J/109 Speed Guide

  • Last Updated: junio 20, 2019
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North Sails class leader Jack Orr answers your J/109 speed and boat handling questions.

Who sails a J/109?

First built in 2004, the J/109 had a successful production run of over 375 boats in North America and Europe. The boat was conceived as a 35-foot racer/cruiser in the tradition of the J/35, updated with an IRC-friendly hull. Rigged with furling jibs and a sprit, the J/109 is easy to sail and is comfortable for a family on a cruise or racing in a big one-design fleet. A good all around boat, the 109 rates well under most handicap rules and has an excellent race record worldwide. The first generation of owners jump-started class racing, but most boats raced handicap or cruised. In recent years, class racing has had a resurgence as second and third owners have bought the boats to race in a popular one-design class.

J/109 Speed Guide | North Sails
The J/109 powers up quickly in light air, so it’s important to sail class regattas near max crew weight.

What’s involved in crewing?

Unlike the J/105 , even with a 105-percent class jib, the J/109 is quick in light breeze and powers up quickly. To keep the boat on its lines, max crew weight is important for upwind speed.

The boat can be sailed with as few as five crew, but the class allows seven, plus an eighth if one person weighs under 132 pounds. In some major class events, there is a weight limit of 1,213 pounds excluding the driver. Although seven crew seems like plenty of hands, they are all busy!

Racing in class events, you can gain or lose boat lengths in a hurry so it’s important to fill the key positions with solid teammates. Start with a strong bowman who can muscle the chute around in jibes and takedowns. (It’s OK if they are big.) With the addition of inhaulers on the jib sheets, the jib trimmer needs to understand how jib trim affects pointing and mainsail trim. The mainsail trimmer controls the power to keep the boat on its lines; since everyone needs to be hiking, the main trimmer can also keep an eye on the racecourse.

All that being said, the boat is easy to sail and the basics can be learned quickly. Having one or two key crew with some pick-up crew is fine for most weeknight or weekend sailing.

What are three top tips for J/109 speed?

  1. Spend time in the boat with a committed core crew. Practice!
  2. Learn proper sail trim and rig tune. It’s critical to keep the boat on its lines and at top speed. Having the crew weight and sails properly balanced wins races.
  3. Prep the hull and rig, clean the bottom, and save your best sails for big events.

What should buyers know when choosing a J/109?

Production of J/109s ended several years ago. With the resurgence of class racing, used boats are in demand. Most boats are in the $120K – $150K price range.

The boats for North America were built by TPI; J/Boats France built for the rest of the world. Overall quality was good, and the boats are well built. Some of the TPI boats had issues with the keel sump, so make sure that’s been addressed when looking at a boat.

Many boats were used for cruising and have been modified accordingly over the years. Look for boats without extra winches or big modifications to deck layout or keel, as these won’t be class legal. Also, J/Boats built a number of shoal-draft J/109s; for racing, you’ll definitely want to buy one with a deep-draft keel.

How many sails are required?

The J/109 class allows you to sail with two jibs, two asymmetric spinnakers, and one main. Sails can be changed between races as conditions change. The Light/Medium Jib is generally used in 0 to 14 knots, and the Medium/Heavy has proven fast in as low as 10 knots true wind speed (TWS) in flat water. The A2 spinnaker is good up to 20 knots TWS. The heavier A4 works well in 18 knots and above.

Upwind sails have no limitation on materials and construction, but they do have a minimum weight limit. Spinnakers must be woven nylon and have a minimum cloth weight.

Because boats often come with a large inventory of used sails, many new owners buy a new main, spinnaker, and medium jib for class racing, using the older sails for handicap races or cruising.

Class sail purchases are limited. The first year, you can register two new mains, jibs, and spinnakers. After that, you are allowed one new sail of each type per year. Most owners expect their sails to be competitive for multiple seasons, so 3Di’s improved durability has become a big advantage. Here is a link to North Sails’ current J/109 product offering.

J/109 Tuning

J/109 Speed Guide | North Sails
Jib spreader marks help repeat trim settings.

What are the keys to rig set-up?

Maintaining headstay tension and matching mast bend to luff curve help keep the boat balanced and at the proper heel angle, so adjusting rig tension to match changing conditions is key to sailing fast.

The J/109 is set up with a Harken furler as standard, and although it is adjustable, it’s not something you will ever change on the racecourse. Once set, in fact, the headstay is rarely adjusted. Instead adjust the cap shrouds (uppers or V1), diagonals (D1, D2), and backstay to match conditions.

J/109 Speed Guide | North Sails
Controlling headstay sag is critical to keeping the boat balanced, especially as the breeze strengthens.

