I caught up with Tim Jackett at the Annapolis Sailboat Show. We toured hull number six of the Blue Jacket, his new collaboration with Bob Johnson of Island Packet (IP) Yachts, and then escaped the rainy weather to a lunch spot near Ego Alley.
I always enjoy talking with Jackett. He’s an easy interview because he likes to talk about his designs and the sailing market in general, and he’s not particularly guarded so the conversation flows easily.
Tim Jackett joined Tartan Yacht in 1978, his first real job, and he stayed until 2011. During that time, Tartan launched over 2,600 sailing yachts built to his designs, ranging in size from the eight-foot Tartan Tender to the award-winning 5300 flagship.
Overall, Jackett has created nearly 30 designs, some custom builds, but mostly for production. His focus has been on the elusive concept of the performance cruiser, a hybrid design that is asked to do multiple things well.
It had been over two years since our last chat, which was before he left Tartan Yachts to go out on his own. Perhaps that change made him more contemplative about where he’s been and where he’s headed next.
“A performance cruiser emphasizes sailing and handling but still has to accommodate more people than it’s likely going to take to sail it,” says Jackett. “It must be easily handled but can’t compromise upwind or downwind sailing. Most of the couples will cruise, with the occasional race thrown in—but even that’s getting rare.”
Tartans are performance cruisers; they have to be spacious and fast, but they’re mostly used for point-to-point coastal cruising. “The emphasis with Tartan was definitely on livability because the guy who wants to race, wants a J-boat,” says Jackett.
Size matters too. “The bigger boats aren’t as tough to draw because there’s more room to work with,” he adds.
Jackett, who rose through the ranks, became Tartan’s chief designer as well as chief operating officer. During his tenure, Tartan bought C&C, a more race-oriented brand that was close to Jackett’s heart. That’s when he realized that small race boats are more difficult to create.
“The racer-cruiser category is even harder to concept than performance cruisers because the boat might take 2-3 people cruising but will need 6-8 people to race it. That’s a lot of thought that has to go into everything, from the interior to the cockpit layout.”
He feels fortunate to have had some noteworthy partners along the road. “I was lucky in the 1980s to collaborate with Sparkman & Stephens on some of the early Tartan designs,” he says. “Much later, Bill Bolin called me to talk about Island Packet, but we were in different places back then.”
Eventually, Bob Johnson of Island Packet and Jackett got together to discuss a new design. Together they created the Blue Jacket 40, a performance cruiser with a funny name that might just fill a gap in the current market.
The launch of the Blue Jacket 40
I stepped aboard my first BJ40 not knowing what to expect. A walk around the exterior definitely said “Tartan,” but the IP influence was visible as well. Tartan’s teak accents (which added to maintenance) were missing. Jackett’s signature rig, with a reacher on a furler and a self-tending jib, now had a Hoyt jib boom that Jackett admits gives the headsail good shape regardless of the point of sail. “Bob and I debated that one for a while, but he was right on the Hoyt boom. It gets the most performance out of an 18,000 pound boat,” says Jackett.
Maximum beam on the BJ40 was brought more forward and the aft section is fuller than on Jackett’s previous designs like the T4000. “The flat hips and straight lines aft give the boat better manners in high wind when it heels,” he explains.
Hulls seven and eight of the BJ40 are in production at the Island Packet manufacturing facility in Key Largo, Florida, and the company has five dealers lined up around the U.S. who offer financing. The goal is to produce one boat per month, and then perhaps develop additional sizes in the near future. “We might look at 36 and 46-footers,” Jackett says. “The Blue Jacket may have a real opportunity in the market right now with much of the direct competition gone. J/Boats is pretty much out of the cruising space and Sabre is exiting sailing altogether.”
How the Blue Jacket got its name
The name Blue Jacket might bring to mind the 1854 fast clipper that sailed from Liverpool to Australia. That cargo-carrying ship was named after the blue jackets, a traditional name for sailors in the U.S. and British navies, and she came to an untimely end off the Falkland Islands when her cargo of flax caught fire. The figurehead, a man carved from the waist up in a blue jacket with gold buttons, washed up 2 ½ years later in Australia, some 6,000 miles away.
Although that sounds like a romantic story, Jackett shared the real tale.
Originally, he was considering Red Jacket, the name of a certain C&C 41 he remembered fondly. He felt it was appropriate to get approval before naming the entire brand, so he made numerous phone calls seeking the okay. Everyone he contacted felt it would be fine, but each suggested that Jackett make another call to someone else to make sure. Finally, it came down to a call to the attorney who owned Red Jacket and well, once it became clear that he’d be dealing with a lawyer, Jackett decided to choose a different color and call it a day. “I could say it had to do with the Blue Jacket clipper and make the story sound good, but it really had different beginning.”
What’s ahead for Jackett Yacht Design
The Tartan Fantail Series was Jackett’s first project when he left Tartan and started his own design firm, Jackett Yacht Design. (Read Tartan Fantail 26: Three Flavors, Triple the Sailing Fun.) Three versions of the daysailing design are now built and marketed by Tartan: the Weekender, Daysailer and Sail Trainer. The last one is a stripped out utilitarian version. “This 26-foot boat was designed for the guy who still wants to go out and have fun sailing but doesn’t want to deal with a big boat – the ‘not getting any younger’ crowd,” says Jackett.
The Blue Jacket followed, and now this prolific designer is considering his options.
“I’m open to a variety of things including a design relationship with Tartan and doing a larger version of the Blue Jacket with Island Packet,” Jackett says. There’s also a possible single-screw powerboat on the horizon, modeled after the 32-foot Legacy. With Down East styling and a lobster boat sheerline, it would be as Jackett puts it, “a sailor’s powerboat.”
Jackett went out on his own two and a half years ago, after building twenty-three designs with Tartan (including the C&C 99, 115, 110 and 121, all of which have done well in one design racing). Recently Tartan sold C&C to USWatercraft of Rhode Island, which acquired the exclusive rights to build, develop, distribute and market all new models of the C&C brand.
“I’m on a four-year plan,” says Jackett. “I have three kids aged 28, 25 and 15. The last one is still at home and the plan is to get him through high school before moving to the Carolinas or Virginia.”
Post-move, Jackett plans to focus strictly on hands-on design work rather than on tooling, contract manufacturing or management. “Design was where I started 35 years ago and I am looking forward to getting back to it.”
Despite the slew of cruising boats Jackett has brought forth over the decades, he himself is a racer at heart, not a cruiser. “Once we move, I’m most likely to have a Fantail for my personal boat and do a little daysailing and racing. I’m not untying the dock lines and sailing off into the sunset – literally or figuratively.”
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