Classics: J/24 - Soundings Online

Classics: J/24

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You are looking at a Hall of Famer. The J/24 burst onto the scene in the mid-1970s, taking the racing sailboat world by storm. Here was a boat with a simple rig, an uncomplicated deck layout and a minimum of frills — and it won races.

Illustration by Jim Ewing

Forty years later, the J/24 stands as one of the most successful designs ever, with more than 5,500 built. Under the auspices of the International J/24 Class Association, regattas are sailed today worldwide by more than 150 fleets.

The trend-setting 24-footer came from the mind of Rod Johnstone, who designed the boat while working at Soundings as an ad salesman and built it in his garage in Stonington, Connecticut. Using what he learned at the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, he drew plans for a boat that could be used for day sailing, modest weekend cruising and one-design racing. Twenty-four feet was the biggest boat that would fit into his garage. The boat became known as Ragtime — and wound up being the master plug for J/24 production.

The fiberglass-and-balsa prototype carried a fractional rig, was 20 feet on the waterline with an ample beam of nearly 9 feet, and had a fin keel. It carried a 136-square-foot main, a 124-square-foot foresail and a spinnaker. Ragtime cleaned up, winning virtually every race it entered. Sailors flocked to the new design. Inexpensive to buy and maintain, the J/24 was easy enough for a beginner to handle, but challenging enough for top-flight sailors. Strict one-design rules ensured that older boats could compete with newer ones, and at slightly more than 3,000 pounds, the J/24 could be trailered.

The design’s long-term success is no surprise. By adhering to strict one-design specifications, Johnstone “ignored the influence of any handicapping rule, thus avoiding distortions in the design and any immediate threat of obsolescence,” Daniel MacNaughton wrote in The Encyclopedia of Yacht Design. “In so doing, [he] created a boat for thousands.”

This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue.