Used Boat Value: the J/35

Could the J/35, a design that thrived as a one-design racer two decades ago, be the best value in used sailboats today - thanks to its versatility?

15th April 2010.
By Paul Grimes

Back in 1984 when J/Boats first introduced the J/35, the International Offshore Rule (IOR) dominated the high-level racing scene, leading “racy” designs toward beamy shapes with small mainsails, pinched sterns, and reverse transoms (those stole several feet of cockpit space).  The J/35 was a bold and successful departure from that approach.  While its IOR contemporaries of similar size have PHRF ratings in the 100-120 range, the J/35 rates around 72-75 – considerably faster. A long production run and unique design has brought it full circle.


A quarter century later, the J/35 still has a North American championship every year.

For the prospective boat owner, the J/35 deserves consideration because it does so many things well, and can give its owner more ways to enjoy being on the water.  This, combined with a good supply of used boats available, creates a great value at a reasonable price.

Key Features of the J/35

Full-size main, fin keel, and moderate (10,500 lb.) displacement.
Almost-vertical transom and moderate beam – plenty of cockpit & deck space.
Spacious interior, head, inboard engine – all the basics, ready for customizing.

What it does best

Sailing with Friends
Sails well – even with smaller jibs, or just the main if it’s really blowing.
Handles a big group – plenty of space for two families onboard.
Day “Cruising” – The interior (with head, galley, etc.), allow for adventures beyond just a 3-4 hour sail.

One Design – Still an active, one-design class in some areas, with a North American Championship every year.
PHRF – Race in the one-design configuration, or use smaller headsails and ratings credits.
Manageable  – The spinnaker is surprisingly tame with end-for-end jibing using lazy sheets and guys – often easier than jibing an asymmetrical chute.
Wisdom available – Tuning guides and articles from past years are a great help in getting up to speed.

Easily sleeps 6 – no kidding.
Can be customized as desired – furler, wheel steering, propane stove, pressure water, AC power and hot water – you name it.


A “displacement” boat – not a thrilling, planing boat downwind.
Not the current look – no plumb bow, retractable sprit, etc.
Has a racing cockpit, no raised coaming – when side decks get wet, butts get wet.
Not a shoal draft boat – the fin keel draws 6’11”.
Has a tough rating – can be hard to sail to its 72-75 PHRF base rating – the boats have been raced well in the past.
Big crew for One-Design racing -  need close to 1650 lb. (the max. crew weight) on the rail and strength in the cockpit to tack the genoa.

Things to watch for

Water intrusion into hull/deck balsa core – get out the moisture meter!
Heavy use – beware the long, stellar race record . . .
Failing Rudder bearings – the original aluminum bearings have had issues.

Key Equipment

For racing
Good sails, faired foils and a smooth bottom – important for any boat.
A carbon fiber spinnaker pole – the lighter weight makes end-for-end jibes easier.

For cruising
Interior options – fold-down salon table, extra woodwork, opening cabin ports.
A bulkhead between the head and V-Berth – on later models.
A V-Berth – some boats were built without them.  Good for the boat’s structure too.
Slides on the mainsail luff, and a furler or hanks for headsails – a must for cruising.
And definitely. . .
Vinylester – boats from 1988 onward were built with vinylester resin in the outer skin for blister resistance.

Where to learn more

Current owners – always a great resource.
Class website and forum
Boats for sale: J/35′s on

Similar boats to consider

J/33 – smaller, fewer built, similar prices to J/35, good performer.
Express 37 – great design, well built, a little bigger and more expensive. Express 37′s on
Express 34 – little sister of the Express 37. Express 34′s on
Schock 35 – Similar to J35, from W.D. Schock in California. Schock 35′s on

Editor’s Note: Paul Grimes is an engineer and marine surveyor living in Portsmouth, RI. He has recently purchased another J/35.  Read his account of the decision to buy another boat.

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