J-40 for Long Distance Cruising ?
not sure how much we loaded her down - it was about 1'''' at the waterline. We were used to racing the boat (no furler, peels for sail changes), and the fingertip control of the absolutely phenomenal steering-setup the J40 has. This fingertip control, by the way, holds true as much in 35 or 40 knots of wind (and seas) as in 10-12 knots. If not, something''s wrong with the trim setup. Makes it of course easy for the autopilot.
Now we went for a testsail after loading the boat completely the first time, and I just about broke down crying. Sluggish, difficult to keep in a groove (still better than most boats, but nothing close to her potential). We had 300'' of chain and a bruce 45 on the bow. So we cut the chain into 2x120 + 1x60 feet, spliced 3strand to the 60 feet, and kept that on the bow, while moving the 240'' amidships. It''s hard to describe the huge difference this made. So for every passage we''d switch to the short-chain version, and the connect a 120'' section in once we had made landfall. The one time we didn''t do this for a passage, I regretted it.
BTW, I believe that LOTS of cruisers suffer from way to much weight in the bow. When we were making landfall in Australia (part of a loose ralley), we were in our 3rd front of the passage, and doing 7+ knots beating into the seas (~55 degrees apparent) in the high 20''s/low30''s windwise. The boat was well balanced (reefed, #4 jib), and I was having fun as we rode the waves. Now this other boat we passed very quickly would climb up a wave, then the bow would smash down the backside, submerge, the next wave washing over bow and deck, and pretty much completely stopping the boat. Then slowly, he''d gain speed again, just to climb up the next wave, crash/submerge/and stop again. This all under power, because with sails alone he didn''t have the strength to fight the seas. On the VHF he was wondering what kind of amazing engine we had ;-).
So I think that weight distribution is maybe even more important than total weight. BTW, this guy it turns out had 500'' of chain in the bow.
I guess a fundamental question to ask yourself is do you like to sail, or to hang out at anchorages with lots of stuff. The two are nearly incompatible, unless you are amazingly wealthy. Just know that you''ll have to trade off one for the other.
In regards to structural strenght on the 40, we didn''t have any problems, despite repeatedly beating into nasty waves. Off Samoa we kept on launching off waves an crashing down so bad that everything just shook to the bones. In that case, we reduced sail and slowed down, which fixed the prob. But no structural stuff. Only creeks we had were under the staircase. I had re-located the batteries there from the lazarette to center the weight better, and should probably have strenghted the thin ply-wood a bit before doing that (that section just wasn''t conceived/built as a battery compartment - did help with the weight distribution though ;-).
P.S.: I''ll be giving a talk about our trip at a SF Bay area yacht club in January, so if anyone''s interested, mail me at email@example.com