When classical musicians start playing rock and roll, fans take note. When their first songs a hit, everyone listens to the lyrics. Bob Johnson, Bill Bolin, and the Island Packet Yachts (IP) crew have decades of experience delivering traditional cruisers to appreciative owners, but IPs newest player has increased the tempo.
For more than 30 years, long keels, internal ballast, heavy displacement, attached rudders, a beige hull, and a headsail-handling, self-tacking jib boom have defined the Island Packet fleet. But when the IP crew teamed up with performance-oriented designer Tim Jackett, all bets were off, and the switch from perpetual beige to a dark blue hull was just the beginning.
Starting with a clean slate, the collaborative design effort led to the launch of a very different cruiser. Creator of many C&C Yachts and Tartan Yachts designs, Jackett puts more emphasis on light-air sailing and upwind performance than past IP designers. Island Packet founder Bob Johnson made sure that the accommodations worked at anchor and at sea. At times, the dialogue was probably filled with internecine debate over issues ranging from foam core choice to the need for solid acrylic countertops. But the quest stayed focused on a best-of-both-worlds sailboat, and at first glance, the rig dimensions, no-nonsense deck layout, comfortable interior, and efficient hull/deck proportions seem to have hit the mark.
Built in IPs Largo, Fla., facility, the Blue Jacket 40 (BJ40) is an Island Packet cousin with fleeting family resemblance. The title block attributes the design to the complementary tag team of Tim Jackett and Bob Johnson N.A. By the time the development was complete, the traditional Island Packets long keel had morphed into a fin and bulb (5 feet, 9 inches or 7 feet, 10 inches), a couple tons of weight had been shed through a commitment to using Divinycell foam core and resin-infused FRP hull and deck construction; less ballast was used more efficiently. Island Packets signature attached rudder was eschewed in favor of a high-aspect-ratio spade rudder, while another IP badge, the self-tacking Hoyt jib boom, survived the design overhaul.
Jackett was the lead proponent for change and had hold of the tiller during the hull design development. Much of his ground-breaking prior success revolved around adding a performance edge to mainstream cruising boats. During his tenure as president and lead designer at Tartan and C&C, Jackett focused on building club racers that could handle a little cruising and cruisers that had enough rig and sail area to put the pleasure of performance back in the game. When the opportunity arose, Johnson and Jackett considered collaborating on a performance cruiser as an adjunct to the Island Packet lineup. Jackett envisioned a moderate, wedge-shaped canoe body hull with a long waterline, plumb bow, and enough dead rise (V-shape) forward to smooth out the ride and lessen the slamming found aboard more extreme race-boat hull shapes.
When the collaboration began in earnest, the goal was to reduce weight and increase sail area while engineering to Category A (Ocean) CE standards. Johnson has played a key role in the developing CE standards and is quick to point out the value of minimizing down-flooding potential, maximizing righting moment when deeply heeled, and delivering a stable boat. The Blue Jacket 40 carries a CE Stability Index (STIX) number of 40, well into the A category, which begins at 32. Add to this the well-engineered approach to construction, and its clear that a firm foundation has been laid for an able under-sail, seagoing cruiser.
To build the Blue Jacket 40, the IP factory adopted the resin infusion and foam core construction approach. A low-void content, high fiber-to-resin ratio laminate was achieved by vacuum infusing vinylester resin into the biaxial and quadraxial e-glass reinforcement, creating a stiff, strong, foam sandwich structure. Both the hull and the deck were laminated in one-part molds, eliminating secondary bonds. The core was tapered to solid fiberglass in high-load areas such as where hardware attachments were made or keel-bolt loads were focused. A big upside to resin infusion is the way it forces resin into kerfs (checkerboard-like slots in the foam), allowing it to conform to compound curves.
Instead of encapsulating ballast in a long run of keel, a well-proven Island Packet approach, the new design called for external lead ballast, which offers several advantages to the cruising sailor (PS, November 2012). The fin and bulb design developed more righting moment with less ballast by placing much of the lead in an anvil-shaped bulb at the very tip of the NACA foil-shaped keel. J-shaped, stainless-steel keel bolts were cast into the lead and bolted to a grid bonded to the inside the hull. This fiberglass (fiber-reinforced plastic, or FRP) framework spread the lever-like keel loads over a much larger section of the hull.
