The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Converting a Racing Sailboat to a Fast Cruiser—Performance and Rig

I have owned three offshore cruising sailboats over the years. Two of them were primarily racing boats before I bought them.

The other, although I raced her successfully in two Newport to Bermuda races, was designed primarily as a cruising boat. And there is no doubt that the cruiser was the better boat for long-distance ocean voyaging.

That said, if we shop wisely, a racer/cruiser, even if the bias is toward racing, can make a good and cost-effective cruiser as long as we buy the right one and make the right changes once she is ours.

So this series of articles will be about:

  • How well the J/109 we bought three years ago has met our goals.
  • The things we have changed and added to make her a better cruiser, particularly short- and single-handed.
  • The repairs that we had to make, primarily to fix the builder’s original screw-ups—most production boats will need work like this.
  • Figuring out a crew overboard prevention system for this small boat.
  • And, finally, what all this cost.

Note: I will not be trying to sell you on a J/109, or a boat like her. She might be just right for us, but she would be totally wrong for most cruising profiles.

However, we can still learn a lot from the new Morgan’s Cloud that will be useful for larger and heavier offshore cruising boats, and that’s what I will focus on (blue boxes).

Let’s start with my report on how our J/109 has measured up to our performance criteria.


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More Articles From J/109 Fibreglass Fractional Sloop—Performance cruiser/racer:

  1. Converting a Racing Sailboat to a Fast Cruiser—Performance and Rig
  2. Turning A Small Simple Boat Into a Cruiser—On Deck
  3. Our New Boat Selection Process—Part 1, Fitness For Mission
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Matt Marsh

I’d love to see the details of exactly what you’ve done for the headsail in-haul. Our C&C 35 has no headsail tracks (the sheet blocks are clipped directly to the toerail), which helps keep the side decks clear, but I’m convinced it causes a five-degree hit to our close-hauled angles.

I suppose I could add tracks – they’re shown in the plans as an option, and it has designated spots for them – but if an inhaul can do the job well enough for one-tenth the price, that’d be tempting.

Michael Feiertag

I would also love details re rigging an in-haul, especially for a non-overlapping high clew solent on a masthead sloop.

Michael Feiertag

Yes. But I’ve wondered if the solent sheet could be lead inboard of the stays or in the gap between lower stay and the intermediate and cap shroud, then restricting the sail to only higher points of sail.

George L

Hi John,

Very interesting article, thanks for that. You got yourself a lovely boat. Congratulations. Looks like a really nice setup and also nice sails.

I would also be interested in more details of your in-haul setup. I will experiment with in-haulers on our tired old H-Boot on the lake and also for the big one, once she’s in the water (hopefully later this summer).

We don’t have tracks either, but rails with many positions for adding blocks as needed. More clip-on points could be easily welded on if needed.

You might want to avoid wrapping the sheet around your hand – it’s more comfortable 99% of the times but could badly hurt you in the wrong circumstances. Perhaps better not to get in the habit.

George L

Good point; I buy your argument for experienced sailors.

for the less experienced ones, I tend to err on the side of safety.

Eric Klem

Hi Matt,

I am curious whether you have looked into whether you could at least temporarily install floating jib leads to figure out what actually would work best? What I have in mind is a setup where the sheet goes from the clew, through a low friction ring which is controllable by 2 tackles and then to a turning block. The 2 tackles are mounted athwartships of each other with one on the rail and one inboard. The idea is that with those 2 tackles, you can put the ring at any point in a plane that is perpendicular to the longitudinal axis of the boat. I have not used more than an in-hauler/twing setup personally but I find this setup intriguing and I know that a lot of race boats and light builds use it. I do wonder how quick it would be to adjust as the adjustment is not very linear so may take a lot of back and forth if everything is not marked out ahead of time. I also wonder whether even if the low friction ring is barely deflecting the sheet, it could stick on the sheet and cause slight step function behavior in trimming, maybe the key is super low friction lines. To me the advantage of this over in-hauling with a fixed block is that you get twist control too which is a huge performance benefit unless you have a really high clewed sail where it is not needed as much.

Our boat has the opposite problem of yours, we have tracks which are slightly (2″?) too inboard for our overlapping jib and the jib comes up against the shrouds while it still has some draft I would like to pull out with the sheet. The non-overlapping sails set much better.