The mast butt should be positioned all the way forward in the adjustment slot, so you only need to set that once.

The J/109 Quick Tune Guide includes detailed measurements and shroud tensions for different wind strengths. Shroud tension affects headstay tension and how much the headstay sags under different loads, so it’s very important to get this right.

J/109 Speed Guide | North Sails
Jib sheet inhauler positions should be marked on the deck for repeatability.

What other control systems are important on the J/109?

Setting up to cross-sheet the jib (and then practicing your tacks) is critical in windy conditions, as is having good leverage on the vang. Marks for setting the jib inhaulers are important. The mainsheet gross tune could use more purchase in heavy air, so make sure the fine-tune has plenty of line available.

J/109 Upwind Sailing

How much heel is fast on a J/109?

In general, sail the J/109 with less than 20 degrees of heel by playing the traveler and feathering in puffs. A skilled driver can keep it flatter, but the most important goal is to maintain a constant heel angle while minimizing rudder movement. If you need more heel to maintain consistency, that’s OK.

J/109 Speed Guide | North Sails
Sailing flat is fast, but maintaining a consistent angle of heel and minimizing rudder movement are the top priorities.

Upwind, where does the crew sit?

The boats are a bit stern heavy, so we always work to keep people forward and out of the cockpit. In light air, locate one person forward of the shrouds; in heavier air, bring the forward-most person behind the shrouds to keep weight at max beam. The rest of the crew should sit close together at max beam.

When the wind lightens enough to take someone off the rail, send the jib trimmer to leeward first. When possible, move everyone a half a body width farther forward; the mainsail trimmer will scoot to the front of the cockpit.

J/109 Speed Guide | North Sails
A soft shackle easily attaches jib sheets to the clew, allowing sheets and inhaulers to stay rigged during sail changes.

How do you trim the J/109 jib upwind?

A key move with the jib is to use just enough halyard tension to keep the draft positioned correctly. New 3Di jibs have the draft naturally forward, so less halyard is needed than with conventional sails. Mark the spreaders and the deck to help your trimmer repeat fast settings.

J/109 Speed Guide | North Sails
Tension the halyard just enough to place the draft correctly, and set the lead so that the tell tales break evenly from top to bottom.

As the inhauler pulls the clew inboard, sometimes it will appear that the foot looks too flat, this isn’t always the case. The lead should be set so the tell tales break evenly, these are your guide as to balancing the leech and foot tensions. Make sure the sail has some twist at the top. As the clew gets pulled inboard with the inhauler, it’s easy to oversheet the sail.

J/109 Speed Guide | North Sails
In 8-15 knots TWS, the jib is inhauled until the clew is inside the handrail.

Adjust the inhaulers for different wind conditions. In light to medium (8-15 knots TWS), the jib clew should be inhauled until it’s inside the metal handrail. As the wind increases, ease the clew so it trims outside the rail. In very light air , sail with the clew outside the rail as well.

How do you trim the J/109 main upwind?

It’s hard to stall the top of the J/109 mainsail because the sails are designed with a lot of twist so you can sheet on hard as it gets windier. Even in 8 knots, we recommend stalling the top tell tale 60 percent of the time. The extra leech tension has the added benefit of pulling the headstay tighter, too, minimizing headstay sag.

The J/109 doesn’t like much heel. From 11 knots up, our team is fully hiked, and at 13 knots, we’re pulling on backstay and cunningham. The backstay flattens the main well and begins to twist open the sail again, minimizing heel and weather helm. That’s the real trick on this boat: tune the rig so your trim and your backstay work for both sails at the same time. If the headstay gets too saggy and the main gets too flat, you probably don’t have enough V1 and D2 tension.

Vang tension is critical in a breeze. In 8-10 knots, pull the vang snug. As the boat begins to get overpowered, pull it on firm. When using a lot of twist, it’s time for a two-handed pull, bracing feet against the cabin house. For the sake of your boom and mainsail, remember to ease both vang and cunningham at the weather mark.

J/109 Speed Guide | North Sails
Because the leech profile is so vertical, even a small change in jib lead location will make a big difference to the sail’s power.

How do you shift gears upwind?

Besides hiking harder when the wind increases, shifting gears begins with moving the jib lead aft to increase twist in the leech. Even a small change will make a big difference.

Other ways to depower: pull on max outhaul, apply backstay as needed, and begin easing your traveler down in the puffs. Don’t hesitate to add a lot of vang tension so you can ease mainsheet instead of traveler; the traveler car rarely moves lower or higher than the bench seats on either side of the cockpit.

Who says what when sailing upwind?

