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Rod Johnstone - J/Boats

Designer / Naval Architect , Newport, Rhode Island, United States

The story of J/Boats is a classic entrepreneurial tale: With a $20,000 investment, and a speedy 24-foot sailboat that Rod Johnstone built in his garage, Rod & his brother Bob Johnstone went into business. That was 1977. Now, that boat (the J/24), has become the most popular recreational offshore keelboat in the world.

The Johnstone family has made an undeniable mark on the sailing world. In addition to the 5,300 J/24s cruising the waves, there are over 5,000 more J/Boats, ranging from the International J/22 to the brand new J/65, that sailing enthusiasts have bought at prices ranging from $10,000 to $2,000,000.

While other manufacturers may sell more boats, the Johnstones have won the high-end, performance-oriented segment of the market. Theirs is the so-called racer/cruiser category: boats that perform well enough to race but which are comfortable and easy enough for the family to daysail and cruise. It is with knowledgeable, experienced sailors that the Johnstones have done best.

The story begins in 1975. Rod, then an ad salesman for the sailing trade magazine, Soundings, and an active one-design sailor decided to build a sailboat he had been designing since completing a Westlawn School of Yacht Design correspondence course in the 60’s. With $400-worth of fiberglass and wood, some rigging and hardware left over from a Soling of Bob’s, he built the 24′ × 9′ wide RAGTIME on weekends in his 3 car garage at his home in Stonington, Connecticut. During the summer of 1976, with an all family crew aboard, RAGTIME beat everything in sight. Rod realized he had created something special.

Enter Everett Pearson, the owner of Tillotson Pearson, Inc, a highly respected boat builder in Warren Rhode Island. He was quite taken with Rod’s design and agreed to produce the boat on spec in return for the U.S. building rights. Display ads in Soundings got the word out. That winter they set up a makeshift factory in an old textile mill in nearby Fall River, Massachusetts, and began popping out J/24s.

Enter the marketing experience of brother Bob, a vice president of marketing at AMF/Alcort (the makers of Sunfish sailboats at the time). He saw the potential in the boat Rod had designed. From 1975 to 1977, Bob had helped to take Alcort from the red into the black, and then began trying to convince AMF to start producing a boat similar to the J/24. But, he says, in spite of overwhelming market research results showing 50% purchase intent in a boat like the J/24 , AMF really didn’t care anything about gaining share of market or investing any more in sailing. So, in February of 1977, at age 43, Bob left AMF and threw in his lot with J/Boats.

With Rod contributing the design and his prototype ‘Ragtime’ and Bob investing $20,000 to cover start-up costs, office space, and advertising, their 50-50 partnership was launched. Expecting to sell 250 J/24s that first year, they sold 750. Each successive year marks unique achievements in the sport and industry.

The next generation of Johnstones now mans the helm, while founders Rod and Bob continue to contribute in the areas of their strength, design and marketing. Since 1992, Rod’s sons Jeff (president) & Alan (vice-president) and nephew Jim (sales director) have managed company operations & sales from J/Boats Headquarters in Newport, RI. A total of four of Bob & Rod’s sons (Jeff, Alan, Stu and Drake) serve on J/Boats, Inc. Board of Directors.

2007 – A record year for J/Boat owners with major offshore racing wins across the US and Europe. The introduction of the new J/122 built by J/Europe taking the IRC circuit in France, the UK, the Netherlands and the USA by storm achieving several overall wins both inshore and offshore. J/Boat owners are class and overall champions of numerous offshore events including Ft. Lauderdale-Key West Race, Pineapple Cup, Bayview Mac Race, Annapolis-Newport Race, Charleston Bermuda Race, Transpac, Chicago Mac, and several RORC offshore races. J/133 is awarded “Best Series Produced Yacht” and J/122 wins IRC 1 class overall for the entire season in the 2007 RORC series. J/80 production races by the 1,000 hull milestone with over 1050 boats built. A record 120 J/80s sail at the World Championships in La Trinite France. The J/105 Class sets attendance records on both US coasts culminating in a 69 boat fleet at the North American Champs in Annapolis. J/105 also wins RORC 2-handed season trophy. J/109 class activity thrives in the US and UK. Clay Burkhalter successfully sails his Rod Johnstone designed Mini 6.5 ‘Acadia’ across the Atlantic from France to Brazil finishing 12th overall out of 89 entries. The J/80 debuts at the Asian Sportboat Championship placing 1st and 2nd overall. J/Europe increases factory capacity by 40% thanks to increasing demand worldwide for new J/Boats. Several J/Owners actively engaged cruising their boats through the oceans of the world. Congratulations to J/Owners for an incredible year!

