SOLO AND double handed racing continues to grow in popularity, almost everywhere, especially offshore. The Rolex Fastnet race sees the double handed entry more than double in size this year. Take a look at last year’s Route du Rhum and you will find dozens of solo adventurer sailors taking on the peak event for singlehanders, mainly in Class 40, coming from all around the world.

The RORC’s offshore series has a growing two handed division, and Royal Southern YC run a two handed series too while in France the Transquadra is an appealing ‘Transatlantic’ in production cruiser-racers which is designed for non-professional sailors who want a bite sized oceanic challenge which they can do in regular holiday time from work, writes Yachting Life boat test editor Andi Robertson.
The new J/99 is designed for this market, which may sound like a little bit of a niche, but since it was announced in July last year they have now sold 58 boats and the production at J Composites in France is flat out coping with orders. Something like 30 were sold off the plans and renderings alone.

‘The J/99 opens up a wide range of sailing opportunities,’ says the designer Alan Johnstone. ‘The versatile sailing plan, balanced hull shape and efficient cockpit will be suitable for both short distance offshore sailing and weekend cruising with friends. The J/99 combines power and versatility at a manageable size and budget’.
So it may be targeted at this growing arena, but it will also be a pretty competitive IRC racer, just as the rest of the J Sport range are. It follows similar design concepts to the J/122e which won the C division in the Offshore Worlds at The Hague last year as well as dozens of other major races and titles.
The J/99 is 32.5ft and combines a comfortable, if slightly basic, rather than plush interior with full standing headroom. It incorporates twin aft cabins, a proper sit-down forward facing nav station, a proper L-shaped galley, and a private forward head and good sail locker.

It is described as a tiller steered sport boat. It will plane in 16-18kts of wind and was making 14-15kts on her first sail on the Solent in 23-24kts, but it is well mannered, well balanced and designed to be stiff. It has slightly squarer and more powerful stern sections than its predecessors.
I was one of the first media testers worldwide to sail the J/99, boat number one, with J Boats UK’s Paul Heys on the last day of 2018 on the Solent with his wonderful wife Marie Claude.

It was to prove a fun experience as these things always were with Paul, but also very poignant, as he sadly passed away in late February.

Paul was an exceptionally special person; a great sailor who wore his passion for sailing on his sleeve. There was always something to chuckle about during our sails and, truth be told, I think he rather liked the odd passing morsel of drama on the water which he always seemed to deal with quietly with determined efficiency and skill.
What strikes me as particularly cruel about Paul’s loss is that in the J/99 is a perfect boat for him and MC to go racing together to really show off their complementary skills and that was what was planned.
The 112 has been successful since J Boats followed the trend to a flat, non-bulbed keel which gives a small rating advantage, Paul told me at the dock in Hamble, ‘The modern Js are super competitive under IRC and ORC, so that is a step change and here we are targeting the two handed market.’

‘In terms of the handicap systems we have had to move towards them here, primarily with the keels. We have resisted the change to a flat, non-bulb keel for five years. I have argued against it with the rating office but they have said there is no advantage to the flat, non-bulb keel, however rating wise there is a big advantage! We have had to copy and we did the same with the 112 and now it is European and World Champion.

‘To be fair we do get a good performance off it. We get good height and good depth when we are running. Rating aside I like the way the boat performs. When we take the bulb off we increase the draft a little bit and we increase the weight of the keel, but the stability is great. We are never short of stability on this boat or on the 112. It seems to work well. But I understand that in a year’s time it will change. We offer the standard J Boat bulb keel, but as an option we have this flat, all lead keel with no bulb,’ explained Paul.
Typically the split is 50:50 so far between short handed sailors or people moving to short handed sailing, and people who will usually sail fully crewed. At three months before the event, the Spi Ouest entry list shows 65 double handed entries, compared to 50 fully crewed.
The J/99 will rate around 1.015 and so a class lower than the 112e and the SunFast and JPK which are all in the rating band at just over 1.050. It is also expected to be a good boat for the RC35 class.

The beam at the transom is increased on previous models; a steady evolution. Alan Johnstone says that with a wide stern and chines it is difficult to reduce the wetted surface on a light day. In terms of the J/88 or J/111 it is heavier with more accommodation. It is a more middle of the road which is what IRC likes.

According to Paul Heys the 99 in moderate conditions, 12-14kts say, it will be faster than the J/109 and First 35 or the J/97. The J/97 is a wonderful IRC boat, but will not really do more than 12kts unless it has waves to surf.
Compared with the 97 this new 99 is also longer on the waterline.
In terms of the rig and sail set up, the double handed market prefers a symmetrical kite because it can be set and sail to deeper angles for longer and is most efficient in non planing conditions. They don’t want to gybe in displacement mode in 10-14kts, but fully crewed it is different on the inshore race course and the 99 will be competitive with the standard A sail and longer sprit.
The 99 has a non retractable bowsprit. It therefore offers the option of both symmetrical or asymmetrical kites. There is the option of going with a shorter bowsprit and spinnaker pole only, the short sprit allowing the use of an A3 or Code Zero ahead of the forestay.
In terms of the short handed set up, which all works equally well fully crewed, the vang is led aft, the outhaul and Cunningham come to the cockpit, the inhaulers have swivel bases so that it can be eased from the helm if, for example, you are over lay line. The jib sheets are cross sheeted through Spinlock blocks.
With the decent interior there is very much a dual role here as a fast cruiser with the ability to spend a few days aboard in comfort.

More and more regatta programmes seem to offer less racing in July and August and more in spring and autumn. In the summer people cruise and so the 99 will do this efficiently. Being set up for short handed sailing makes fast cruising easy.
The rig is from AG+ and is a special new aluminium extrusion which is extra stiff longitudinally for this type of boat. It has a track on the back for a normal bolt rope mainsail, or it will take Antal 40 sliders which the short handed guys like. The mast is sealed completely and the cables exit above the deck so that the boat is kept dry.
The typical inventory, as per the test boat, is with mainsail, Code 2 jib, a Code 3.5 which is a heavy weather jib that will slab reef to a four, a Code 2 spinnaker, an A3 spinnaker and a Code Zero, which in this case was a new North cableless sail, which allows a little more projected area on the luff rather than a sag. It is a slightly different trimming technique.

When we sailed we had about eight to ten knots with flat seas and chilly, but the J/99 was easy to set up and sail and felt responsive and quick in the light winds. Upwind it was close winded but with a firm groove, happy to climb off the keel as soon as the flow was attached with notably easier downspeed than on a narrow sportsboat style keel. It appeared stiff once on a slight heel, accelerating slightly rather than tipping.

The Code Zero turbo’s it up nicely and gives a broad range of angles and speeds. Pressed on a tight reach with the apparent up to 11 or 12kts the J/99 seemed to remain stiff, answering the helm positively and easily with ample rudder area. I’d be interested to see how many choose the twin rudder option.

This was a memorable day on a boat which is highly adaptable. Shame there was not more breeze because it will certainly be a fun boat.

Price from Hamble based Key Yachting: standard boat £96,500 (ex VAT). Test boat £175.000 (inc VAT).