Eric

Eric Klem

Hi John,

My thought for Matt with floating jib leads was a temporary one to try it out as the loads on the tackles are quite low if they only fine-tune the angle of the lead so I would think that a lot of boats will have existing hardware to anchor with at least temporarily. Our boat came with pin style jib cars and before converting to adjustable ones, I did think about doing this but decided not to. Some of it was due to the obstruction aspect you mention and some due to my concerns over how easy floating leads are to actually adjust. We put in adjustable ones from Garhauer which have done the job nicely without breaking the bank.

We do as you suggest on the blade jib, the only real problems we have are with our genoa. I am pretty sure there is only 1 rig height for our boat which is tall although there were 2 different spar manufacturers. The tall rig means that upwind the blade is the way to go most of the time but when it is really sloppy out and the air is light, we need the extra power of the genoa and accept the worse tacking angle. I plan to go to roller furling in the next few years to get the stack of sails out of the interior and the big question is whether we will go with a blade + code 0 sort of setup or a slightly overlapping genoa. The sailor in me wants one but the wallet and practicality of having kids onboard may mean the other for this round of sails so we will have to see. The last few years our assym hasn’t gotten as much use as I would like so I am trying to be realistic.

Eric

Jean-Louis Alixant

Hi Eric,
We use an Antal Barber Block instead of a closed friction ring for the setup you describe. This allows us to remove the tackle when it is on the windward side, thus avoiding the tripping hazard that John pointed out.
Our tracks are also fairly inboard (on the coach roof) but we still benefit from some in-hauling, improving pointing in light/moderate air. As we bear away from close-hauled, the track is good enough on its own, but soon after, some out-hauling is beneficial. In this sequence, we trim fairly coarsely compared to a trained racing team, but we still measure the impact on speed and we keep learning. We often do it by experimenting for a few minutes to find something close to optimum. In fact, one of the benefits is to realize the extent to which small trimming changes affect boat speed or pointing ability.
Beyond that angle, we rig an outboard lead: that is the simplest and the most convincing way to gain 0.5 to 1 kt as soon as you can open the headsail outside the rails. That should be done on any cruising yacht.
JL

Jean-Louis Alixant

Hi John,
Yes, I used those initially because I was concerned like Eric that friction would be an issue. But as I got used to the setup and trim, I switched to this: https://us.binnacle.com/p11587/Antal-HK12-Hook-and-Safety-Spring-with-5mm-Dyneema-SWL-3300lbs/product_info.html
I found that friction wasn’t a real concern after all, and these hooks are lighter.
The 6 mm control lines run through a 1:3 block and tackle with a cam cleat and back to the cockpit (I have exhausted the slots in the organizers so these lines run on the side and top decks, arriving on the side of the cockpit. I wanted something that would still work with the sprayhood up).
JL

Eric Klem

Hi Jean-Louis,

Thanks for the information. Using a rolling element block makes a lot of sense as it will be even less likely to move fore and aft than an LFR.

Do you have a trimming procedure which is linear where you are able to just touch everything once or twice at the most or is there a lot of back and forth between the different controls? For example, I know approximately where the car should be for different apparent wind angles and strength and put it there, then adjust the sheet, then do a final car adjustment and usually don’t need another sheet adjustment. I am wondering whether you can do it that simply or whether you keep tweaking 1 thing which affects another and you then keep going around in circles getting slowly closer?

Thanks.

Eric

Jean-Louis Alixant

Hi Eric,
As I just commented above, I ended up with snatch LFRs, they work fine.
Trimming with this remains a first order affair for me. I simply go back to the basics of sail shape to achieve a given objective and try to achieve that through a combination of the various controls: I see positive results, measured in speed (or pointing) improvements. I rarely iterate more than twice, but I make adjustments as conditions evolve. It remains somewhat subjective and I know there is more to be gained, I am still learning. With time, it becomes more natural. Using the outboard lead as soon as possible has become a habit, and I recently got even better results using spin sheets.
Everything I read about these more subtle trims is that they are best exploited by sailors that master fine sail shape adjustments, have a natural understanding of airflow around the sails and a lot of trimming experience. I am not there!
For us, using the various haulers and outboard leads on the headsail have shown enough value that I rig the kit more and more often. Once it’s there, just enjoy the speed gain.
As John mentions below, we also combine with halyard tension. Worth experimenting with, at least to start with a better initial setting for the conditions.
Finally, I should say that I found it much easier to feel the impact of fine trimming with 3Di sails than with the previous sails, laminates too but different technology and somewhat worn by the time I got into these trims.
JL

Rob Gill

Hi John,

Another “yes” to see details of your in-haul solution.