2006
The J/92S makes its USA debut. The J/100 reaches 100 boat milestone and production begins in Europe. New 40’ J/122 development begins with J/Europe. J/ owners win 12 trophies in the Centennial Newport to Bermuda Race with the J/44 and J/42 classes the largest in the fleet. Glenn Darden captures the J/80 World title in Galveston Bay, TX, while fellow Texan Jon Halbert wins the inaugural J/109 North American Championships at New York Yacht Club. J/109 and double-handed J/105 finish 1-2 in Rolex Middle Sea Race. The York family completes a circumnavigation aboard their J/46 Aragorn. The J/22 North Americans returns to Fleet #1 Lake Minnetonka, MN with Terry Flynn crowned champion. The J/80 reaches 900 boat milestone and new fleets are established in Spain & Italy. The J/105 is awarded the Serendip Trophy for the Best Series-Produced Yacht in IRC by RORC for 2006 and Shaun Murphy’s Slingshot is named RORC 2006 Yacht of the Year and wins the Somerset Memorial Trophy for outstanding achievement of a 2-handed yacht. The J/122 is introduced and displayed at the Paris Show to rave reviews with a December launch in Hamble, UK and successful sea-trials.

2005
The new J/65 launches in San Diego. Scotsman Ruairidh Scott wins the Silva J/80 Worlds in Falmouth, UK. The J/105 class sets new milestones with a 40 boat fleet at Key West and the first Canadian hosting of a North American Championship. The J/100 rolls out of the factory at nearly 2 boats per week to meet the high demand. The J/133 notches impressive IRC class wins at Spi Ouest and Block Island Race Week. The rapidly growing J/109 class sees one-design starts at Spi Ouest, Block Island and Cowes Week. Anthony Kotoun of Newport, RI wins the J/24 Worlds in Weymouth, England and the J/24 North Americans in Marblehead, MA. The new J/92S, a family-friendly sprit boat with large cockpit and non-overlapping headsail launches in Europe. J/125 ‘Rienrag’ takes class honors again in the Transpac. Sally Barkow wins the Rolex Int’l Women’s Keelboat Champs in J/22s in Annapolis, and the Women’s Match Racing Worlds in J/24’s in Bermuda. Henry Morgan, sailing his J/42 ‘Dolphin’, wins the Annapolis-Bermuda Race fleet. Short-handed J-sailors celebrate as Pascal Loison wins the 2-Handed Rolex Fastnet Race in his J/105 and Sam and Gordon Vineyard win Marion- to Bermuda Race in their J/46. The new J/124, a 41’ follow-up sensation to the J/100, launches in Rhode Island.

2004
The J/133 Raincloud wins its debut regatta at Key West and production begins in both the US and France. J109s sweep IRC 4 at Spi Ouest, the UK J/109 Jeronimo is on the winning team of the Rolex Commodore’s Cup, and the J/109 class gets underway with 11 fleets formed, a class website and several class events held. Alec Cutler wins the J/22 Worlds in Annapolis over a fleet of 130 boats, an all-time J attendance record! Three J’s (J/35, J/46 and J/160) set sail in the 2004 Blue Water World Rally. The new J/100 (33’) is launched in Newport to rave reviews, is named Sailing World Magazine’s Overall Boat of the Year, and quickly reaches a six month backlog. J/145s enjoy class wins in the Newport to Bermuda and Port Huron-Mackinac races. Dave McConaughy wins the 25th Anniversary J/30 North Americans in Barrington, RI. Glen Darden of TX wins both the J/80 North Americans in Sag Harbor, NY and the 52 boat J/105 North Americans in Marion, MA. Wow! Jens Hookanson outduels Jeff Johnstone on the last leg of the final race to win the J/24 Worlds in Noroton, CT. The new J/65 (65‘) is announced as J Boats’ entry into the luxury performance sailing market with a custom bay set up at Pearson Composites and a highly anticipated 05 launching.

2003
The J/24 class celebrates its Silver 25th Anniversary in Newport, while the J/35 class has its 20th in Toronto with 27 boats racing for the North American Championship. The J/105 class continues to set attendance records and is the only class present at all 9 NOOD Regattas. Dr. Mike Finn’s J/160 ‘Kativa’ wins the Charleston to Bermuda Race; J/125 ‘Rienrag’ that takes line and class honors for Division 3 in the Tranpac. J/42 owners create a new owner association. J/Boats continue to thrive under IRC with J/145 winning the Overall IRC Season Championship in UK (1-2 in class at Fastnet), and the J/109 winning its class at Fastnet as well as at Cowes and Spi Ouest. J/Europe is formed as new European builder (France). Jay Lutz wins J/80 Worlds in Fort Worth Texas as class breaks the hull #600 barrier. Sally Barkow wins the Rolex Women’s Keelboat Champs in J/22s in Annapolis. J/133 is awarded the Overall Boat of the Year award by Sailing World Magazine and Best Performance Cruiser by Cruising World.

2002
J/109 results roll in all year with wins at Spi-Ouest, Cowes Week, Breskens Race Week, Double-handed Round Britain Race and the prestigious Atlantic Trophy. J/109 plugs are shipped to the US and TPI begins production. ISAF selects the J/22 (women’s keelboat division) and J/80 (men’s keelboat division) for the World Sailing Games in Marseilles. J/105 explosion continues with 50 boats at the North Americans in Chicago, hull #600 built, and selected for UBS Challenge Pro Match-Racing. J/80 earns class start at Kiel Week and J/80 Worlds are held in La Rochelle, France. The J/Fest Regatta Series goes national with sponsors and five great events. Brad Read wins J/24 Worlds on its return to Newport. J/109 and J/105 are 1st and 2nd overall in Rolex Middle Sea Race. Terry Flynn wins 60-boat J/22 Worlds in Texas.

2001
J/145 is selected as a Sail Magazine Top 10 winner and wins class at Key West. J/80 class hosts its first World Championships in Newport. J Boats introduces the 35’ J/109 in Europe. US Watercraft begins building J/22s, helping to revitalize J/22 class growth. J/130 BONKERS is overall winner in the Pineapple Cup race to Jamaica. J/160s win in Newport-Ensenada, Puerto-Vallarta, Marblehead-Halifax and Swiftsure races. J/125 wins overall at Middle Sea Race in Malta. The Rolex Int’l Women’s Keelboat Champs is held in J22s in Annapolis, with Cory Sertl’s team crowned champion.

2000
J/46 earns double honors, first as a Sail Magazine Top 10 winner; and as a category winner in Sailing World Magazine’s Boat of the Year Awards. New carbon fiber J/145 (48’) is launched. 92 boats attend the J/22 Worlds in Holland. J/105 production accelerates with hull #400 launched and European production underway. US Watercraft becomes new US builder for J/24 and the World Championship returns to Newport for its 22nd running. New “L” version (L for liveaboard) is introduced for the popular J/42.

1999
J/35 inducted into the American Sailboat Hall of Fame ceremonies in Atlantic City. J/125 wins “Sportboat of the Year” from Sailing World. J/120 J BIRD clean sweeps the Puerta-Vallarta race with 1st to finish, 1st in class and 1st overall- only the 3rd boat in history to do so (other two were 70’ sleds). J/46 performance-cruising yacht is launched. J/22 featured in Santa-Maria Cup (women’s match racing) and for the ISAF Women’s Match Racing Worlds. J/30 and J/35 classes combine efforts to run their 20th and 15th North American Championships in Annapolis. 25 J/105s sail one design at Block Island. Over 275 J/105s now sailing in 15 fleets worldwide. The Rolex Int’l Women’s Keelboat Champs return to Newport in J/24s.

1998
J/160 PIPEDREAM wins Round-the-World Rally (American division) with a crew of five. Owner Scott Piper departs on cruise around the world in opposite direction! High tech built J/90 and J/125 usher in new wave of technology – carbon composite construction with 50% ballast/displacement ratios. J/90 wins “Sportboat of the Year” from Sailing World. J/125 wins at Block Island Race Week and St. Francis Big Boat Series. J/120s sweep top 3 spots in Newport to Ensenada Race. J/22 featured in ISAF World Championship in Dubai for women’s match-racing and fleet disciplines. US Master’s Championship held in J/105s in San Francisco. J/80 becomes fastest growing one-design in Sweden with 20 boats sailing. J/120 reaches hull #100, with 28 boats sailing in Southern California.

1997
100 J/24s attend the 20th anniversary J/24 Midwinters in Key West, Florida. Johnstone Family receives The Industry Leadership Award from SAIL Magazine. Harry Smith wins 1100nm Marina Del Rey to Puerto-Vallarta Race on his J/160 ‘Bushwacker’ and J/160 Hull #3 PIPEDREAM begins the ‘Round the World Rally’. The Moorings Company purchases a fleet of J/120s for an innovative “race weeks” charter program in Tortola.

1996
The first two of six J/160s are launched in early May. These deluxe flagships go on to win several offshore point-to-point races including a course record from Annapolis to Bermuda! J/44 Class returns for the 1996 Bermuda Race in force with 11 starters. J/105 reaches critical mass for class racing throughout the US with over 165 boats numerous regional events and a successful North American Championship. The new production J/32 Cruiser, designed by Alan Johnstone, is launched in July with over 20 sold in the first six months. J/Boats web site is expanded with a growing on-line class association presence, owner forums and monthly updates.

