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The right boat at the right time, the J/24 has proven to be a wildly successful one-design racer.

sailboat j24

The J/24 is one of those boats that happened along at just the right time, with the right marketing to a ready market. Some may wonder whether the tale of her success would make a better textbook or a better storybook. Either way, much of the marine industry has studied her story, and then flattered her with the praise of emulation. However, no imitation or variation of the J/24 has yet to achieve her popularity.

Since her humble beginnings in 1976 in the garage of an amateur designer, thousands of boats have been sold from factories in Rhode Island, California, Australia, Japan, Italy, England, France, Brazil and Argentina. All of the builders are licensed by a company called J-Boats to build the J/24 to strict one-design tolerances. J-Boats is owned and run by two brothers—Bob and Rod Johnstone (the J in J-Boats).

Bob is the marketing whiz and Rod is the designer. Conservative estimates put their total revenue from the J/24, after buying the boats from the builders and selling them to the dealers, at several million dollars. Not bad considering how it all began….

Ragtime was a 24′ inspiration evolved by Rod Johnstone and his family in their garage as a two-year weekend project. Rod was a salesman for a marine publication, and an avid racer with a successful background in high-performance one designs. He had undertaken, but never completed, the Westlawn home-study course in naval architecture (although he has since been awarded an honorary degree so the school could use his name in its advertisements). Ragtime was launched in 1976, and was an instant winner, taking 17 firsts in 19 starts in eastern Connecticut. People began asking for their own boats.

At this time, brother Bob, also a respected racer, was working in the marketing department of AMF Alcort (Sunfish, Paceship, etc.). When Alcort declined to produce the J/24, Bob quit and formed JBoats. Tillotson-Pearson, builder of the Etchells 22 and the Freedom line of boats, was more receptive and production began in 1977. The first J/24s were as fast as Ragtime , and dominated regattas like the 1977 MORC Internationals. Bob made sure that the favorable results were well publicized; more than 200 boats were sold that year, and nearly 1,000 the next.

It was a big hit for a number of reasons. She moved into a void, appealing to two groups of sailors who were ripe for her type of racing: those who had outgrown athletic small boats, yet still yearned for the competition of one-design racing, and those who wished to compete without the expense, hassles and uncertainties of handicap racing.

The J/24 is a one design’s one design. Like the Laser, Windsurfer, and Hobie Cat, she is proprietary-built under the supervision of one company. Unlike most proprietary one designs, sails are not provided by the J/24’s builder. This was a particularly astute move by the Johnstones as it involved sailmakers in the class. Sailmakers comprise many of the big names in racing; by getting them in the regatta results, the Johnstones added instant credibility to the J/24’s budding status as a “hot” class. By the midwinter championship in 1979, almost every boat in the top 15 finishers had a sailmaker on board.

The big advantage that proprietary one designs have over “independent” one designs (classes with competing builders) is the power of centralized, bigbucks promotion. J-Boats has organized and promoted regattas, and had a heavy hand in running the class association. J/24s got a lot of press, thanks to JBoats. Full color, multi-page advertisements appeared monthly in the slick sailing magazines. Promotion has been primary; money is no object. J/24s have been donated for several high visibility USYRU championships. Big discounts have been given for fleet purchases (sometimes to effectively crush interest in competing one designs).

With the help of British enthusiasts, the Johnstones were able to make the J/24 an IYRU (International Yacht Racing Union) recognized class. More international lobbying got the J/24 into the Pan American Games.

There are some disadvantages to proprietary one designs. First, the class is in a real bind if the builder goes bankrupt. Likewise if the builder should ever abuse his power by ignoring class administration or changing construction of the boat to suit economic demands. Although a proprietary builder faces competition from other types of boats, there is no competition building his boat. This can inflate the price, especially when there are three substantial markups in the pricing structure (builder, J-Boats, and the dealer).


The J/24 has the distinct advantage of having been produced in great numbers and been subjected to the rigors of hard racing. It’s safe to say that nearly everything that could have broken, has broken, and that the J/24 is now almost bulletproof. J-Boats has done a commendable job in correcting nearly all of the “bugs” in the J/24. However, if you are planning to purchase a boat several years old you should be watchful for some of the old bugs.

Boats built during the first two years of production had particular problems with leaking along the hull-to-deck joint, delamination of the main bulkhead, and the attachment of the keel to the hull. The hull-to-deck leak was due to failure of the silicone sealant in the joint.

