It fills the gap between more conventional dinghies and the double-trapeze rockets. Likewise the gap between a JY-15 or Vanguard 15 and a Viper or Melges 24. It is a two-person sportboat that can be sailed from dock or beach, with no trapeze, that is stable and sturdy enough for family sailing, and strikes a balance between simplicity and performance.
It is the first computer-optimized racing-style dinghy. The Johnson 18's features were deliberately chosen to maximize strength, speed, and comfort while minimizing complexity and cost. It is not simply a copy of other popular dinghies stretching back through time. Sailors are very tradition-minded. For example, the first planing dinghy was designed in 1928, yet it took over thirty years for new classes to incorporate this advance in design. Thirty years from now, most spinnakers will be asymmetrical and transoms will be archaic... and Johnson 18 #1 will still be sailing!
Johnson 18's are very well balanced, and steering takes only a very light hand. The cockpit is laid out with racing in mind, with controls for the mainsheet, boomvang, cunningham and spinnaker halyard run right to the skipper, and with the jib sheets, jib furler line and spinnaker controls readily accessible to the crew. The Johnson 18's wide beam offers stability and confidence in heavy air.
The best answer is "Try it and see...." Descriptions really don't do it justice, but here's one anyway.
Simply that all boats are the same in essential detail: hull shape, sail plan, spars. This has several advantages- the boats are uniform in building for minimized expense, the rigging and tuning procedures can be standardized, and for racing it means that skill is the winning factor. The Johnson 18 Class is a rigid one-design. Each owner is allowed some variation in the deck hardware (such as blocks and cleats and their placement) but in all other respects the boats are identical. (more info)
Reality check... the Johnson 18 is neither a catamaran or a double-trapeze rocket. But it is pretty fast, especially on a spinnaker reach. We have passed Hobie 16s flying a hull! The Portsmouth number, a handicap rating which primarily measures its performance on windward/leeward race courses, put it slightly slower than a Thistle and slightly faster than a Lightning. Faster than Lasers, Snipes, Flying Scots, 470s, Laser 2s, Albacores, Daysailers, JY-15s, Coronado 15s, Vanguard 15s, Capri 16.5s, M-Scows, Designers Choice, C-Scows, Rhodes 19s, Mobjacks, Holders, Interlakes, Windmills, Jet 14s.... the list goes on.
If you are familiar with PHRF handicap ratings, the Johnson 18's calculate initial rating would be 181.2
"At the club racing level, in heavy air the Johnson 18 will often beat boats that are rated as much faster because the faster-rated boats are more likely to capsize...." (Steve C.)
In short it's pretty darn fast under most conditions, eye-popping fast under just the right conditions (those Hobie cat sailors were shocked to be passed by a monohull) but with a great deal of form stability and no trapeze, it is not scary-fast, nor is it intended to be!
Couples, singles with friends, parents with kids, parents getting away from their kids, older teens bored with club trainers, and a few hotshot sailmakers. There are a lot of beginning sailors, and many of them are active in racing.
"This class has a very low *stinker* factor. All the sailors here are friendly and helpful." (Tracie Paullin)
The Johnson 18 is a boat for those who enjoy being physically active, but it doesn't require a great deal of athleticism. It's stable enough to not need lightning-quick reflexes or droop-hiking.
"Not as athletic as I'd like to be. But my wife and I have sailed our Johnson 18 in 25-30 knots of wind. And we'll do it again, because we both enjoyed it!" (Doug King)
The boat definitely rewards hiking in a breeze. But it's also comfortable and easy to hike on, and stable enough that when you get a little tired, you don't have big problems trying to keep it under control. Class racing so far has strongly suggested that a wide range of crew & skipper sizes are competitive. At one Midwinters a skipper & crew weighing 270 lbs (123kg) combined won in heavy air (25 + knots), on Chesapeake Bay we see teams weighing 350 lbs (159kg) winning drifters.
Every high-performance open class, and most of the new multihulls, have adopted the asymmetric 'chute. They produce a lot of horsepower without creating a big headache for the crew.
The asymmetrical spinnaker provides for exciting downwind sailing and racing, and allows for more novice crew who might not be comfortable flying a conventional spinnaker.
The spinnaker and it's stowage bag are one of the best things about the boat.