1995
J/120 named Cruising World Magazine’s Overall Boat-of-the-Year and Best Value in a Full-Size Cruiser. J/24 is first of five inductees into the American Sailboat Hall of Fame. J/130 STARLIGHT EXPRESS takes line honors in Newport-Ensenada Race. New J/42 Cruiser is introduced. Hull #1 GANNET wins two New York Yacht Club events and Class A Downeast Racing Circuit with a cruising asymmetric spinnaker and short-handed crew. J/35 class rebounds in participation with 35 entries at its North American Championship. J/105s are featured on ESPN in the Brut Cup professional match-racing circuit. J Composite of France begins European production of the J/80 and J/92.

1994
J/130 named Sailing World’s Boat-of-the-Year among Racer-Cruisers. J/22 & J/24 selected for inaugural IYRU World Sailing Championships, J/44 is first one-design class ever given start in Bermuda Race. J/120 introduced at SAIL EXPO with carbon mast and wins New England Solo-Twin. J/110 introduced at Annapolis Boat Show.

1993
J/92 is Sailing World’s Overall Boat-of-the-Year. J/80 One-Design is launched- the first J model to be built with TPI’s patented SCRIMP molding technology. J/22 celebrates its 10th anniversary by becoming an IYRU International Class with 1200 boats. J/33 DAYBREAK overall winner of Chicago-Mackinac. Newly launched J/130 and J92 sweep Andaman Sea Race in Asia.

1992
J/105 becomes Sailing World’s Boat-of-the-Year among racer-cruisers, and ushers in the sport boat revolution. J/92 is introduced and destined for the 1992 Readers Choice Award from Sailing World. J/24 #5000 and J/35 #300 are launched. Rod Johnstone is inducted into the Sailing World Hall of Fame.

1991
Nick Brown’s J/44 IONA wins Fastnet in IMS. Fortune Magazine names J Boats as one of the world’s 100 best American made products. J/39s and J/35s sweep top 4 positions in CHS at Cowes Week. J Boats pioneers carbon-fiber retractable bowsprits and asymmetric spinnakers on offshore boats, introducing the first of its new “sprit” series, the J/105.

1990
J/35c named Sailing World’s Boat-of-the-Year among 30-35 footers. J/44 wins NYYC Cruise. Motor Boating & Sailing names J/24 as 1 of 2 best sailboats of all time. New J/39 wins MBYC Fall Series. J/35 wins class in Sydney-Hobart Race. J/44 J-HAWK wins CHS class at Cowes Week.

1989
New J/44 wins New York Yacht Club Queen’s Cup and Cowes Week on way to becoming Sailing World’s Overall Boat-of-the-Year.

1988
J/34c named Sailing World’s Boat-of-the-Year. New J/33 wins Class at Block Island Race Week. Jeff, Stuart, Drake, & Alan Johnstone commence management of company operations at J/Boat office in Newport, RI. TPI (J Builder) introduces industry-leading 10 year blister warranty.

1987
J/35 becomes America’s fastest growing big-boat one-design with 24 sailing in Class at Block Island. J/37s win Class in 3 major race weeks.

1986
J/40 named Sailing World’s Boat-of-the-Year among US designs. J/35 is lst Overall in Miami-Montego Bay and New England Solo-Twin. J/28 and J/37 Cruisers introduced.

1985
Charley Scott’s J/41 SMILES wins SORC Overall. J boats introduces it’s first purpose built cruising boat, the J/40, that then goes on to win Class in Chicago -Mackinac. J/34 becomes best selling IOR design in America.

1984
New J/27 is overall winner of MORC Internationals with J/29 winning Class A. J/35 is 1st Overall MHS in Chicago – Mackinac. J/41 has 1-2-3 sweep of One Ton North Americans and Bermuda Race class.

1983
J/22 and J/35 introduced. J/22 wins Class at MORC Internationals.

1982
New J/29s finish 1-2-3 to sweep Class in Block Island Race Week

1981
Stu, Drake & Jeff Johnstone start J/World Performance Sailing School. J/36 Wins Class A in Antigua.

1980
Nissan Motors becomes Japanese builder. J/24 wins Caribbean Ocean Racing Circuit, becomes IYRU International Class and named by SAIL (10th Anniversary) as “best keelboat in 30 years.”

1979
J/30 #1 WARHOOP finishes 3rd in SORC Class. First J/24 Worlds in Newport with 78 boats.

1978
20 boats attend first J/24 one-design event at Key West. 68 boats attend North Americans in Newport. 1000 boats are sold with builders set up in UK, Brazil, Argentina, Australia and US West Coast where Trask family joins Johnstones to build J/24’s.

1977
Brothers Bob and Rod Johnstone finish 1-2 in J/24s in MORC Division at Block Island Week. J/24s go on to dominate the MORC Internationals in Annapolis.

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