The inward-turning hull flange is overlapped by the deck, which is bedded in sealant and through-bolted at close intervals through a teak toe rail. Now this joint is bedded with 3M 5200, a pliable strong adhesive, and leaks are infrequent. Fortunately, the internal side of the joint is exposed throughout the boat’s interior, so recaulking is not difficult.

Harder to rectify is the problem of delamination of the main bulkhead. J/24s are raced hard, often with substantial rig tension. The chainplates pierce the deck and are bolted to the main bulkhead. The plywood bulkhead is tabbed with fiberglass to the hull and deck. The mast is stepped through the deck and sits on an aluminum beam, which is also tabbed to the main bulkhead. Rig tension pulls upward on the bulkhead while mast compression pushes downward on the beam, resulting in tremendous shearing forces on the bulkhead and its tabbing.

On some of the older J/24s, the plywood has delaminated, letting the mast “sink” 1/4 inch or more. Owners of these boats have either returned them to the factory for replacement of the bulkhead, or ground off the delamination and reglassed the bulkhead themselves. The builder now uses a better grade of plywood and installs screws to reinforce the bulkhead tabbing. As an added precaution, the boat owner may wish to bolt the mast-bearing beam to the bulkhead with an angle-iron.

The third problem with some of the older J/24s is the keel-to-hull attachment. The builder used to fill the keel sump with a vermiculite mixture of resin and plant fiber. The keel bolts were fastened through the vermiculite which, when saturated with water, is less rigid than solid laminations of fiberglass. After several years of sailing, or a hard grounding, the keel bolts would begin to work, and the keel would loosen enough to be able to be wobbled by hand with the boat suspended from a hoist. The first sign of this problem is the appearance of a crack along the keel stub. Tightening of the keel bolts, which are quality stainless steel, is a simple but temporary fix. What is needed is a backing plate for the bolts, bedded on top of the vermiculite.

There was a variety of other problems with early J/24s: The mast has three internal halyards; two jib halyards exit below the headstay with the spinnaker halyard above. On the older boats, a large square hole was cut in the mast to accommodate the sheaves, leaving an open, poorly supported space adjacent to the spinnaker sheave. This is sometimes the source of mast cracks; the fix is to weld a plate over it.

In January of 1980, the J/24 got much-improved companionway and forward hatches. The hatches on older boats were molded of thin fiberglass, and had a tendency to leak and fracture under the weight of heavy crew members. The new forward hatches are lexan, and the companionway hatch is now much heavier with a lower profile.


The J/24’s rudder is heavy and strong. The builder claims you can hang a 900 pound keel from the rudder tip without breaking it. Although the J/24’s rudder pintles appear more than adequate, after several years of use they have been known to develop corrosion cracks where the pintle is welded to its strap. In 1981, the builder began equipping J/24s with weldless pintles; the builder also offers the new system as a replacement for old boats.

The starboard chainplate bolts through both the bulkhead and the hull liner. The port chainplate bolts through only the bulkhead. After the first two years of production, the port bulkhead was reinforced with fiberglass in the chainplate area. On earlier boats, a backing plate should be added to prevent the chainplate bolts from elongating their holes.

The hull and deck of the J/24 are cored with balsa, which makes them stiff, light, quiet and relatively condensation-free. We have heard of occasional delaminations resulting from trailering with improperly adjusted poppets. The Kenyon mast section is the same as that used on the Etchells 22, a bigger boat. It is more than adequate for any strength of wind.

The J/24 does not have positive flotation, and she has been known to capsize in severe conditions. This is usually not a problem as she floats on her side with the companionway well out of the water. However, should the leeward cockpit locker fall open, water can rush below, filling the cabin and causing her to sink. While fastening the lockers in heavy weather prevents the problem, the manufacturer began to seal off the lockers from the cabin with an additional bulkhead several years ago, as a safety measure.

Of the 2,500 J/24s sold in the US, nearly 2,000 of them have been built by Tillotson-Pearson in Rhode Island. The others were built by Performance Sailcraft in San Francisco, which is now defunct. New boats are now shipped cross country. Top west coast sailors tell us they favor the east coast built boats, claiming the keels and rudders on the west coast built boats are too thick to be competitive. The west coast keels are thick because they are covered with injection-molded gelcoat. Tillotson-Pearson fairs the keels with auto body putty.

