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Posted by on Mar 31, 2009 in Multihull, UK, US |

First Photos: Lagoon 400 Cat and Shoal-Draft J/95

Two new, very different sailboats put their sails up last week for the first time.

On a breezy day last week at Les Sables d’Olonne, France, the first Lagoon 400 cruising catamaran went sailing, and according to the company website, the boat performed well. Designed by the successful racing catamaran designers VPLP (Van Peteghem Lauriot Prevost), the 400 shown in the photos is notable for its tall rig and square-top mainsail. First impressions mentioned were its seakindliness and lack of pitching in the 1 to 1.5 meter waves.

Displaying its square-head mainsail by Incidences Sails, the new Lagoon 400 has its first test off Les Sable d'Olonne, France.

Displaying its square-head mainsail by Incidences Sails, the new Lagoon 400 has its first test off Les Sable d'Olonne, France.

The Lagoon site also makes reference to the designers balancing volume against performance in the hull forms. To my eye, the hulls look taller, the whole boat, more powerful. The saloon windows maintain the vertical styling of recent Lagoons, but they are fewer and longer, offering a modern look that fits the increasingly square shape of the Lagoon’s main cabin.

The L400s won’t cross the Atlantic until it’s time for the fall boat shows, but I caught up with Lagoon America’s Nick Harvey, who was aboard for the sail, and asked for his reaction. H e told me the performance felt great, although they weren’t speed testing…this was the boat’s first outing and the boat wasn’t in full cruising configuration. He said, “The boat felt very nimble and especially easy to handle. The steering was very responsive, and the boat turns on a dime.”

Nick was also happy about the model’s new colors on “the hull boot stripe, bottom paint, and cockpit cushions (gray instead of blue).” (I’m not a fanatic about color details…just ask my wife…but since I was speaking with someone who sells boats like this every day, I’m guessing the colors are going to make a difference in sales.) More up my alley was Nick’s comment that Incidences Sails had engineered a simple way to deal with the full-length battens so the sail and battens store easily on top of the boom. (These battens don’t normally lie flat without some derigging, which can be a challenge when standing on the boom…)

Meantime, on the other side of the Atlantic, the performance sailboat company, J/Boats, has broken a new category with the launch of the shoal-draft J/95. The boat looks just as fast and has the same huge a cockpit as other recent models, and of course it carries the trademark J/Boats’ retractable bow sprit. But below the waterline, there’s another story to tell. Designer Rod Johnstone went with a keel-centerboard and twin rudders, and when the boat went sailing for the first time last week, he proved to his own satisfaction that the boat could sail upwind very creditably with the centerboard up, drawing only three feet.

In its first trial, the J/95 sails upwind, with and without its centerboard lowered.

In its first trial, the J/95 sails upwind...and went pretty well whether the centerboard is lowered or not.

According to company president, Jeff Johnstone, “I was taking video from another boat and could never tell when they had the board up or down. I’m sure if I’d followed right behind and they’d adjusted it, I could’ve told, but otherwise it looked like normal sailing. With the board up, they were easily tacking through less than 90 degrees.”

Twin rudders give the helmsman on the shoal-draft J/95 good control even when heeled.

Twin rudders give the helmsman on the shoal-draft J/95 good control even when heeled. The centerboard swings up into the ballasted, shoal-draft keel.

The key ingredient is the twin-rudder configuration, which makes a sailboat nearly as easy to steer when heeled 25 degrees as when it’s level. Because one of the two rudders is always fairly straight up and down, the rudders can also be shorter than those on a single-rudder boat. The approach, common in Europe, is relatively rare in the States, but Johnstone picked up some hands-on experience with the idea when he designed a Mini-Transat 6.5 (meter) boat called Acadia for Clay Burkhalter a few years ago.  (Burkhalter, Johnstone’s nephew, sailed Acadia from France to Brazil and scored an impressive 12th-place finish in the singlehanded Mini-Transat race in 2007.) In contrast to the Mini, which carries a ballasted keel that can be moved athwartships to maximize stability, the J/95 has a centerboard that swings up on a 6:1 rope tackle into a shallow, ballasted keel. As a result, the boat can be moored, motored, anchored, and even sailed in quite shallow water, a common characteristic of sailing grounds from Cape Cod to Texas and over into the Bahamas. (For a good view of the underbody, check out this illustration, along with the Designer’s Comments.)

The J/95 flies an asymmetric spinnaker from a retractable sprit or prod.

The J/95 flies an asymmetric spinnaker from a retractable sprit or prod.

OK, it’s a reasonably warm day here in Rhode Island on the last day of March, and I’m itching to see for myself how this boat sails. But Hull No. 1 is being prepped to ship down to Florida, so I’m either going to have to follow it there for a sail at CrossCurrent Marine on Sarasota Bay, or wait for No. 2 to be launched about a month from now. (The boats are being built at CCF Composites in Bristol, Rhode Island.)

—John Burnham

Although the J/95 has a big cockpit for daysailing, it also has all the gears for going fast.

Although the J/95 has a big cockpit for daysailing, it also has all the gears for going fast.