material toward the leading edge to help with pointing and speed. Additionally, because of the extensive racing of the class (nearly all boats have raced in some capacity), all older boats should be checked for delamination as well as moisture intrusion into the core. Rotted core is easily detected with a moisture meter and should be replaced; it is often found under deck fittings and around the mast/hull through hole.
Sailing the Boat: A Balanced Approach
Sloop rigged, the J/24 is quick upwind, responsive, and very maneuverable. She is easy to day sail and challenging to race. As a day sailor, she is comfortable to cruise under main and genoa or under main alone, even upwind. Competitive boats require meticulous set up and are responsive to weight placement, boat tuning, and sail trim. A typical sail assortment consists of main, genoa, blade jib, and spinnaker.
Racing the J/24 is a wild experience. Fleets can be upwards of 80 boats with everyone from weekend warriors to professional sailors. Her nimble nature which is a strength also makes for a twitchy racer. More dinghy like then most keelboats of the same size, tuning, tension and sail trim make an enormous difference in speed and pointing ability. Reliable tuning guides are available through North Sails (http://www.tuningguides.northsails.com/tuningguides/TuningGuides/TuningGuidesJ24NewportDesign/tabid/9245/Default.aspx).
Trim is a labor of love. Under the genoa, the boat responds well to very flat angle of heel and power in the headsail. In light air, maintaining flow over the foils is important, as the boat is slow to accelerate. As breeze increases, the boat will stand up and point well with a light tiller hand and constant main trim. Playing the traveler as in medium air helps to keep the boat upright and maintain pointing angle. In increasing wind velocities, backstay should be used as needed if the rig feels overpowered and there is an increase in lee helm.
Class Association: All Together Now
The J/24 class association (http://www.j24class.org/) organizes and oversees international competition in the class. There are national organizations across North and South America, Europe and Asia. On the local level, hundreds of fleets in the US alone plan and execute club and championship level racing every year. Active fleets can be found around the US and are often more than happy to assist new J/24 owners with the finer points of the boat. A list of active fleets and districts with links to their respective websites can be found here http://www.j24class.org/usa/links.htm.
Who Sails the Boat?
Sailors of all ages and abilities come together at J/24 events. In one annual regatta on Lake George, NY, The Changing of the Colors, 70+ boats gather with average ages ranging from 19-60+. Professional sailors such as Andy Horton and Mike Ingham and collegiate coaches like John Mollicone regularly compete against club racers at events like J/24 Nationals and North Americans. The majority of participants are club racers at the local level. Fleet 50 in Newport RI boasts one of the largest memberships in the US and will be playing host to the 2014 J/24 World Championships (http://www.sailnewport.org/regattas/2014%20J24%20Worlds/2014j24worldchampionship.html). Local fleets such as Fleet 23 in Malletts Bay, Vermont also boast competitive racing on a weekly basis in the summer.
Why sail? A No-Brainer
The J/24 offers a great mix of personality, competition, and sailing comfort. As a day sailor she excels, providing affordable cruising to sailors of all abilities and is as easily dry sailed/trailered as she is stored on a mooring. As a racer she is cost effective, competitive, and quick. Whether sailed one design or under handicap rule, never count a J/24 out of the mix. Boats of all vintages, from the 1970s to 2000s and beyond can be winners, as can participants from junior sailors to seniors. What started out as a garage project in Stonington, CT, has blossomed into the most popular one-design keelboat classes in the world. The J/24 provides, pound for pound, some of the most exciting racing in the world that is accessible to every day club sailors, at a cost that is almost impossible to beat.
By Tyler Colvin