Handling Under Sail

The J/24’s PHRF rating ranges from 165 to 174, depending on the handicapper. She rates as fast as or faster than a C&C 30, Santana 30, or Pearson 30. One must remember that, because the J/24 has attracted competent owners, her PHRF rating is probably somewhat inflated. While the J/24 is an excellent training boat because she is so responsive, a beginning racer may have an especially hard time making her perform to her PHRF rating.

Aside from her speed, the J/24’s greatest asset is her maneuverability. With her stern hung rudder she can be turned in her own length, sculled out to a mooring in light air, and brought to a screeching halt by jamming the rudder over 90 degrees.

The J/24 has a narrow “groove;” it takes a lot of concentration to keep her going at top speed. She is sensitive to backstay trim, sheet tension, weight placement and lower shroud tension. The lower shrouds act like running backstays, because they are anchored aft of the mast. They must be loosened in light air to create some headstay sag, and then tightened in heavy air to straighten the mast, making backstay tension more effective in removing the sag.

Sheet tension is also critical. Top crews rarely cleat the genoa sheets, having one crewmember hold the tail while hiking from the rail. Some of the best sailors even lead the jib to the weather winch so the sail can be trimmed without sending crew weight to leeward.

The class rules allow you to race with a mainsail, a 150% genoa, a working jib and a single spinnaker. This makes sail selection simple and the inventory affordable (about $2,600 total). However, the one genoa must carry the boat all the way from a flat calm up to 20 knots or more. To be competitive in light air, the genoa must be full; yet to hold the boat level with this full genoa in a strong breeze, you need a lot of crew weight. Most of the top crews are now sailing with five people on board for a total crew weight of 800 to 900 pounds. The J/24 is a small boat, and the additional fifth crew member really makes the boat cramped. Add to this the increasing trend of some skippers making the crew sit in the cabin on the leeward bunk in light air, and you have a boat which can be less than fun to crew on.

There are two worthwhile improvements that can help a J/24’s performance. To decrease the boat’s slight tendency toward a lee helm in light air, the mast should be cut to minimum length allowed in the class rules, and the headstay should be lengthened to the maximum allowed to give the mast more rake. The other improvement is fairing the keel to minimum dimensions. The keel is much thicker than is necessary for optimum performance. It comes relatively fair from the builder, but most owners will want to grind off the builder’s auto-body filler and sharpen the trailing edge. On some of the older boats, the trailing edge is twice the minimum thickness.

Some racers go so far as to spend $500-$1,000 to have the keel professionally faired.

While all indications are that the builder has excellent quality control, there have been complaints that some of the spars provided by Kenyon in the last two years have come with the wrong length shrouds, or widely differing bend characteristics. One top sailor said he would never buy a used J/24 without first making sure that he could make the mast stand straight sideways with substantial shroud tension.

The J/24 is best suited for racing; there are many boats in her size range that are far more comfortable and practical for daysaiIing. However, the J/24 is a joy to sail under mainsail alone. Unlike most boats, she balances and sails upwind at a respectable speed, and her maneuverability gives her tremendous freedom in crowded harbors.

Handling Under Power

The J/24 is powered by an outboard engine; an inboard is not feasible or available. Class rules require that an outboard with a minimum of 3.5 hp be carried while racing. Most owners opt for a 3.5-4 hp outboard. It provides adequate power and is as much weight as you want to be hefting over a transom. Although the cockpit locker is plenty big enough, most owners stow the outboard under a berth in the cabin to keep the weight out of the stern. This makes using the outboard inconvenient. The factory-supplied optional outboard bracket has a spring-loaded hinge to lift the engine for easy mounting; we recommend it. Because the outboard is likely to be stored in the cabin, a remote gas tank will keep fuel spillage and odor to a minimum.

Above Decks

The J/24 is very well laid out, yet she is still not a comfortable or easy boat to crew on. When she was first launched, sailors said her layout could be no better, and she was copied by manufacturers of competing boats. However, after years of racing, sailors have discovered several things that could be improved.


Cockpit winches are located just forward of the mainsheet traveler, which spans the middle of the cockpit. Many sailors have moved the winches forward, so the crewmember tacking the genoa can face forward instead of aft during a tack. It pays to check to see if relocated deck hardware was installed properly; one J/24 owner we know discovered that the previous owner had moved the winches, but hadn’t installed proper backing plates or filled the original holes correctly. As a result, seepage had occurred and several square feet of the balsa-cored deck above the quarterberth had become sodden and rotten.

