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Top 10 Best Boats Review: J/45

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This evolution of a larger J/Boat promises all-around performance in a handsome package.


It has been nearly 20 years, a full generation, since J/Boats has produced an offshore-capable boat that can be both raced and comfortably cruised. For aficionados of larger Js it has been a long wait, but I’m here to tell you: It was worth it. This new J/45, one of SAIL’s Top 10 Best Boats for 2023 winners, superbly balances modern design trends against the builder’s longstanding emphasis on performance and evolutionary moderation.

So yes, this boat is longer on the waterline and wider than its nearest predecessors, the J/44 and J/46, both of which were first launched in the previous century. But maximum beam is not carried all the way aft, there are no hard chines, freeboard is kept relatively low, the bow is relatively fine, and there’s only one rudder. The result is a boat that heels a bit more and won’t surf quite as readily in strong downwind conditions as some modern designs, but it promises better all-around performance, particularly in light to moderate air, and a smoother, more efficient motion going upwind.

This is also, IMHO, a strikingly handsome boat. Its aesthetic has been refined, most particularly down below, by the iconic French interior designer Isabelle Racoupeau, and it shows. The accommodations have a sleek, very open, modern look, but the layout is still fundamentally purposeful. There’s a good-size nav desk, a galley aft with a large sink near centerline, long straight settees that can double as sea berths, and lots of handholds. Though overall interior volume is necessarily reduced due to the boat’s moderate beam, particularly aft, things do not feel cramped below.

There’s room for twin aft staterooms, as specified on our test boat, and to me those staterooms seemed plenty large enough—the largest yet on a J/Boat, so Jeff Johnstone proudly informed me. If you only need one of these, you can delete the one to starboard and instead get a larger aft head to starboard with a proper shower stall and a big storage space behind it.

I sailed our test boat after the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis last fall and was duly impressed, on coming aboard, to find a pair of gents from the U.S. Naval Academy sniffing around her, with an eye toward adopting the J/45 as their next-gen offshore racing boat. I was impressed, too, by the boat’s seemingly oxymoronic mix of cruising and performance features: a generator, air conditioning, retractable bow thruster, carbon mast with fiber rigging (an upgrade from the standard rod rigging), a fancy, carbon, Danish-built FurlerBoom with a marvelously adjustable outhaul, and lots of flashy North 3Di sails. The owner, it seems, is quite serious about cruising and racing.

The J/45’s hull, I discovered, is indeed easily driven. The 75-hp Volvo diesel auxiliary, turning a three-blade folding prop on a saildrive, pushed us along at a tidy 9 knots flat out at 2,950 rpm. At a more moderate cruise setting of 2,250 rpm, we still made 7.6 knots.

Sailing under just the mainsail, I was very pleased to find the boat is quick and maneuverable. In true wind of 12-16 knots, we carried better than 8 knots of speed on a reach under main alone and could pinch as high as 30 degrees off the apparent wind while still moving at over 4 knots. Just what you need when sailing on and off a mooring in a crowded harbor.

With the jib on, not surprisingly she did much better. We exceeded 9 knots on a beam reach, and as the wind trailed off a bit to just 9 knots true, we were still making well over 7 knots at a 40-degree apparent wind angle. The wind soon perked up again to 12 knots true, and the boat made good better than 8 knots at a 30-degree angle. And it was easy, I found, to pinch up inside of 30 degrees while losing relatively little speed.

Helm feel throughout was light and positive, with what I consider to be the perfect amount of weather helm. Like any good performance boat, the J/45 is sensitive to sail trim. The deep, single rudder, meanwhile, is very grippy—far enough aft to turn the boat authoritatively, but just forward enough to stay clear of the more turbulent flow running off the transom.

As I said, this boat has been a long time coming. And it is not at all disappointing.

LOA 45ft 6in

LWL 41ft 2in

Beam 13ft 11in

Draft 7ft 7in

Displacement 22,900 lb

Ballast 9,150 lb

Sail Area 1,303 sq ft

Power Volvo Penta diesel 75hp w/saildrive

Designer Alan Johnstone

Builder J/Composites (France) jboats.com

Base Price $695K

As Tested $950K

April 2023

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