Our Beneteau 473 was designed with a 140% overlapping genoa but to go offshore we put on a Doyle Strata 103% furling jib with inboard sheeting and never changed back.

Currently we carry our 165% Code 0 upwind which works great. However at around 12 knots TWS we get overpowered and then become a bit “sticky” upwind with only the jib. At 15 knots we are fully powered up again. We carry full jib up 30 knots TWS, whilst reefing the fully battened Strata main.

I’m not sure jib in-haulers would work with our slight mast overlap – any thoughts please? Specifically I can’t see how to: 1. overcome the trip-hazard they might create and 2. rig them so as not to interfere with our tethers where we transition forward from our main deck jack-line to a foredeck jack-line.

So if you could also cover perhaps:

if in-haulers were fitted, could/should we change to a non-overlapping blade without losing performance (our jib is now 10 years old).pros and cons of in-hauling vs self-tackers (I notice these becoming standard equipment or popular options on production boats.did you consider converting to a self-tacking blade jib on a traveller for short-handing as we get older (though I guess your Cat Rig mode negates this need to some extent)?
Many thanks.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Rob,
What means “Strata” when you refer to your sails/ Thanks, Dick

Rob Gill

Hi Dick,

Not sure … I think the spell checker may have edited my input or a “grey moment”. Either way should have read Doyle “Stratis”. You can read about how and why these sails are made here:
https://www.doylesails.com/innovation/stratis-technology/

We have a full set of their Stratis performance cruising sails which are in excellent condition 10 year on, except the jib where the leech has stretched a wee bit, resulting in slight curl on the trailing edge. Nothing to bother a cruising skipper and nothing like we would see in a similar Dacron sail. Br. Rob

Dick Stevenson

Hi Rob,
Thanks for the info. Your accolades sound like the same sentiments I assign to my HyrdaNet Radial sails. In a similar observation, I have made the argument that the added expense of HydraNet Radial cloth on the front end pays off because the shape lasts so much longer than Dacron.
My best, DickS

George L

A friend’s boat has self-tacking tracks for his J3; took some fiddling and adjusting but then worked like a charm. Tacking is then as much work as what you describe in cat-mode.

In principle, you are correct, what’s the big deal. On the other hand, if everyone on board is tired and perhaps sick, a low-work option for single-handing is nice. I wouldn’t put it on a new boat, but neither would I remove them if they are there already.

Kurt Mammen

I’d love to hear more about rig tuning for single handing vs crew…

Paul Browning

Our 30 year old (45 year old design) Bowman 47 has no tracks for the headsail sheet blocks, which I was very surprised by initially, but soon rigged barber haulers using low friction rings and a 4:1 block with 6mm line to either a handy pad-eye or stanchion base and it is extraordinarily effective. And means you don’t have to adjust car positions.

We also changed up from the 110% overlap headsail to 135% along with a longer boom and correspondingly longer mainsail foot, all of which has given a big lift to our light airs performance, particularly off the wind (we are cruisers so rarely sail upwind 😎) where the ability to sheet further forward and outboard is great for performance. But where we are sailing upwind, the sail control most used is the barber hauler, which is eased in the gusts and has a similar effect to easing the vang in the gusts when sailing with a shy spinnaker. The boat stands up again and charges on.

Off the wind, a reef or two in the main and the full headsail is just such a powerful, balanced and simple rig in even quite strong breezes. For the life of me I don’t understand why the designers of cruising yachts have almost totally moved away from masthead rigs.

Paul Browning

Thanks John, yeah my nomenclature is probably suspect, but my point is that I don’t have tracks for adjustable genoa cars, so I need some other means of adjusting sheet angle. So what I use is a similar arrangement to a barber hauler, only deflecting the sheet down not in. The only boats I’ve ever sailed on with easily adjustable genoa cars have been race boats, so to have the option of changing sheet angle so easily is an absolute game changer. On most cruising boats it either means easing the sheet enough to move the car, which means the sail flogs in the process, or running another sheet to take the weight temporarily while the load is eased off the other sheet to enable the car to be moved. Both of which are deterrents to the job being done, so sails are often carried with inappropriate sheet angles.