The standard mainsheet cleat is attached to the traveler car so that, when you trim the sheet, you inadvertently pull the car to weather. Many sailors have solved this by mounting a fixed cleat with a swivel base at the center of the traveler bar.

On older boats the backstay was single-ended at the transom. Boats now come with a double-ended backstay led forward to the helmsman on each side of the cockpit. Foot blocks need to be mounted on the traveler to keep helmsmen from falling to leeward as the boat heels (you must steer from forward and well outboard of the traveler).

For those who plan to try cross-sheeting to the weather winch, leading the jib sheets through Harken ratchet blocks is advised. Most sailors will also want to mount barber haulers to pull the genoa sheet outboard in strong winds. Cam cleats for the barber haulers should be mounted on the companionway so they “self-cleat” when led to the weather winch.

Cabin-top winches for the halyards and spinnaker guys are optional and essential. Because the J/24 has single spinnaker sheets, most sailors mount “twings,” which pull the guy down to the deck outboard of the shrouds when reaching.

In the search for a cleaner deck, it is now common to mount the spinnaker halyard cleat on the mast. Most sailors use only one jib halyard. Although a second jib halyard is optional, it is necessary only for long distance handicap racing. On short one design courses it is better to struggle along overpowered than to place crew weight on the bow to change headsails. Instruments are also unnecessary in one design racing. There are more than enough boats on a one design race course to judge your speed without the help of a speedometer.

The J/24 comes equipped with a Headfoil II grooved headstay system, which works very smoothly. Early boats came with Stern Twinstays, which have occasionally failed when the bearings freeze up with age. Some sailors have exchanged the grooved headstay system for cloth snaps on their headsails (you seldom change sails anyway). We applaud this idea, as it makes the sails more manageable in severe weather.

Although the flat decks are well suited for racing, the cockpit is less than comfortable for daysailing. There are no seat backs and the boom is dangerously low. Visibility with the deck-sweeping 150% genoa is terrible, and is often the cause of nightmarish collisions on crowded race courses. Lower life lines are optional and recommended for those with children, but they interfere with fast tacks when racing. The boom is rigged with a 4-to-1 vang, which is swiveled on the more recent J/24s to be adjustable from either rail on a windy spinnaker reach. The boom is also rigged with reef lines which exit through stoppers at the gooseneck.

Top sailors have discovered that the boat always sails better without a reef, which is a good thing, because the stoppers are both difficult to operate and have a history of slipping.

The interior is simple and functional. On most boats it is used for little more than sail storage. However, for a couple who enjoys roughing it, it could make for occasional weekend cruising. The first thing you notic below is the lack of headroom. You can sit in comfort, but to move about you must crawl.

The interior is finished off in bare white gelcoat. Early boats had coarse, non-skid gelcoat on the overhead. While this may have been more attractive than smooth gelcoat, it really did a number on elbows and bald heads. It also tended to collect dirt and mildew. Earlier through-bolted deck fittings were capped with acorn nuts. Now the nuts lie flush with the overhead—less pain when bumped.

A molded hull liner is used to form the two quarter berths, the cabin sole, and two lockers and a galley just aft of the main bulkhead. One locker is deep enough to serve as a wet locker for foul weather gear; the other is best used to store the rudiments of a meal. The galley consists of a sink with a hand pump. A small, two burner stove could be mounted in the small, removable “table” forward of the port quarter berth. The icebox, a large portable cooler made by Igloo, has a piece of teak glued to it and doubles as a companionway step. After a season or two of jumping on the ice chest, the lid disintegrates.

The forward V-berth, although divided by the mast, is still large and comfortable enough for a couple. The boat does not come equipped with a head. To avoid the extra drag of a through-hull fitting, portable heads are often used. We would rather use a cedar bucket—there simply isn’t enough space in the cabin of a J/24 to cohabitate with a portable head. If you plan to seriously race, you won’t want to load the boat’s lockers with cruising equipment. If you do cruise, it will probably be out of a duffel bag.

J/24: How Trailerable?

The J/24 is not launchable from a boat ramp, unless the ramp is steep, paved or of hard sand, and you use a long extender between the tongue of the trailer and your trailer hitch. Her 3,100 pounds (fully loaded) require a big, 8-cylinder vehicle to tow her. She is easily launched from a 2-ton hoist which can attach to a strap on her keel bolts. However, the hatch slides just far enough forward to allow the hoisting cable to clear it, so the hatch tends to get chewed by the cable.

