Rod and Bob Johnstone independently arrived at the same conclusion 39 years ago before launching the perennially popular J/24: The wave of baby boomers who were having so much fun sailing Hobie, Sunfish and other beach boats were marrying and having children and primed for owning a performance family sailboat.
After a lifetime of building and racing boats, Bob, 82, who lives in Newport, R.I., and his brother Rod, 79, of Stonington, Conn., have taken home an armload of silver for their and J/Boats’ contributions to sailing.
On Oct. 21, Mystic Seaport presented the brothers with its America and the Sea Award. Nine days later, they and seven other luminaries were inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I.
“Over the past 39 years the Johnstone family and their company have influenced American yachting and the sport of sailing in incomparable ways,” Mystic Seaport president Steve White said. “They have established a record of accomplishment that few will ever challenge, and they have instilled in countless Americans a passion for enjoying time on the water with family and good friends aboard good boats.”
The J/24 was the first of J/Boats’ 40 designs — altogether 14,000 J boat builds, including 5,700 J/24s. The Johnstones say their designs reflected the kind of boat they wanted for themselves through the seasons of their lives.
“I designed Ragtime for myself,” said Rod, J/Boats’ boat designer. “It was fun to take eight people out on the boat in 20 knots of wind with the main up. With other boats, if it was blowing 20 you wouldn’t go out.”
“Our strategy from day one was for our boats to be the best-performing boats of their kind out there, whether sail or power,” said Bob, who oversaw J/Boats’ business side.
J Boats still builds 13 models from 22-1/2 to 40 feet, and J boat racing continues to flourish. The J/70 class was the biggest at Key West Race Week from 2013 through 2016, Rod said. The scratch sheet for the 2016 event showed 54 entries in the class.
J/Boats’ management has been turned over to a second generation of Johnstones, but Rod still helps design the boats. Bob, foreseeing boomers moving from sail to power as they got older, is marketing a Down East line of luxury performance power cruisers that are economical and have the latest joystick and dynamic positioning technology.
The other Hall of Fame inductees were: three America’s Cup sailors — helmsman Ed Baird, helmsman and campaign manager Malin Burnham and skipper Bill Ficker; world cruisers Exy and Irving Johnson; Tom Perkins, owner and developer of the 21st century square rigger Maltese Falcon; and sailor, sailmaker and Olympic coach Dave Ullman.