Conversations with Classic Boats

Published on May 6th, 2021

Conversations with Classic Boats is a podcast about classic boat designs and the stories behind them. Hosted by Tom Darling, his latest offering is a two-part series which brings together the brother team of Bob and Rod Johnstone that founded J Boats out of a garage in Stonington, CT in 1977.

In his opening section, Rod talks through how sailing in Eastern Connecticut, from Thistles and 505s to offshore boats, convinced him to design a fast family boat. Armed with a Westlawn School of Design education acquired at night, he did his design work while selling ads for Sounding Magazine.

The story of really and truly building his prototype, Ragtime, in his garage sets up the entry of his brother Bob, to help in the marketing. Bob fills out the balance of Part l of the podcast with what he calls the ‘Twelve principles of J Boats’, from design considerations to how to handle the boat dealer.

J Boats and the J/24 was the precursor of “viral” marketing with demand quickly outstripping the supply being manufactured by Everett Pearson, the original co-founder of Pearson Yachts in 1957.

Part II is a design-by-design review of what Bob Johnstone calls the ‘Four Ages of J Boats’. Phase I was the J/24, now 5600 strong around the world. Closely following was the J/30 for the family that wanted to live on their boat. Bob and Rod riff back and forth on the experiences of the original J Boat owners from Long Island to Michigan to the West Coast.

The transition to the next J Boat age presented boats like the J/36 and J/35, offshore and one design classes alike. In that group, the J/44 stood out.

One design innovation that J Boats led was SCRIMP, the use of infused carbon fiber in boats and spars, today an everyday feature in boat building. But J Boats was an early adopter for its racing models.

The Third Age saw the real radical change came with the sprit boat, epitomized by the J/105, one of the largest if not the largest offshore one design. The evolution of this design, through the J/80 into the larger offshore J/120s and more, set the model for the industry in the 1990s and 2000s

Then in 2012, the latest blockbuster came in the form of the J/70, the modern-day J/24. As the fastest growing class to 1000 boats (over 1300 worldwide), the J/70 attracts the professional sailor and the family alike.

Part 1


Part 2


Tom Darling comes from a sailing family that’s been on the water since the middle of the 19th century. In modern times, he races Alerion keelboats in Nantucket along with vintage IODs in Western Long Island Sound. The podcast is available to at conversationswithclassicboats.com or via most popular podcast outlets, including ITunes, Google Podcast, and soon-Spotify

The podcast is written by Tom Darling and produced by Ned Darling. For further inquiries, contact Tcd4sail2@gmail.com

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