With a serious racing pedigree and reputation for fast, easily driven boats, would J-Boats’ foray into cruising be successful? Theo Stocker sails the J/45 to find out

Product Overview


J-Boats J/45 review

Price as reviewed:

£450,000.00 (from ex VAT)

Moving water is hard work. A big, foaming wake might look impressive, but it’s not fast. Glide through the water with as little disturbance as possible, however, and the chance are it’ll be a quick boat. Sleek and slippery hulls are something that J-Boats does very well and it has done so again with the J/45.

The US-based and (mostly) French-built J-Boats has a phenomenal reputation for racing boats that are amazingly fun to sail, fast and extremely competitive on the race course, both under IRC and in one of their many one-design fleets. Nor are they extreme boats. More than capable of taking a family cruising, they are also easy to sail, to at least 90 per cent of their potential, without breaking a sweat, although accommodation has always tended towards the more spartan end of the spectrum.

Alan Johnstone (the company is still owned by its founding family) draws boats that are instantly recognisable: low freeboard subtly elegant sheerlines, modest beam, retractable bowsprits sporting large asymmetric spinnakers, and super-clean lines that pay little notice to the latest fad if it’s not fast. It is also a sector of the market where there aren’t too many brands stealing their wind – an enviable position to be in.

Having spotted a shift in the breeze, however, the company has put in a tack to pursue a more cruising-orientated boat with more emphasis on comfort than all-out speed, though the J/45 should still hold its own around the cans if you so wish. J-Boats are keen to prove their cruising credentials, knowing their performance record needs no burnishing.

The cockpit is less beamy than other modern boats, making it feel more secure. Photo: Richard Langdon

‘Family cruising has always been in the J-Boats DNA,’ explained Frederic Bouvier, J-Composites commercial manager, as we motored out of UK dealer, Key Yachting’s base on the Hamble River. ‘Ever since the first J24 was built by the Johnstone family, the aim has been to make the boats easy to sail.’

The question was whether the largest J-Boats for 15 years still carries those traits. The weather couldn’t have been kinder to us as we set off in the middle of the longest spell of strong easterlies and sunshine any of us could remember.

The weather didn’t seem to change for months (though we paid for it later), and for those on the South Coast, the result was weeks of gloriously bright and breezy sailing, even if the wind coming off the land was fiendishly shifty. On the day of our test sail we had between 5 and 20 knots of breeze true, and the gusts shifted through 30º.

So it was that I found myself at the helm, concentrating intensely on the tell tales, settling into a groove. As with stepping aboard any new boat for the first time, it takes a moment to get dialled in – halyard tension, adjusted with the powered coachroof winch to port, kicker and backstay tension, both controlled from the hydraulic unit just ahead of the main.

If you’ve not sailed with hydraulic systems before it can be disconcerting, but I found it powerful and precise, if a little awkward to read the pressure dial so low down.

Side decks are wide and clear, and sail controls are well-placed and have enough power. Photo: Richard Langdon

Properly seaworthy

Like other boats of this ilk, J-Boats have stuck with a single rudder, and on this boat it’s nearly 2m deep, only just short of the keel’s 2.32m draught. Tucked well forward of the stern, and thanks to the narrow waterline aft, you’ll be hard pressed to get the blade to let go. The advantage of a single rudder is improved feel on the helm; I had a real sense of the boat telling me when it was balanced and happy.

Even under Code Zero, things remained so well balanced that the boat sailed straight without a hand on the helm. Some boats mask an unbalanced sailplan or hull shape with rudders that give plenty of grip but little feedback. The J45 didn’t need to hide anything to be light and responsive on the wheel.

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Thanks to the two wheels being close together, I could move between high side and low side easily, with comfortable positions at either – a lifting footchock to brace against either standing or seated, and a raised seat on the side deck to keep your backside dry.

The winch for the German mainsheet is within easy reach, as is the traveller, while leaving space to sit forward of or astride the wheel. The traveller runs on a full-width, track, which is raised rather than recessed to avoid it collecting water, salt and dirt and to prevent rope jams between car and recess.

Lift-up foot chocks make for steady footing at the helm, standing or seated. Photo: Richard Langdon

The only niggle was that the instruments on the pedastals are only visible if you’re standing, so you’re more reliant on being able to see the coachroof instruments – B&G Nemesis displays in this instance.

The next thing you notice about the cockpit, and the layout on deck, is how clean it looks. That’s partly a function of the white GRP and pale grey deck grip. This boat also came with ‘faded teak’ synthetic teak on the cockpit sole and seats with pale grey caulking – all very stylish and unobtrusive with a minimum of fuss.

Relatively low coamings and a low coachroof don’t detract from the cockpit feeling secure, thanks to the ergonomics being just right. Far from being impractically minimalist, the J/45 has seaworthiness at the core.

The windlass is kept below a small lid without direct access to the chain. Photo: Richard Langdon

The cockpit is narrower than many modern cockpits and with a folding table atop a chunky moulded foot brace on the cockpit sole, it all felt very secure. Remove the table with eight bolts, the nuts for which are encapsulated in the deck to eliminate the chance of any leaks.