The J/24 was originally designed to sail at a displacement of 2,800 pounds. The class minimum was later increased to 3,100. The original single axle trailer provide as a factory option was barely adequate for the intended, 2,800 pound boat, and totally inadequate for a fully loaded boat. Tales abound of blown tires and broken trailer welds. The factory now offers both a single and double axle trailer; we recommend the double axle.

If you want to seriously race a J/24, trailering is a necessity. Local fleets grow and shrink each year with the whims of their members, but national and regional regattas continue to attract many participants. Make no mistake, however; trailering is expensive.

The owning and maintenance of a big car, the gas and tolls of trailering, and the housing of crew are not cheap.


The appeal of the J/24 is as a racer. If you plan to do anything else, she is not for you. Although the J/24 is relatively easy to sail, she is very difficult to sail well. To many people, she represents a chance to compete in the big leagues; by traveling to major regattas you can sail against some of the best sailors in the country. However, the big leagues are tough—if you like to race with a pick-up crew and a hangover you’d also better be satisfied with finishing last.

One appeal of the J/24 is that, unlike many big league boats, you can always come home and sail because the boat has so big a following. There are enough boats to race it one-design almost anywhere; and in a pinch, there is always handicap racing. As long as you don’t want to travel, the boat is inexpensive to maintain.

Despite our effort to highlight every flaw that has appeared throughout the J/24’s evolution, we’d like to emphasize that she is more hardy than most boats of her type. Few boats can take the punishment that a J/24 gets during a season of racing and come through with so few scars. No racing boat will appreciate; but the J/24 can keep her value.

The dream boat with the fairy tale success story has turned out, after all, to be a rugged winner in the real world.


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  • Sailboat Guide

J/24 is a 24 ′ 0 ″ / 7.3 m monohull sailboat designed by Rod Johnstone and built by J Boats, Sydney Yachts/Bashford Int., Ovington Boats Ltd., and Waterline Systems, LLC starting in 1977.

Drawing of J/24

Rig and Sails

Auxilary power, accomodations, calculations.

The theoretical maximum speed that a displacement hull can move efficiently through the water is determined by it's waterline length and displacement. It may be unable to reach this speed if the boat is underpowered or heavily loaded, though it may exceed this speed given enough power. Read more.

Classic hull speed formula:

Hull Speed = 1.34 x √LWL

Max Speed/Length ratio = 8.26 ÷ Displacement/Length ratio .311 Hull Speed = Max Speed/Length ratio x √LWL

Sail Area / Displacement Ratio

A measure of the power of the sails relative to the weight of the boat. The higher the number, the higher the performance, but the harder the boat will be to handle. This ratio is a "non-dimensional" value that facilitates comparisons between boats of different types and sizes. Read more.

SA/D = SA ÷ (D ÷ 64) 2/3

  • SA : Sail area in square feet, derived by adding the mainsail area to 100% of the foretriangle area (the lateral area above the deck between the mast and the forestay).
  • D : Displacement in pounds.

Ballast / Displacement Ratio

A measure of the stability of a boat's hull that suggests how well a monohull will stand up to its sails. The ballast displacement ratio indicates how much of the weight of a boat is placed for maximum stability against capsizing and is an indicator of stiffness and resistance to capsize.

Ballast / Displacement * 100

Displacement / Length Ratio

A measure of the weight of the boat relative to it's length at the waterline. The higher a boat’s D/L ratio, the more easily it will carry a load and the more comfortable its motion will be. The lower a boat's ratio is, the less power it takes to drive the boat to its nominal hull speed or beyond. Read more.

D/L = (D ÷ 2240) ÷ (0.01 x LWL)³

  • D: Displacement of the boat in pounds.
  • LWL: Waterline length in feet

Comfort Ratio

This ratio assess how quickly and abruptly a boat’s hull reacts to waves in a significant seaway, these being the elements of a boat’s motion most likely to cause seasickness. Read more.

Comfort ratio = D ÷ (.65 x (.7 LWL + .3 LOA) x Beam 1.33 )

  • D: Displacement of the boat in pounds
  • LOA: Length overall in feet
  • Beam: Width of boat at the widest point in feet

Capsize Screening Formula

This formula attempts to indicate whether a given boat might be too wide and light to readily right itself after being overturned in extreme conditions. Read more.

