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J37 or Sabre 38MK1
My husband and I went through a very similar analysis -- he wanted the performance of a J-Boat, while I wanted the aesthetics of a Sabre. (That oversimplifies the differences between us, and between the two boats, but I''m sure you appreciate that.) We spent months debating it, and ultimately chose a Sabre 38 MkII, which we bought in February. We both love it, and are thrilled with our choice. (As a matter of background, we already owned a Sabre 34, so there was a pre-disposition to give Sabres heavy consideration.)
We tried to find a compromise boat -- and looked very seriously to find some middle ground -- but could not find anything that struck responsive chords in either of us (though the Elan 40 we toured at the Annapolis Boat Show last fall tempted both of us a little).
At the end of the day, it came down to how much racing we were really going to be doing -- as the J Boat is probably better equipped for that. The fact was that my husband would crew on other people''s boats, not race our own -- and with young children, you''ll probably find yourself doing more cruising than racing. Given my husband''s racing plans, there was not much need to buy a boat whose design is more oriented towards racing than cruising. (It helps, probably, that my husband''s brother owns a J-44, so hubby will be able to feed that need for speed.)
If you have the time and inclination, you may want to charter either or both of the boats. We chartered the Sabre 38 a couple of years ago to try it on for size, and it fit pretty darn well -- not barge-like at all. If your experience in chartering is limited to Beneteaus, you will appreciate how very different the Sabre will feel (and likely the J Boat).
Of course, both the J37 and the Sabre 38 MkII can race and cruise. And both are quality boats. You can hardly go wrong.
P.S. According to Cruising World, Gary Jobson (who knows a little about sailing) just bought a new boat: a Sabre 402.