As to the issue of fractionals, I love them on race boats, and would have initially preferred one for cruising but during covid when we bought this boat, travel options were limited to look at boats, so we finished up with a masthead. And I’m glad I did. We find the big headsail let’s us sail at acceptable winds down to 10-12 knots off the wind, below which we have an A-sail in a sock, which the two of us manage quite happily, and if we need to sail very low, we can tack it to a pole only 2-3’ back from the forestay. Otherwise we pole out the headsail and sail along happily at 7 knots plus. The ease of handling a big masthead headsail as against wrangling a furling Code Zero with all the things that can go wrong with them is the difference. Particularly for people who do not need the extremely good windward performance of a nice bendy factional rig. We still tack through 90° and have clawed our way off lee shores and weathered capes with ease.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Paul,
I thought the same about jib car sheet lead changes, until I learned about and bought a Schaefer system where the car moves with a moderately slippery plastic sleeve negating metal to metal contact. The car is pulled forward with a 4-1 b&t arrangement and aft is held under tension with a larger size of bungie cord. It is not a perfect arrangement when loads are large, but does really well most of the time and has made a considerable difference at our having good sail shape in the jib.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Kevin Dreese

I always thought a J109 (with the shoal draft option) would be almost a perfect cruising setup for a solo sailer. Especially with the J Boat talent for sailing with just a mainsail.

However, with the age of the J109’s (and 120’s) I wonder about the keel bolts and reliability. Not sure if it’s myth or reality but lots of opinions online. One thing that did give me pause is to read they used stainless bolts but regular steel washers that over time can rust and compress; causing issues with the bolts. What has your experience been with the keel and keel bolts (eg any fixes or maintenance required)?

Matt Marsh

The 5’6″ keel of our C&C 35-2 really doesn’t open up that many more cruising opportunities, versus the 7′ keel of John’s J/109. Most of the harbours meant for big boats around here have a 7′ or 8′ limiting draught… and the interesting places with shallower draught limits are either <5', or have low fixed bridges, or both.

The Ferrari analogy is a good one. A boat like a J/109 forces a fair number of compromises on you, in exchange for being absolutely amazing to sail. Taking the same compromises, but also dialling back the sailing characteristics to "just ordinary", seems unwise.

Kevin Dreese

All good points Matt and John. Basically what I really want is a Boreal that is less than 40 feet…

Paul Browning

Couldn’t agree more on the shoal draft. They need a lot more ballast very low on the keel to make up the stiffness and if you’re going to do that with a shoal draft keel, why would’t you also do that with the normal design keel?
I’ve seen too many shoal draft keels with a huge bullet shaped bulb at the bottom that protrudes forward of the leading edge of the keel and becomes a magnet for lobster pots and long lines and is yet another added complication for short handed cruisers. Indeed, I’m aware of two cruising boats that were lost due to such tangles in confined waters.

Jean-Louis Alixant

Hi John,
We own an X-Yachts X4.3 (KaliX), one of the so-called “fast cruisers” or “cruiser-racers”. As such, and with their origins in racing, the yard’s design incorporates many features brought in from racing that you highlight. We’ve also had the opportunity to specify adjustments to address single and double-handed sailing and offshore passages prior to construction, which ended up in a very satisfying outcome… that still required a few years to tune and optimise on the water! It’s an ongoing process that would stop at the point we realize we need a different boat.

There is one element that is implicit in your article and natural to you but that may be worth highlighting: the racing experience of the owner. I didn’t have any at the time, but shortly after KaliX was delivered I was invited to join the crew of a SunFast 3200 for short-handed coastal and offshore events, with a very experienced skipper. I continue to learn a lot on that boat, and transfer much back to KaliX. That includes the systematic use of outboard leads, in-haulers, out-haulers, twings etc. which resulted in measurable performance improvements – and drilling a few holes on KaliX!

So the message if you don’t have much racing experience is join a crew with a capable skipper and go racing! In rare instances, I have even registered KaliX on offshore races when the other crew was complete and was pleasantly surprised to see how well we faired in some situations. The rest of the time, it is now difficult not to “race” other cruising yachts that we come across. It’s a good way to learn to use our yacht.

One word on safety though. Looking at other racing teams around us, and even some of the top end ones, it is clear that we don’t have the same approach to safety when our focus is offshore cruising. As such, there are clear limits to what we can learn and apply from racing, as was pointed in the article and some of the comments.

Go racing!
JL