Recent boat-show price (fall, 1998): $9,350.
Second hand boats run frm $7,500 to $10,500 depending of course on condition and equipment.
A set of new racing sails (main, jib, spinnaker) are approximately $1,650.
Yes and No. It is stable enough to walk around on, and has no bad habits like getting caught in irons or broaching. The Johnson 18's responsiveness give instant feedback for quick learning of sail trim, and the acceleration and overall perfomance make learning fun.
On the other hand, a beginner who is not interested in performance, doesn't want to get wet, and insists on bringing a picnic basket and/or cooler, should get a heavier, slower boat and learn to cope with getting caught in irons.
The Class Association provides an organized background for sailing, basically getting people together. It administers the class rules for racing. The Jn-18 Class Ass'n publishes a newsletter, collecting and disseminating information concerning rigging or sailing the boats, such as the best way to rig the boom vang or kicking up the rudter in light air, and lists used Johnson 18s for sale. The Class Association charges nominal dues. It is a non-profit organization.
A bit over a hundred boats (as of 1998).
Perhaps. Size isn't everything. You should get a boat that you enjoy owning and sailing FIRST.
"Every Johnson 18 owner we know sails for fun as often, or more, than they race. They are easy to trailer, and responsive enough to hone your skills without intensive practice." (Doug King)
Johnson 18s are sailed all over the US, and there are boats in Canada and Mexico. Fleet One is in central Minnesota at White Bear Lake. Other fleets are in Southern California, Chesapeake Bay, Seattle, and the Florida Gulf Coast. Fleets are forming in many other states.
The Johnson 18 is kind of a boardboat in that you sit low to the water. The lack of a transom makes it very easy to climb back in after a swim, and it is self-bailing instantaneously. This is an evolutionary rather than revolutionary feature- racing dinghies have been reducing the transom since the early 1960s.
"The open transom is a tremendous advantage because in anything but a drifter you are rushing along with water cascading across the deck and out the back." (Kathie King)
Yes, several owners singlehand regularly. It's a little tricky to do spinnaker takedowns alone in more than 10-12 knots of wind.
On the other hand, most fleets have long lists of people volunteering to crew (we keep suggesting they buy one of their own).
Adtitional on One-Design Racing boats which are different in design or size is often done using a time allowance or handicap. This is confusing for the competitors because there is no way to tell at any given point how one is doing in the race, it is essentially unfair because the variations between boats give one or the other a definite advantage under varying circumstances, and it imposes an adtitional burden on the race organizers.
Classes which race with no handicap yet do not require the boats follow the same design are called "open" or "development" classes. They tend to have much larger amounts of sail area and be more difficult to handle, as the boats are developed or improved for speed above all other considerations. This makes them a great challenge, and lots of fun, but expensive, since you have to buy a new boat every few years. Typically the designs for hull shape and sails evolve in cycles, and every few years there is a "breakthrough boat" which demolishes the competition. A well-known development class is the Twelve-Meter which was raced in the America's Cup from 1958 to 1987. Other development classes are the Moth, the International 14, the Cherub, and the International America's Cup Class
Some classes are very rigid one-design, such as the Laser, wherein all boats are as alike as can possibly be assured. Even the blocks (pulleys) must be of the same brand. This does not allow for improvements in materials over the years, nor any variation for individual preference. Others allow modifications to the deck layout, running rigging, or slight variations in rig, hull, rudter, and centerboard; right up to the point where competitve owners buy several different masts and/or centerboards. The Johnson 18 Class chooses a place between these extremes.
It is very simple to rig in ten steps:
The only "tuning" to be done on the Johnson 18's standing rigging is adjusting the tension on the upper and lower shrouds. Mast rake is fixed by the jib luff wire. Jib luff tension can be adjusted at the tack, although many owners just leave it as the sailmaker set it.
There are only three sails- no "heavy air jibs" or "wave jibs" or "flat-cut reaching spinnakers" or "light air sails."
The Johnson 18 is very responsive to adjustments of the cunningham, the traveler, the mainsail leech tension (adjusted with either the sheet or the vang). This means that you have a lot of options for underway tuning, and also that the boat is very controllable, easily depowered in gusts. On the other hand, many racers center the traveler, forget the adjustments, and do quite well by concentrating on the basics with just the "sheets and stick!"