We like to have one person on the rail consistently calling the breeze so the main trimmer can be proactive in keeping the boat upright. Likewise, calling waves allows for better steering (and easing sheets in lighter air). Dialogue between the helm and main trimmer is critical, especially with wheel steering because it is harder for the driver to feel the pressure on the rudder.

When it’s windy, the conversation is usually about increasing or reducing twist in the sails. Is there too much helm and we’re slow? Twist open the leeches. Not enough height? Reduce twist by closing leeches. The best sailor on many J/109s is often the main trimmer, because the position requires trimming for the best balance between height and boatspeed.

J/109 Speed Guide | North Sails
Adjusting leech twist on both sails is crucial to balancing height and speed.

J/109 Downwind Sailing

Downwind, where are J/109 crew located?

Keep weight forward, out of the cockpit. Many people stand up, but it’s faster to sit down and keep weight lower. On most boats, the main trimmer is at the companionway and the chute trimmer is at or ahead of the forward edge of the cockpit. All others move forward: in 0-8 knots true wind, put two crew forward of the shrouds; in 9-16 knots, they can move just aft of the mast.

The boat likes to be sailed fairly flat and, ideally, the helm goes neutral. If it’s light enough that you’re sailing VMG angles, move enough crew to leeward for a slight leeward heel.
In running conditions of 10-plus knots, move all crew to weather and sail the boat flat. Over 12, sail with a little weather heel. As soon as control becomes an issue (around 16 knots), slide the crew aft. In 20 knots and above, several crew will be sitting in the cockpit.

How do you trim the spinnaker downwind?

Ease the spinnaker sheet to rotate the sail out in front of the boat as much as you can without it collapsing. The main should be all the way out with the vang soft.

In lighter breeze when sailing tighter angles, the tack line should be all the way down. As the wind increases and you can sail lower angles, the tack will move up as high as the pulpit. This allows the luff to rotate around to weather and get more spinnaker area out from behind the mainsail.

The key to speed is conversation and coordination between helm and trimmer. In light air, we look for an angle where the boat feels good, with slight heel to leeward. One common mistake is to sail too high in lulls and soak too low in puffs. Yes, you do scallop your way down the course, but smooth it out and do it gently. The good guys gain a lot this way; for everyone else, this is one of the best areas to practice and improve.

J/109 Speed Guide | North Sails
When the tack moves to leeward of vertical, pull on tack line and sail higher angles.

How do you shift gears downwind?

The key transitions are in 9 to 11 knots, learning when you can sail deep and when to keep the boat sailing higher and faster. The tack line on the spinnaker is a good focal point: If the tack moves to leeward of vertical, pull the tack line toward the pole. If it moves to weather, ease it out up to three feet.

Another way to think of this is that in light air, when sailing VMG angles, the tack line is pulled towards the sprit and the main is trimmed for the angle. In medium air, when sailing deeper, the tack line is eased out. In heavy air, when control becomes an issue, the tack line is tightened again to keep the chute stable.

Another downwind tip is to “fraculate”—reduce headstay slack by trimming in the sheets on the rolled-up jib. This firms up the backstay and transfers the energy in the sails more directly to the hull.

To get to a leeward mark or finish line, you can also sail wing and wing, with the spinnaker on the opposite side from the mainsail. This takes practice and should be reserved for tactical situations, say the last five or six boatlengths of a leg. You can sail lower and just as fast, but don’t try it for extended periods; it’s hard to keep the chute full, and a collapse will lose you distance overall.

J/109 Speed Guide | North Sails
When sailing deep, ease the tack line off up to three feet for maximum projection and rotation.

J/109 Boathandling

What are your top tips to starting well in a J/109?

The J/109 has a big keel and rudder, so you can sail pretty slowly before the start and not slide sideways much when you accelerate. However, the boat takes time to get up to speed. Practice accelerating from half speed to full speed before each race to learn how long it will take. Never let the boat stop completely or get too far from the line.

What are the keys to tacking a J/109 well?

Tacking the jib is pretty easy because it’s not a big sail, so you only need two trimmers in the cockpit. The other crew members cross over the coach roof to keep their weight forward and give the helm more visibility.

How the trimmers coordinate depends on whether your jib sheet 1) leads to a footblock and a leeward winch, 2) to a footblock and a windward winch, or 3) directly to a cabintop winch.

In light air, the cabintop winch set-up can be handled by the jib trimmer and the next person forward, which has the advantage of keeping weight forward. However, those winches aren’t set up for breezy conditions.

We prefer cross-sheeting to the primaries and having the main trimmer handle the release. Going into the tack, the main trimmer eases the mainsheet fine tune a little, releases the jib, and pulls up the traveler. The jib trimmer is the next person off the rail and trims the new sheet, moving to windward right away rather than grinding away down to leeward. The main trimmer drops in the winch handle and does the final trim as the jib trimmer starts hiking.