Little touches, like stainless handrails, the deep stowage bins in the table, a large sprayhood with removable sides and the rope bin below the cockpit sole at the companionway, all contribute to the boat’s cruising seaworthiness.

A large forepeak also gives access to the anchor chain. Photo: Richard Langdon

Lines are led aft on the coachroof below a single access panel, and the mainsheet is led to the helm under the side decks. Winches were powerful 50ST Performa winches from Harken recessed into the coamings; the port coachroof winch and starboard mainsheet winch were optionally powered on this boat.

The rest of the deck gear is extremely well-specced too – Harken throughout, with towable jib cars, MkIV furler (a flatdeck furler is an option), and jib sheet inhaulers to play with the sheeting angle. Of course, with this level of finesse, you’re going to be looking at laminate sails as Dacron will deform too quickly. The test boat came with FibrePath Enduro sails from Ullman Sails – the grey colour is just UV-protective ‘light skins’ over the laminated Technora structure.

Laminate sails, such as these FibrePath Enduro sails from Ullman, utilise the boat’s pointing ability and rig controls. Photo: Richard Langdon

J/45 on the wind

The wildly oscillating conditions made it tricky to settle into a steady beat, but there is no doubt the J/45 is close-winded and the stronger the wind, the closer you can get away with. In a Force 4, we made 7 knots upwind at 28º-32º to the apparent, 8 knots across the wind, and up to 10 knots in the gusts with the Code Zero set. Racing sailors will be able to find more speed than that I’m sure, and she’ll keep moving at respectable speeds in as little as 5 knots of breeze.

Importantly, none of it felt flustered, and with heel of around 20º-25º – less than I expected for such a slender boat – life on board remained extremely comfortable onboard, largely thanks to her 40% ballast ratio and lightweight carbon mast. Under engine, the 75hp Volvo Penta (60hp is standard) pushed us along easily at 7 knots at 2,000rpm and 7.7knots at 2,200rpm in flat water.

Inhaulers and towable jib cars give maximum control over headsail shape, though a self-tacking jib is an option. Photo: Richard Langdon

Going forward, side decks are wide and clear, with chainplates right outboard atop the moulded toe rails. Chunky mooring cleats push down to remove snagging hazards under sail, and there’s a moulding forward of the mast for the optional self-tacking jib.

Space up forward has been well used in the fine bow, with the furler set off the stem rather than below deck, to maximise the foretriangle. Unusually for a J-Boat, the bow sprit is fixed rather than retractable, and a bob stay supports high-luff tensions. The only deck fittings I’d add would be midships tweakers to adjust the sheeting angles for offwind sails.

It’s encouraging to see a few more builders considering heavy weather with the inclusion of removable inner stays. Rather than a stay, however, the J/45 allows a staysail or storm jib with a high-tension luff cable to be set on a furler via a halyard lock on the mast and purchase and jammer on the deck, with tension provided by a line led back to the cockpit winches, a racing innovation that eliminates halyard stretch.

The boat slips to windward with a minimum of fuss. Photo: Richard Langdon

The anchor locker is a good size, and though the lid is small, a water-tight hatch in the bulkhead from the large forepeak gives good access to the chain. Fenders can be stowed in the lazarette between the helms, where there’s also access to the Goiot steering quadrant.

Stowage elsewhere include a sole-depth locker under the starboard seat and liferaft stowage to port – the whole bench lifts so there is no lip to lift a heavy raft over. The gas locker is a cruiser’s dream, with enough space for at least two decent-sized gas bottles, and enough room for spares.

The saloon has a large galley, chart table, and C-shaped seating. Photo: Richard Langdon

Clean design

The same clean, simple aesthetic continues below on the J/45, with white bulkheads and hullsides staying true to the J-Boat look, while remaining highly practical.

Companionway steps are bevelled and covered with grip coating; leather-sheathed handholds either side lead you on to a stainless rail all the way round the end of the galley unit, on to the chart table fiddle; recessed grab rails in the deckhead; and a full-height steel bar on the aft side of the keel-stepped mast. There are no wide open spaces or sharp corners to fall across and into.

Ample stowage, light and ventilation make for a practical and seaworthy saloon. Photo: Richard Langdon

All of this, along with the inclusion of a full-size, forward facing chart table – with stowage for books and other kit in shelves and drawers below and outboard of the table – as well as properly screwed-down sole boards, suggests that this is a proper sea boat.

The biggest nod this boats gives to current trends is the inclusion of four pairs of hull windows, a rarity for J-Boats – two in the saloon each side, and one each side in the forward and aft cabins.

On the three cabin version we tested, the heads, aft of the chart table, is small but functional, though with no wet locker. Opt for the two-cabin version, and the heads starts 20cm further aft, allowing the starboard saloon settee to grow from 180cm to 200cm. A larger heads and shower compartment replaces the aft cabin, and provides access to a vast cockpit locker stowage space.