CSV = Beam ÷ ³√(D / 64)

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Sailboat specifications

  • Last update: 13rd March 2020

J/24's main features

J/24's main dimensions, j/24's rig and sails, j/24's performances, j/24's auxiliary engine, j/24's accommodations and layout.

J/Boats J/24  Picture extracted from the commercial documentation © J/Boats

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sailboat j24

About The J24 Sailboat Class

j24 sailboat

The J24 is a 24-foot (7.32-meter) sailboat that features a fractional rig with a large mainsail and a small jib. It has a displacement of 3,100 pounds (1,406 kg) and a ballast of 1,200 pounds (544 kg), making it a stable and relatively fast boat.

The boat is constructed of fiberglass, and features a simple and robust design that is easy to maintain and repair. It can accommodate up to five people, making it a great boat for racing or day sailing with friends and family.

The J24 class is known for its competitive racing, with strict one-design rules that limit modifications to the boat. This ensures that the competition is based on skill and tactics rather than equipment. Races are often held as short course windward-leeward races, with multiple races held over a weekend regatta.

The J24 class is popular with both amateur and professional sailors, with many top sailors having cut their teeth in J24 racing. The class has a strong international community, with world championships held annually and regional championships held throughout the year.

Overall, the J24 sailboat class is a great choice for sailors looking for a competitive racing experience in a well-established and popular one-design class.

What Make It Great For Racing

The J24 sailboat is a great choice for racers for several reasons:

Strict One-Design Class: The J24 is a strict one-design class, meaning that all boats are identical in terms of design, equipment, and specifications. This ensures that the racing is based purely on the skill and tactics of the sailors rather than the quality or cost of their boat. This creates a level playing field, which makes for exciting and competitive racing.

Popularity: The J24 is one of the most popular racing keelboat classes in the world, with a large and active fleet in many countries. This popularity means that there are many opportunities to race in local, regional, and national events, as well as international regattas. The large fleet size also creates a sense of community among sailors, with many opportunities for networking and socializing.

Accessibility: The J24 is a relatively affordable and accessible boat, which makes it a great choice for sailors of all skill levels. The boat is relatively easy to maintain and repair, and the strict one-design rules mean that there are no expensive modifications or upgrades required to remain competitive.

Performance: The J24 is a fast and responsive boat, which makes for exciting and challenging racing. The fractional rig and large sail plan provide plenty of power, while the relatively light weight and narrow beam make for agile handling and quick acceleration.

Overall, the J24 sailboat is a great choice for racers who are looking for exciting, competitive, and accessible racing in a well-established and popular one-design class.

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North Sails is the premier sailmaker for the J/24 class, renowned for producing the fastest J/24 sails in the world. Our expert team of sail designers and engineers has worked closely with J/24 sailors to develop sails that deliver unrivaled speed, control, and maneuverability. With a long-standing history of success in this class, North Sails has earned the trust of J/24 sailors worldwide.

Choose North Sails for your J/24 campaign and experience the performance, durability, and craftsmanship that have made us the go-to sailmaker for J/24 sailors across the globe. Elevate your racing to new heights with North Sails.


All-Purpose | Choppy Waters

All-Purpose | Flat Waters

All-Purpose | Ultimate Durability


Tuning guide, j/24 experts, will welles.



Allan terhune, samuel albrecht.

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sailboat j24

The Magic of Karl’s Boatshop

Karl Anderson is working in his shop when he stops to answer what should be a straightforward question: How many boats do you own? After a lengthy pause, the 64-year-old responds, “I don’t even know.” Yet the answer can be found with a thorough inspection of the grounds outside the door of Karl’s Boat Shop in Harwich, Massachusetts. What a passing motorist on Great Western Road might assume is just another Cape Cod nautical junkyard has an eclectic collection of vessels ranging from beautifully maintained racers to unfinished projects. Anderson owns a lot of them—some by choice, a few by trade, but most by chance or unpaid invoices.

When I pay him a visit, and our discussion turns to an obscure design by Ray Hunt, Anderson perks up. “I have one of those in the woods out back,” he says. “You can have it if you want it.”

This is not an attempt to bribe a reporter into writing a more favorable story, just a fact that it is there for the taking.

One reason Anderson has so many boats in his possession is because he has always had a fondness for things that float (or should float). He learned to sail on the waters of Cape Cod in general and Dennis in particular, first in Turnabouts and then in O’Day Widgeons. His first Rhodes 18 was a boat that had washed up on shore, upside down with the centerboard stuck in it.

