By Rupert Holmes
The J/45 is a fast, but civilized, cruiser with a timeless appeal that will resonate with J/Boats’ many long standing devotees
We’re close-hauled, sailing the new J/45 at 7.5 knots and catching up with a modern 55-footer, but slowly falling into her lee. Winding on a little mainsheet tightens the leech, putting us in a high mode almost 5° closer to the wind, and we climb above and ahead of the bigger boat. It’s classic J/Boat sailing that’s familiar to thousands of sailors, yet this is a comfortable 45ft cruiser with a host of luxuries including air conditioning.
The J/45 has heaps of appeal to anyone who’s sailed a J in the past. Yet, although the company is responsible for numerous cutting edge designs that changed the way we sail, this boat is more conservative in its nature – it’s an evolution rather than a revolution.
Low freeboard, moderate beam and fine ends by today’s standards, plus a single rudder, put it in classic J/Boat territory. The J/45’s development was also strongly influenced by a desire to produce a boat that’s a joy to sail in light airs, as well as being able to take heavy weather in its stride when necessary.
The J/45 is just as responsive to sail trim as the smaller and racier models in the range and is well powered up in only 8 knots of true wind, when we made 7.5 knots upwind.
As the wind progressively built above 10 knots we gradually depowered by pumping on more backstay tension as the boat accelerated further. In 13 knots of true wind we were making 8.4 knots of boat speed, at a true wind angle of only 42°. In stronger breezes the polars show optimal tacking angles of little more than 70°.
A German mainsheet system, led to winches just ahead of the helm stations, plus a 6:1 traveller, makes for easy trimming upwind. The rig is also easy to depower as the breeze builds – increased backstay tension is effective in changing the mainsail to a completely different shape, markedly reducing its drive.
The initial concept for this new flagship was developed and refined over three years of conversation between the American J/Boats team and J/Composites, based in Les Sables d’Olonne, with further input from Berret-Racoupeau for interior design, layout and ergonomics.
From the outset the key vision for the J/45 was for a comfortable cruiser that’s lots of fun to sail, even in light airs. It’s primarily intended for a family or two couples to spend up to 10 days or so on board, though of course the boat is capable of far more than this.
J/Boats has long favoured wheels over tillers, even on boats as small as the J/105 where tiller steering would create a more open cockpit and facilitate sail trimming when helming and alone in the cockpit. This philosophy is carried over to the J/45, where the narrow transom means the two wheels are of a small diameter.
The instrument pods at the helm stations are small, but both have enough space for a steering compass, pilot controls and a small MFD. Our test boat also has B&G Nemesis displays above the companionway hatch garage, but these were partially obscured by the coachroof winches, so I’d be likely to also opt for 20/20 or larger displays at the mast.
J/45 PROVIDES PERFORMANCE AND PLEASURE
Throughout the test the helm was super light but responsive, with good feel that built reassuringly as the rudder loaded up when the J/45 was powered up and well heeled. My notes sum it up as: “a brilliant blend of performance and pleasure, with a lovely feel in the helm at all times.”
On the downside, it’s impossible to adjust the vang and backstay from the port helm station, although the mainsheet winches and traveler are within reach when sitting on the side deck astride the wheel.
Bearing away to a true wind angle of 135° and unfurling the Code 0 in 12 knots of true wind gave 8 knots of boat speed and beautifully easy, yet fast, sailing. Our highest speeds of the test were also achieved under Code 0, with 16 knots of true wind just abaft the beam. The boat powered up well, still feeling relaxed with speeds nudging into double figures, although weight built noticeably in the helm in the strongest gusts.
When fully powered up close reaching with the big kite I tried bearing away sharply without easing the sheets. The J/45 answered the helm instantly with a dramatic course change and no hint of the rudder being anywhere close to stalling.
On the other hand, one downside of the moderate beam and finer ends is that the J/45 tends to sail at greater angles of heel than wide bodied twin-rudder yachts, where the angle rarely exceeds 20°.
Two choices are offered for handling the luff of the mainsail when reefing: either a strop with a dogbone that’s made fast near the gooseneck, or a downhaul led aft to the coachroof winches. The headsail of our test boat sets from an optional low-profile Facnor FD furler, while for stronger winds there’s a furling staysail that’s set on a halyard lock. This can be configured for use with the optional self-tacking jib sheet track and offers an excellent set up for winds over 20 knots.
The keel-stepped mast is unusual among performance cruisers today, but makes sense in this case as the extra support at the partners means the section is one size smaller than would be needed for a deck-stepped spar. This reduces weight aloft and makes the rig more responsive to backstay tension when depowering the mainsail.
Effort has been made to keep displacement low, although it’s still significantly heavier than some performance cruisers of this size. But at the same time performance is optimised for the fully loaded displacement, which minimises the effect loading the boat has on both speed and handling.
Construction is of infused vinylester resin and hull laminates are over-specified to give excellent stiffness and improved impact resistance.
Nothing is skimped on in the deck layout and equipment on the J/45, while the standard specification is generally of a very high level. It includes many items that other yards list as expensive options, such as Nitronic 50 rod rigging, hydraulic backstay and vang, white painted aluminium spars, and a 60hp engine with three-blade folding prop.