Don’t bring the jib in all the way until after the boat accelerates up to full speed. Put multiple marks on the jib sheets to line up with the base of the windward winch (if cross-sheeting); after trimming to the first mark, the jib trimmer hits the rail and the final five inches of jib sheet are ground in by the main trimmer.

What are the keys to jibing a J/109 well?

A good J/109 jibe is a dance between the rate of turn and spinnaker sheet ease. As the boat bears away, the driver should watch the clew of the chute; when it gets to the headstay, turn more quickly as the new sheet is taken in. If you turn too fast without easing the sheet enough, or if you turn too slow, the chute ends up on the windward side of the headstay.

Especially in lighter-wind areas, many trimmers handle both spinnaker sheets. In more breeze, it’s common to have two sheet trimmers. Either way, it’s important for the bow person (and sometimes others) to actively help the new sheet around the headstay and aft to avoid a twist. Keeping crew weight on the old windward side before the jibe will help the boat turn; after the jibe, move quickly to the new high side to help flatten the boat so it can accelerate.

J/109 Speed Guide | North Sails
After a jibe, cross quickly to the high side to flatten the boat and help it accelerate.

In light-air jibes, don’t turn the boat too fast and jibe the spinnaker first. Then the mainsail trimmer grabs all parts of mainsheet and “pops” the main through to keep the upper leech from hanging up on the backstay.

In heavy air, get the main across as quickly as possible, while the boat is at full speed. Otherwise you may have to turn the boat too far, which may lead to a round up as you finish the jibe. Easing the vang a little bit will help.

How do you make a fast spinnaker set?

There are two rules to remember on J/109 spinnaker sets: First, the boat’s bow must be at the windward mark before the bow person extends the sprit. Second, to set the spinnaker successfully, keep it out of the water by not pulling the tack line out too soon.

The bow person begins the set by freeing the chute from the forward hatch. Wait to start the hoist until the boat makes its turn. When it’s windy, as the mast person hoists, both the bow person and jib trimmer pull the tack line out to its mark. Then the bow person rolls up the jib.

If a jibe-set is needed, there are two approaches: one is to re-rig the chute on the correct side of the boat and hoist as the boat jibes. The other option is for the bow person to walk the clew around the headstay during the hoist, or even before you hoist.

What are the keys to a good spinnaker takedown on the J/109?

Most people douse the spinnaker to windward. Leeward drops make it too easy to shrimp (drop the chute in the water). Either way, turning the boat to a more downwind angle will make any takedown easier.

On a normal windward takedown, unroll the jib before the helmsman bears off and the trimmer eases the spinnaker sheet. The bow person pulls (aka “tractors”) the clew around to the windward side of the jib as the halyard starts to come down. One crewmember stands below and pulls the chute through the forward hatch. If it’s windy, don’t blow the tack line too soon to keep the chute out of the water; wait until the spinnaker is collapsing and at least two crew have a good grip on the material.

On a leeward takedown: the bow person grabs the lazy sheet and, with the crewmember below, pulls the chute under the jib and down the hatch. On these drops, don’t release the tack line until you’re able to pull the spinnaker straight down.

What are the most common takedown mistakes?

The most frequent error we see is simple: the spinnaker sheet isn’t eased enough for the bow person to pull the chute around the jib. The second most common error is also simple: if you do shrimp your kite, stop the boat completely before trying to pull the sail back aboard.

How do you recover from a broach?

Most broaches don’t last long; once you ease the spinnaker sheet, the boat will pop back up. Ease mainsheet and boomvang as you start to broach, and your recovery may be immediate.

What J/109 best practices do you recommend?

  1. Set daily objectives and evaluate after sailing, so you can get better every day.
  2. Identify crew responsibilities.
  3. Mark everything so you can duplicate settings, especially jib leads and sheets.
  4. Practice tacking and jibing; choreograph movements so each crewmember knows what to do.
  5. Document rig tune and settings.

What’s the coolest thing about the J/109 class?

This class is very friendly and well-organized. (See J/109 class website) You’ll find some really good technical sailors who know about rig tune and are willing to share knowledge. We recommend new people find a more experienced buddy and ask if you can sail together at events. Watch, observe, ask questions, and you’ll improve steadily.

Class Experts

Jack Orr

Steelpointe Harbor, Connecticut

Will Welles

Portsmouth, Rhode Island

Jeremy Smart

Gosport, United Kingdom
Manufacturing – Gosport, UK

Pete Redmond

Gosport, United Kingdom
Manufacturing – Gosport, UK

Wouter Kollmann

Almere, Netherlands
Almere, Netherlands

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