The rudder is one of the three key elements attached to the hull and deck. And like the other two-the rig and the keel-the attachment needs to be well engineered and equally well constructed. The higher the aspect ratio of these appendages, the more significant the forces will be at the point(s) where they attach to the hull. The closer the junction is to a right angle, the greater the stress riser. A look at the difference between the Island Packet 40 (IP40) and the Blue Jacket 40 says it all.
In the case of the classic IP rudder, its clear that the bottom of the rudder blade support strut and a shorter bearing-to-tip span lessen the load on the rudder bearing, which is mounted on the hull skin. On the other hand, the Blue Jacket 40s deep, large surface area, semi-balanced spade rudder offers a different set of design and engineering challenges. The efficiency of such a foil is hard to beat. It is both a superior lifting surface and a steering appendage. But the carbon-fiber stock carries all of the blade-induced torsional steering loads as well as the bending force linked to the righting moment of the boat. Between Johnsons Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineering training and Jacketts years of spade-rudder familiarity, the transition was in good hands.
From a construction perspective, its always nice to see interior components that also contribute to overall strength and stiffness. The Blue Jacket 40 designers made good use of hull-bonded liners, carefully installed bulkheads, and interior molded parts to enhance the overall structural web. This is seen less and less in production sailboats, where the trend has been to loosely hang joinery and trim rather than make it part of the internal structure stiffening, helping to link the hull and deck and aiding in the distribution of global loads radiating through the structure.
Rig and Rigging
When comparing the IP40 and the BJ40, nowhere do the numbers have more to say than in the comparison of displacement and mast height. The formers 22,800 pounds and 53-foot mast versus the latters 17,900 pounds (deep keel) and 62-foot mast define a huge increase in light-air performance under sail. This nearly 9-foot increase in mast height and the shedding of almost 5,000 pounds redefine sailplan options. Some might assume this would set the stage for a carbon mast and boom, plus create an urge to use titanium pins and other weight-saving hardware. But part of the genius of this boat is the design teams clear grasp of the cruising market. The BJ40 is a cruising boat for those who love to sail and do so without a crew of eight; the rig has been designed and engineered with this in mind.
The mast, rigging, and sailplan reflect a sensible convergence where technology, performance, and cost correlate. Esoteric extremes have been avoided, but design development has not been ignored. The nicely tapered Sparcraft T6061L alloy spar, boom, and spreaders are a proven workhorse combo. The slight performance uptick of upgrading to a carbon rig would significantly bump up the bottom line, and using an alloy spar instead makes it easier to mount tracks or a radar bracket. It also eliminates concerns about what a lightning strike would do to the carbon spar.
The sail area-displacement ratio of 20.6 and double-headsail solent sailplan make this a cruiser-friendly rig and a sailboat fine-tuned for a shorthanded crew. Gone are sluggish traits that would make a light breeze a sign to fire up the diesel. The roller-furled working jib sheets to the end of a self-tacking, carbon-fiber Hoyt boom. Our only concern is that, with no preventer attached, an unintentional jibe could send the deck-sweeping boom across the foredeck with a vengeance, and anyone in its way becomes a target. A preventer for the jib boom would make sense, especially in heavy weather and during off-the-wind reaching and running; another option would be ordering the boat sans the jib boom.
One of the make-or-break factors in any solent/reacher sailplan is the drive that the small-jib/big-mainsail plan delivers. We have tested similarly rigged boats that needed a larger headsail because there was just too much boat to be driven by the big main/small jib combo. The good news here is that the BJ40 is quite capable under this working jib and big main, thanks to the rig-height increase and hull-weight decrease.
We found that it wasnt until we were into single-digit windspeeds that the big main/working jib proved lacking. At that point, the big reacher rekindled the flame. The down side was that each tack or jibe required furling the sail, which gets old when tacking up a narrow channel. The really good news, however, is the way in which this sailplan makes it easy to set the right amount of sail to cope with a wide range of conditions.