That depends on what you mean by "comparable." There is no racing-style planing dinghy with a spinnaker available new at a lower price. Most are significantly more expensive.
"The Johnson 18's equipment, hull design and asymmetrical spinnaker make it more comparable to a Melges 24 than to any sailboat in the 18 to 19 foot category. A new Melges 24 costs upwards of $40,000!" (Bernie Smith)
There are second-hand Johnson 18s available. Compared to second-hand boats in other classes, the oldest Johnson 18 was built in 1994, and obviously boats which are much older will be much cheaper. Would you rather sail or do repair/rebuild/refinishing work?
"A cheapo is going to be frustrating to race, especially in a large class with lots of hotshots in new boats. Consider safety also- many older racing-style sailing dinghies are not self-bailing, and most are lacking in flotation." (Eric H.)
It can be handled by normal sailors in 30+ knots of wind. Too big? Don't think so.
It's more complicated than the jib and main, but far less so than a conventional spinnaker. Setting and dousing the sail are the trickiest parts, but with a little practice even novices can do it well enough to hang with the racers.
On a reach, the Johnson 18 can plane when whitecaps first appear, say around eight to ten knots of wind. Very few other classes plane this soon!
Asymmetrical spinnakers have a reputation for being somewhat slower than conventional spinnakers downwind. Depending on conditions, a boat rigged with a conventional spinnaker may have an advantage on a straight run downwind. However, boats rigged with asymmetricals have several clear advantages including ease of use (both setting and gybing), less crew effort, the ability to sail at much higher angles to the wind, no tendency to broach in gusts, and no"death-roll" (windward capsize).
A trapeze, in the high-performance sailing definition, is a harness worn by the crew which attaches to a wire going up the mast. The crew (and in some classes the skipper too!) is supported by the trap harness with his feet on the side of the boat, and his (or her) entire body out over the water. This provides a great deal of leverage to hold the boat level against the force of the sails trying to tip it; allowing much larger sails and thus higher speeds. As one can imagine, the trapeze requires a bit of dexterity (not to mention skill on the part of the skipper to keep from dumping the trapezer into the water). When tacking, the crew must swing inside the boat, unhook, cross to the new windward (up) side, hook onto the wire on the new windward side, and swing out again. And trim the jib while doing so...
We feel the Johnson 18 is much more enjoyable, even if it loses something in top-end speed, without a trapeze. This does not make trapeze boats bad, just more complicated and demanding a higher level of concentration, dexterity, finesse, and adventurousness. If it appeals to you, go for it! Further info from classes with traps- Cherubs, 505, Fireball, International 14, 470, Hampton, Flying Dutchman
It is true that the Johnson 18 prefers 4 knots of wind or more. Since most crews are hiking and the boat is planing in ten knots of wind or less, it's hard to see why anyone who had actually sailed one in any real wind would claim this. Sailing any boat in drifting conditions is a special skill, not necessarily related to any other skill except patience.
The spinnaker is a sail, usually very large relative to the boat, used only when going downwind. The word is thought to originate from a British yacht of the 1870s, the Sphynx, which flew a light-wind sail reputed to be one acre in size (unconfirmed). The blue and yellow sail in the top two photos in our Picture Gallery is a spinnaker. The asymmetric spinnaker is simpler than a conventional (or symmetrical) one because the supporting pole does not need to be attached, or detached, or raised, lowered, or swung fore & aft, when handling the sail.
Furthermore the asymmetric spinnaker generates more drive for its sail area because of its longer leading edge. For further discussion see the Cherub web site and the J-105 web site.
It's possible that the Johnson 18 is overbuilt by the standards of other classes. However, it is not a boat that flexes on the trailer, nor do you have to step gingerly aboard. The Johnson 18 Class Association is willing to challenge any other centerboard racing class to a demolition derby...
If you're thinking of the J-24, J-30, etc. sorry but that's a different group entirely. They are designed and marketed by the Johnstone family. They are fine boats but bear no relation (except that some of the newer ones also have an asymmetric spinnaker). The Johnson 18 was originally built and named by Skip Johnson of the Johnson Boat Works family, which began building racing scows in 1896 and was recognized for over a hundred years as one of the foremost builders of racing boats in the Midwest.