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Thursday, April 22, 2021

Rod and Bob Johnstone, J/Boats: Sailing to Victory

Rod Johnstone started his career as an advertising salesperson for a boating magazine. He was 38 years old at that time, and he made an ambitious decision to plan his sailboat, a boat that his five-member family could appreciate but would still be sufficiently speedy to sprint. 

Rod’s parents contributed to a few hundred dollars’ value of timber. Rod began constructing the boat in his garage. 

After 18 months, Rod’s dreamboat became a reality, and he began listing it in competitions. Propped up by his accomplishment, Rod resolved to say goodbye to his job and switch his ambition into his career.

This was way back in 1977. Since then, J/Boats has constructed over 13,000 boats, starting from yachts to tiny crafts, generating millions of dollars as revenue. And Johnstone’s archetypal blueprint, the J/24, has found its place in the Sailboat Hall of Fame.

Awards and Recognitions

Starting in 1985, the Boat of the Year (BOTY) award comes into existence, courtesy of the Sailing World magazine. Generally, J/Boats won the esteemed award on five occasions, and it has been a segment winner on sixteen occasions.

1) Overall Boat of The Year Awards

    • 1990 – J/44
    • 1993 – J/92 
    • 2005 – J/100 
    • 2010 – J/95 
  • 2013 – J/70 

2) Segment Winner

J/Boats has been a segment winner in the following races:

    • 1986 – J/40 Best Domestic 38-40 feet
    • 1988 – J/34C Best Domestic 34-62 feet
    • 1991 – J/35C Best 35-40 feet
    • 1992 – J/105 Best Cruiser/Racer
    • 1994 – J/130 Best Club Racer
    • 1997 – J/160 Best Rendezvous Racer
    • 1998 – J/90 Best Sportboat
    • 1999 – J/125 Best Sportboat/PHRF
    • 2000 – J/46 Best Offshore Race
    • 2001 – J/145 Best Cruiser/Racer
    • 2010 – J/94 Best Club Racer
    • 2011 – J/111 Best One-Design Keelboat
    • 2014 – J/88 Best One Design
    • 2017 – J/112E Best Crossover
    • 2018 – J/131 Best Crossover
  • 2020 – J/99 Best Crossover

The Success Story of J/Boats, the Brainchild of Rod Johnstone

J/Boats, a boat building company established by Rod Johnstone, has its head office at Newport, Rhode Island. Starting its journey in 1977, J/Boats concentrates on the planning and making of fiberglass yachts.

All the names of the J/Boat models begin with J. After that, LOA (total length) of the layout in terms of feet (J/24), or starting in dm (J/130) in 1994, or in m (J/9) beginning 2021. 

All the models of J/Boats are single-hull, sloop-rigged riverboats built of hollowed sandwich fiberglass.

The present product line comprises eight boat models, varying from J/70-J/122E, differing in a stretch from 6.9-12.2 meters (22.75 to 40 feet). A unique 9-meter prototype is slated to be released in 2021. All the previous models have varied from 6.9 to 19.7 meters (22.5-64.5 feet), beginning from the J/22-J/65 variant.

The oldest blueprint of J/Boats, J/24, has been the most popular boat, with more than 5,500 constructed. The boat has cruised 27 nations across the world. It is the maximum admired single blueprint riverboat in the world. Other than the archetypal J/24, there are more than 7000 J/Boats, varying from the transnational J/22 to J/65 that seafaring fans have purchased at rates starting from $10,000 to $2,000,000.

The J/Boats firm, as depicted by Sailboatdata, is a household business that began with Bob Johnstone, and is possibly the most fortunate manufacturer of function-based vessels in the world featuring almost 10,000 boats constructed according to Johnstone layouts.

In the 1960s, Rod Johnstone did a correspondence training program from the Westlawn School of Yacht Design. In 1975, he was employed as an ad salesperson with Soundings, a maritime business periodical, when he began a homemade keelboat venture.

His earliest blueprint of a boat, called Ragtime, was constructed during weekends in Stonington, Connecticut. He used his garage to make it and it was 24 feet long. The boat took part in a contest in the 1976 summer and the squad comprised his family members. Ragtime or J/24 achieved a quite fruitful contesting performance. As a result, Everett Pearson, the proprietor of TPI Composites, Incorporated and co-founder of Pearson Yachts, entered into a contract with Rod to make the blueprint in a modern industrial unit, in exchange for the sole US construction authorization. 

The manufacturing plant was set up in a former cloth factory in Fall River, MA. The blueprint was denominated as J/24. Rod prepared banner ads for his new craft in the Soundings magazine.

Bob Johnstone, Rod’s brother, saw tremendous potential in the blueprint of J/24 that Rod had made. As a result, he became a part of the new firm for managing the advertising and publicity activities and made a significant investment to the tune of $20,000 to fulfill the startup expenditures. He also took care of the office space requirements. Bob had been employed as the VP of the marketing operations of AMF (American Machine and Foundry)/Alcort, famous for manufacturing the Sunfish yacht during that period. However, he could not draw their attention to the layout of J/24. Subsequently, both the Johnstone brothers turned into collaborators in the company.

Purposely, J/Boats stayed away from the manufacturing phase of their commercial venture, passing that on to Pearson. Rather, they focused on publicity and layout.

In 1977, manufacturing of J/24 began and the rookie collaborators anticipated to sell around 250 boats in that particular year. In reality, they sold 750 boats. At the beginning of 1978, the category won sufficient admiration to occupy a single-design boat race competition in Key West. Twenty boats were contested in that race. In the summer of 1978, 68 boats took part in Newport, RI. Every passing year, their boats became popular both in the tourism and adventure sports sector.

The previous effective layouts incorporated the J/22 (1983), the J/29 (1982) of which manufacturing of 298 took place with a layout initially of either Masthead (MH) Rig or Fractional Rig (FR), and the J/35 (1983) with 330 boats manufactured.

J/Boats categorizes its blueprints into a single layout, offshore yachts, daysailers, offshore yacht-sprinters, weekend pleasure boats, and unadulterated sprinting patterns.

By 1992, a new peer group of the kith and kin was looking after the day-to-day affairs of the boat manufacturer. At the same time, the senior family members played an advisory role. Jeff Johnstone, the son of Rod Johnstone, got nominated as the president, and Alan Johnstone, Jeff’s son, was nominated as the vice president. Phil Johnstone became the legal advisor. James Johnstone, who was the nephew of Rod Johnstone, took up the responsibility of the sales director. Bob and Jim Johnstone’s five sons were part of the BOD: Alan, Jeff, Drake, Stuart, and Phil. Every kin who took direct participation in J/Boats were enthusiastic seamen.   

By 2020, J/Boats had constructed around 10,000 boats. There were eight blueprints in the manufacturing line: 

  • J/80 
  • J/70 
  • J/99 
  • J/88 
  • J/121 
  • J/111 
  • J/122E 
  • J/112E 

In December last year, J/9, an innovative model, was declared for 2021.

While other boat makers focus on selling a higher number of boats, J/Boats have always emphasized the contest-oriented, high-profile circuit of sailboats. At the same time, they also made sure that their boats were cosy and family-friendly. They capitalized on the experience of skilled seafarers.


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Kiara Dawson
Kiara Dawson comes from an Engineering background, with a specialization in Information Technology. She has a keen interest and expertise in Web Development, Data Analytics, and Research. She trusts in the process of growth through knowledge and hard work.

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