The stem sports a stainless bowsprit that features several innovations. The weldment provides a tack point for both headsails, a roller and fairlead for the anchor and ground tackle, and a mount for the Hoyt boom. The slot and shape may put some limits on anchor choice, but the setup on the boat we tested worked well. The challenge with a plumb stem is getting the anchor far enough forward to allow retrieval without chipping away at the topsides. A relatively short extension will do the job in flat-sea anchor retrievals, but once the boat begins to pitch in a marginal anchorage, the anchors swing arc increases. The IP40s anchor-
handling attributes trump whats available on the Blue Jacket 40, but as adventure sailor Peter Hogg was fond of saying, Some people prefer to go sailing; others go anchoring.
Theres a distinct IP appeal thats apparent to those who step below on the BJ40. The dominant, oversized starboard galley features a smallish centerline sink/sinklet combo, copious solid acrylic countertop space, a first-rate, two-burner Force 10 stove with a guardrail, a microwave, and a stainless drawer-style refer/freezer. Theres a hatch above the galley, and the fiberglass nonskid sole is appreciated when cooking underway, or when crew, clad in rain-soaked foulies, come down the companionway.
The main saloon has a spacious feel with the table folded up against the bulkhead, and when lowered and unfolded, it affords dining space for those seated to port and starboard. This is more of an in-port or at-anchor amenity, and another example of how the design covers multiple bases. A very useful, strategically positioned nav-station has been tucked in to the port side adjacent to the companionway ladder. Beneath the ladder is the engine access, which is by no means an engine room, but it offers adequate access to key components.
Forward of the galley-saloon living area is a spacious head with shower and a sizable forward, double V-berth cabin. For aft accommodations, there are two options: side-by-side double berths in tight, but functional under-the-cockpit cabins, or a cabin to port and a massive cockpit locker to starboard.
Testers liked the idea of many smaller opening ports in the cabinhouse rather than a commitment to an overly large non-opening window. On the BJ40, hatches are strategically located near key areas below, but without any Dorade vents or other means of letting air in and keeping water out, tropical tradewind passagemaking will keep a crew overly eager to crack the hatch just a bit too soon. This is fine in fair weather, but tough to live with when the spray starts flying. The rigid vang swings back and forth over the main saloon hatch, so the lid cannot be fully extended underway.
Testers noted that both tankage and storage were consistent with the performance-cruiser mission: minimal but adequate.
During tests under power on a flat calm sea with a side-setting current, the BJ40s 40-horsepower, three-cylinder Yanmar hummed away and the Max prop delivered enough thrust to tally a 7.2 reading on the knot meter, which concurred with the GPS. The semi-balanced rudder did not flutter or vibrate, and the steering control was smooth and positive, remaining responsive even when our velocity through the water was nearly nonexistent. In reverse, all it took was a little sternway for the boat to be easily steered in either direction. Care needs to be taken when backing at anything above a couple of knots, due to the powerful rudders desire to lever itself into a hard-over position.
The big, full-battened, well-shaped mainsail behaved admirably on the Harken Battcar track, and lazy jacks tamed the main during hoisting, dousing, and reefing. Its a big plus to have the draft and roach available in a conventionally hoisted mainsail. Mid-boom sheeting and a diminutive traveler were tradeoffs to keep the cockpit free of mainsheet tackle. Racers will miss the control that end-boom sheeting delivers, while cruisers will love the dodger/bimini combo and the absence of the mainsheet tackle sweeping across the cockpit.
The big reacher is a powerhouse in light, close-reaching conditions and a major player on deeper reaches. In fact, the need for an asymmetrical is reduced thanks to the masthead hoist and upper girth of the furlable reacher. The one cautionary note is that although the sail seems like a plus-sized No. 1 genoa, its not meant to be used on a close reach in double-digit breezes. Sailmakers confirm this based upon an increase in their reacher repair business.
From our point of view, the Blue Jacket 40 hits a sweet spot midway between a race boat and the heavy-displacement cruiser that needs its diesel or 15 knots of true wind to really move. The BJ40s hull form and foils afford ample upwind performance, and headsail handling is a user-friendly experience. We don’t like the maintenance headaches of saildrives, but the only other negatives we found with the BJ40 were nit-picky ones.
With the hefty base price tag of $390,000, the BJ40 is not a bargain boat, but you do get what you pay for, and in this case, its a well-built boat made by a crew that stands behind what they build. The bottom line is that this boat gets a two-thumbs-up rating. The Blue Jacket 40 is an efficient, well-built performance cruiser with comfortable accommodations that brim with sensible usability.