In 1973, Anderson begged his mother for the $800 to buy it, and an older sailor advised him on how to restore it. He started sailing with his friends Chris Cooney and Wick Shepherdson. Four years later, Anderson had sorted the boat and made a name for himself in the class. At the helm of his parents’ Ford LTD station wagon, a water buffalo of a tow vehicle, Anderson and his crew drove north to Biddeford, Maine, for the Rhodes 18 Nationals. Before the team entered the tunnel in Boston, Anderson looked up and noticed his father, who turns 100 this year, waving from a bridge above. The drive home was a fun one, as the team won the national title.

A love of sailing motivated Anderson to open his boat-repair shop in 1983. The firm’s philosophy is summarized in five words: “Have fun working on boats.” And work on them he does. But first, he sails on many of them so he can develop a feel for what they need. One case in point is the J/24. Way back, Anderson started out sailing with sailmaker Dan Neri on his J/24 in Newport and then jumped into a boat with Ken Read. Back in the 1980s, brand-new J/24s needed substantial modifications to be optimized, and he was the guy to do it.

Anderson’s philosophy of boat preparation is the same today. “My method is the blades first. You make the blades the best,” Anderson says. “Secondly, make sure the rig is aligned with the blades, centered side to side. If the rig can’t be centered side to side, what’s the best compromise? Then the bottom. I might even go rigging, ease of use, then the bottom after that because if you can’t tack the boat, it doesn’t matter how good the bottom is.”

Read, now president of North Sails, is a busy man but eager to make time to talk about his boatwright of choice. He quips, “Is this for an article…or a book?”

They started sailing together in the late 1980s and have a lot of time on the water. Read credits Anderson as a critical factor in what he describes as a division of responsibilities.

“Karl was in charge of the boat from the waterline down. Someone else was in charge of the waterline up. I was in charge of the sails. Moose [McClintock] was in charge of the safety gear.”

It was a different era. Professional ­sailors didn’t get paid to sail. They all had jobs, and if they sailed well and won regattas, it boosted their businesses. Anderson worked on boats. Read sold sails, and success on the racecourse was good business. And they still had fun. At the J/24 North Americans in San Francisco, for example, the team could work late into the night to prepare the charter boat. Or they could get most of the work done, knock off early and attend a Grateful Dead show. The vote was unanimous, and Read, Anderson and the rest of the crew saw the Dead in their natural habitat.

After more victories in the J/24 and Etchells than he can recall, Read is quick to credit Anderson. “Karl has a lot of talent and not a lot of ego. I think it comes from a blue-collar mentality. Whenever he introduced himself, he would say, ‘Karl Anderson, Karl’s Boat Shop, Karl with a K.’ He doesn’t mind getting dirty. Anybody who knows how to use tools and doesn’t mind fairing the damn keel himself is naturally going to have less of an ego. It’s work ethic, family, surroundings, what he does for a living. It’s never pretty with Karl, but it somehow works. If you said to him that the bottom needs to be perfect, it was perfect, exactly to the tolerances you were looking for. He doesn’t do things conventionally, but he always does things right. The guy just wins.”

McClintock has sailed with Read and Anderson a fair bit too and says, “Sailing is a sport where you have to earn your respect, and Karl’s earned it with everybody.”

Part of Anderson’s reputation is his demeanor. McClintock says he’s never seen Anderson angry. He’s also quick to note that he’s a great athlete. “He looks like a dumpy guy, but he’s not. He’s quick, he’s agile, he can ski, he can play hockey, and he’s one of the best technical crews you’ll ever see. I learn from him every time I sail with him. He’s really good at making boats go fast.”

While Read is a well-known sailor around the globe, he is not the most famous customer of Karl’s Boat Shop—not by a long shot. That honor belongs to the late, great Sen. Edward Kennedy. For a decade and a half, the senator entrusted Anderson with the care of his beloved Ray Hunt-designed 50-foot Concordia schooner Mya .

Anderson went sailing with Kennedy on numerous occasions. With a grin, he recalls being out on Mya for a sail and saying, “Senator, there are rocks over there.” To which the senator replied, “I’ve been sailing these waters for 50 years; there are no rocks there!”

About two minutes later, the boat stopped—abruptly.