Stowage abounds in the spacious and forward owner’s cabin, even if you opt for the ensuite heads rather than a second wardrone. Water tanks are under the berth to balance out the weight of cruising kit and crew aft. Photo: Richard Langdon

To port of the companionway, the whopping J-shaped galley the size of landlubber’ kitchen includes neat touches like a circular bin lid in the worksurface, a cavernous top-opening fridge with freezer compartment as well as a separate front-opening drinks fridge, drawers, under sink stowage and a large sink, though I’d want a double sink to
give crockery somewhere to drain.

A three-burner gas stove, plus a microwave fitted in the overhead lockers, gives a few cooking options, and you can even run your espresso maker off the inverter. There’s stowage in sliding lockers behind the stove, and in the bottom-hinged overhead lockers, though the kitchen cupboard-style hinges take up a bit too much space.

Face forward at the full-size chart table, whether you’re navigating or just doing emails. Photo: Richard Langdon

Below the C-shaped saloon seats is all stowage, other than the batteries at the aft end of the starboard settee. That’s at least partly thanks to the use of narrow-diameter water heating rather than air central heating with its large ducts.

My only misgiving about the saloon was that the table didn’t extend to the starboard settee, limiting table seating to four, or six at a squeeze. The hull windows give great fish-spotting opportunities when sailing, but are slightly too low for eye level when seated to see the horizon, which is a shame. Look at them from the outside, however, and you’ll notice they’re parallel to the waterline rather than the sheerline – a fact that reveals a good amount of sheer – which is one of the reasons this boat looks so attractive, and how 6ft 4in of headroom has been squeezed in throughout.

Narrower beam aft makes itself apparent
in the slightly narrower aft cabins. Photo: Richard Langdon

The other reason for all this space is that the water tanks (two 200-litre stainless tanks) are under the forward berth on the J/45. An odd choice for a performance cruiser, as you’d normally want to concentrate the weight low down and as close to midships as possible, but this is to balance out the cruising clobber and bodies aft, ensuring the transom doesn’t drag and the boat doesn’t slow down even in cruising trim.

Home comforts

For a boat with such a racing heritage, the owners’ cabin forward is more comfortable and practical than many pure cruisers – upright, overhead and bin lockers on both sides as well as full-length shelves above the very smart dark tan trim, into which the hull windows are set. The peninsula double bed is 206cm long, 170cm at its widest and 140cm wide at head and foot ends.

The ensuite heads is more generous than the aft heads (in the three-cabin layout) and includes a separate shower cubicle and toilet.

Separate shower and toilet spaces in the forward heads is bigger than the aft heads. Photo: Richard Langdon

One of the only clues to this boat’s slender beam below decks is in the aft cabins, where the berths are a good 198cm long, 147cm wide at the head end but just 110cm at the foot end – narrower than many these days, but still plenty comfortable for two.

Finish throughout is neat and well executed, with very few rough edges. Only in the aft cabins did the foam-backed headlining look a little less immaculate than in the rest of the boat.

Structurally, this is a stiff boat. Both deck and hull are vacuum infused vinyester resin over a divinycell core (as is the bathing platform, to save weight), with solid laminate in loaded areas. The keel matrix is made in the same way, before being bonded into the hull and overlaminated along all joins, with electrical ducting built into the grid to save weight. All bulkheads are also vacuum infused, laminated into hull and deck and then veneered. The keel is cast iron with a lead bulb, secured with over-sized stainless bolts and backing plates.

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It would be easy for a cruising boat from a racing stable to fall between two stools, but the J45 does not disappoint. This is one of the most effortlessly enjoyable boats I’ve ever sailed. The modest displacement, stiff hull, generous ballast and decent spread of canvas put her near the top of the performance cruiser sector, though she’s a tonne or so heavier than some competitors. Her trump card is the superbly slippery hull and narrow beam that allow this boat to slip to windward with a minimum of fuss, and to keep on going through the wind range. This is a boat that will make you look like a better sailor than your are – that’s a compliment to the boat rather than an insult to you. The design on deck and below has been refined from decades of experience at J-Boats, and from what I could see on our test, this is an eminently practical and seaworthy cruiser, and while I didn’t get to test her in a big chop I suspect her fine entry would make light work of waves, though may be wetter than some. Stowage, safety, security and sail handling on deck was all extremely well thought through (including life-raft and gas stowage), and neat solutions like the inner forestay show an acceptance that cruising isn’t always warm breezes and sunbathing.


LOA:13.85m / 45ft 5in
LWL:12.56m / 41ft 2in
Beam:4.25m / 13ft 11in
Draught:2.32m / 7ft 7in
Draught (Shoal):2.10m / 6ft 11in
Draught (Race):2.60m / 8ft 6in
Displacement:10,400kg / 22,928 lbs
Ballast:4,150kg / 9,149 lbs
Sail Area:121m2
SA/D Ratio:25.8
Water:400L / 87.8 gal
Fuel:150L / 32.8 gal
Engine Volvo Penta:75hp (standard 60hp)
RCD Category:A
Price as tested:£790,000 Inc VAT
Designer:Alan Johnstone
Builder:J-Composites, France