Systems work flawlessly and the six winches are generously sized. At the same time, the deck has a very uncluttered appearance, with lines including halyards and the mainsheet system led aft beneath conduits. The hydraulic backstay and vang markedly reduce the amount of string in the cockpit, as do the standard headsail sheet cars that run on a track with pins, although towed cars are offered as an option.
Our test boat has the electric option for the port coachroof winch, which makes for easy spinnaker hoists and trimming. The pit area is also provided with self-stowing washboards and a commendably large rope bin. Other neat touches include the lazybag arrangement, which makes it easy to roll away excess fabric while sailing.
The J/45 cockpit layout will be immediately familiar to any keen sailor, although unlike many yachts of this size, there’s no separate guest cockpit for those who want to stay well clear of the action. The cockpit is narrow by today’s standards, especially towards the transom, but the lack of wide open spaces here is not detrimental for a serious sailing yacht. Deep moulded bulwarks, plus stainless steel coachroof grab rails, give security when going forward, while the non-slip deck surface of our test boat proved effective, as did the Flexiteek fitted to the cockpit benches and sole.
Cruising stores on the J/45
Two-cabin versions of the J/45 have a large cockpit locker under the starboard bench, which is open to the lazarette and can also be accessed from the interior. There’s a lot of stowage space here, with the main area easily able to swallow a dinghy, several sails, paddleboards and more, although the access from deck is relatively narrow.
It also gives safe access to the quadrant and the pilot ram. In addition, there’s a dedicated liferaft locker, access to the lazarette from the cockpit sole and a large sail locker forward.
Given that most cruising stores and equipment tend to be stowed in the back half of a yacht, the 350lt water tank is under the double berth in the forward cabin, while the chain locker is right forward. This is deliberate to balance the weight of movable equipment and stores, but means weight is not concentrated centrally and it feels wrong to place so much in the ends of the boat. It’s a testament to the boat’s underlying design that this weight in the bow didn’t appear to mar handling, or detract from the lovely feel under sail during our test.
No one buys a J/Boat solely on the basis of the interior and it’s no surprise the combination of low freeboard and moderate beam limit volume below deck. However, headroom is generous in the saloon and this a sufficiently large yacht to offer a considerable level of comfort.
While the overall style is instantly recognisable as that of a J/Boat, it’s at least a couple of notches above previous models in terms of quality and feel. J Composites has worked hard to achieve this and there’s a wide range of upholstery options.
The main living, galley and navigation station areas on the J/45 occupy a good length of the boat near the point of maximum beam and are therefore relatively spacious. There are good handholds both at the easy companionway steps and as you move forward into the saloon.
This is wide, with a settee/sea berth to starboard and generous U-shaped seating around the table opposite. On our test boat the aft transverse saloon seat houses an air-conditioning unit with outlets to the saloon and cabins.
At the foot of the companionway the semi U-shape galley has a large single sink and lots of worktop space, along with generally good stowage. Our test boat has a big top loading fridge, plus a second refrigeration unit with drawers, and a three-burner hob with oven. There’s no provision for a dishwasher or a washer-dryer.
Opposite the galley, the chart table has a conventional forward-facing seat. It’s a good size, with reasonable stowage but no dedicated bookshelves, although some of the six large eye-level lockers lining each side of the saloon could be used for this purpose.
The owner’s cabin is forward, with a peninsula bed, plus a useful separate seat, good floor space and a decent size heads. However, the freshwater tank under the bed limits stowage volumes. This is mostly in one locker to starboard, with hanging space, plus three shelves and two smaller lockers underneath. While there’s ample space for shorter trips, those who envisage spending extended periods on board in cooler climes may need to also use some of the generous saloon stowage.
The port aft cabin is a decent size, with reasonable stowage, although it lacks the palatial proportions of those on boats this of length with more freeboard and where maximum beam is carried right aft. On three-cabin boats the starboard cabin is almost a mirror image of this, but has a little less floor area and stowage.
The second heads compartment, to starboard at the base of the companionway steps, is well appointed and benefits from a big shower area in two-cabin boats. Three-cabin versions, however, lose the shower stall.
J/Boats has never been afraid to carve its own path. That’s also true for this boat, even though the concept doesn’t obviously push new boundaries. It will certainly appeal to J aficionados. They will appreciate the responsive, precise handling and performance across a wide range of wind speeds and angles. Equally, anyone who’s endured long periods under power while cruising will appreciate the boat’s ability in light airs. It’s really positive to see J/Boats building at this size again. Overall the execution is good and the standard specification impressive, as is attention to detail. For example, this is the only boat of the 10 I tested last winter with cabin sole boards fastened down as per World Sailing’s Offshore Special Regulations, which apply to offshore races and cruising rallies such as the ARC. Add in good resale value and a worldwide dealer/support network and it’s not surprising that this model is already proving popular.
Sail area (100% foretriangle):
Sail area/disp ratio:
45' 6" / 13.85 m
41' 2" / 12.56 m
13' 11" / 4.25 m
7' 7" / 2.32 m
22,900 lb / 10,400 kg
9,150 lb / 4,150 kg
1,266 ft2 /117.6 m2
44 gal / 200L
77 gal / 350 L