Anderson and his colleague John Sheehan made news when they lost control of Mya during a delivery at the end of the season and put the boat aground in the soft sand of Cold Storage Beach in East Dennis. The famous vessel was later pulled to safety by a tugboat. The damage was minor.

Many sailors on Cape Cod are summer people, so when the crocus and daffodils are popping through the underbrush, so too is the pace at the cluttered boat shop. “We have a very seasonal group that comes here for the summer. They race the local boats, such as the Wianno Seniors,” Anderson says. “They come the first week of June, and then they’re gone the week after Labor Day. They have a certain amount of time, and they don’t want to miss anything, so if something breaks, they want it fixed yesterday.”

Few people in the boat-restoration business are fortunate enough to have created an iconic product that is an embodiment of who they are. The Karl’s Boat Shop tiller is a thing of beauty, a shape that can be identified from afar. In keeping with the philosophy of the shop, the tiller wasn’t a creation based on divine inspiration. It was a sublime answer to a practical problem.

A sailor by the name of Rick Bishop didn’t like the feeling of the stock, straight J/24 tiller hitting him in the back of the legs. Anderson thought about it for a bit and ­created a design with a distinctive bend.

At the time, his shop was laminating ribs for a boat. Anderson gathered up the scraps and fabricated the first of his iconic tillers. “They were made from quarter-inch strips,” he says. “We always said it was mahogany, but it’s really red cedar. That’s how we got them so light. If you don’t varnish them, they will go 10 years. Some guys have them for 20 years. Each tiller receives two coats of sealer, three coats of varnish. The varnish of choice is Epifanes.”

Two of Anderson’s tillers, one for a J/22 and another for a J/24, are mounted on the wall of professional sailor Chris Larson’s home because of the wars they have been through and the great memories they recall. After Read moved on to other classes, Larson inherited Anderson and went on to win the J/24 Worlds with him in 1996.

Larson is quick to corroborate Anderson’s meticulous boat preparation. “Karl was always the master of figuring out what to do next with boat optimization. Once you got the boat back from him, you were confident that it was sorted. You had to have good boat mechanics, get a good start, and if all of that worked out, you were going to have a good event.”

Larson adds that Anderson is the kind of guy who simply gets the job done. “It doesn’t matter what you have to do,” Larson says. “His wasn’t a shop where everything was pretty. It was a get-it-done approach. That’s just how Karl operates. He was always one of those larger-than-life guys, always part of the team. Everybody in the boat park knows Karl. He has a personality that everyone likes and respects. He’s the good part of sailing, the nostalgic history of the evolution of certain classes. In the J/24, he was in the middle of it all, and it would not have been the same without him.”

Professional sailors are not the only customers Anderson caters to. Mark Hillman is a highly accomplished Corinthian competitor who has owned a fleet of racing boats, including five J/24s and a J/70. When Anderson was working on his J/24 (No. 196 named Dr. Feelgood ), he arrived to find there were still some details that needed tending to. “We enjoyed a vacation in Chatham while we waited for the boat to be ready,” Hillman says. It was worth the wait; Hillman would later finish third in the J/24 World Championship and win the East Coasts.

A lot of boat shops have come and gone since 1983, but what has kept the doors open at Anderson’s place makes complete sense. “Stay away from building boats,” Anderson says, looking up from an invoice on his cluttered desk. He has built a few ­custom boats and restored countless yachts, but he has never been lured into the production boatbuilding business. It’s too volatile. Instead, seasonal work, hauling and storage keep the lights on. The race-boat stuff is a passion. Then there are the friends who show up with interesting projects.

Anderson has been in the business long enough that some of the boats he has restored over the years are ready for a second restoration. One he’s trying to get back on the water is Wizard , an aptly named 40-foot 1959 Concordia yawl designed by Ray Hunt, which is hibernating in a well-loved boat barn toward the back of Anderson’s property. If he can convince one or two partners to join him, and find the time between a busy race schedule and running the shop, Wizard will set sail again on Cape Cod—someday.

Wizard is a big project, one that will ­consume a substantial amount of time, talent and money. But with a twinkle in his eyes, Anderson says he’s bought plenty of things he couldn’t afford over the years, but somehow he found a way to pay for them. Sweat equity is how, and at Karl’s Boat Shop, there’s plenty of it. The work is dirty. And it’s messy. But the result is always fast.

The post The Magic of Karl’s Boatshop appeared first on Sailing World .

Karl Anderson in his boat shop


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  7. History

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