Followers and non followers alike of classic yachts have a special place in their hearts for the mighty J Class. The history and romance of their original era from 1929-1937 and their use by wealthy egotistical men on both sides of the Atlantic, in the pursuit of the most iconic and desired sporting trophy in the world, The Americas Cup, is well known and well documented. Shamrock, Endeavour, Enterprise, Ranger, Rainbow are names that immediately conjure up images of yachts with such grace, beauty and power, that for many they remain unsurpassed in yacht design and aesthetic. Many a bedroom, study, boardroom and yacht club wall is adorned with fabulous images from the contests between these Leviathans.
Photo: Rainbow, 1934, #80510F; © Mystic Seaport,
Rosenfeld Collection; http://www.rosenfeldcollection.org
Shamrock V – the first J challenger for the Americas Cup in 1930 – Image courtesy of Gerhard Standop
Velsheda and her award winning support boat, Bystander
What is less well known is that since 2003 there has been a renaissance and it can be strongly argued that the “Golden Era” of this magnificent class is now. There is no shortage of big wallets and big egos and a number of men with a net worth ranging from 500 million to 2 billion have chosen to spend their $20 million dollar plus yacht purchase budget on a J Class superyacht.
We now have a global fleet of seven ‘J’s with three more projects in production with launches due in 2015 and two more in design consultation, so we can look forward to a fleet size eclipsing the original era. With the Britannia K1 replica project back underway and planned to be rigged in her J Class configuration and launched for 2015 she will as an honorary J also join the global party.
This renaissance started following the wonderful sight in 1998 of the only three J Class yachts surviving, Endeavour, Shamrock and Velsheda all magnificently restored competing in regatta action at Antigua Classic Week. Seeing the huge interest this event and the forthcoming Americas Cup jubilee of 2001 created, the owners had a meeting and it was agreed that a class association should be formed and that some design rule changes should be made including allowing the use of aluminium for hulls to encourage others to build these giant Bermudan rigged superyachts once again and hopefully create a closely matched competitive fleet which would match race at the worlds’ iconic regattas. Within a decade of the new association being formed that desire and a new “Golden Era “of J Class racing was under way.
The grand old Velsheda, rejuvenated and very competitive in modern regatta action
Image courtesy of Lottie Richardson
The Ranger name has the honour of being that of the last ever J built in the 30s and the first of the 21st century new builds. Ordered in 2002, following a memorable charter on Elisabeth Meyer’s beautifully restored Nicholson original, Endeavour ($85,000 plus expenses a week for anybody who fancies a charter) by Atlanta real estate Tycoon John Williams, she was launched in December 2003 and sailed the Atlantic shortly thereafter and her famous upturned bow and J5 sail number have graced regattas in both the Med and the Caribbean and the natural home of J match racing the Americas Cup venue of Newport Rhode Island ever since. Built in Denmark with a steel hull as per the original, designers Reichel and Pugh were chosen to oversee the project. You could have purchased her in 2010 for $20 million and currently, if you have a spare $14million dollars burning a hole in your pocket, she can be yours.
The famous upturned bow on the replica Ranger faithfully kept
Image courtesy of Lottie Richardson
Ranger bow getting a bit close for comfort – Image courtesy of Gerhard Standop
Build two in the new era was Hanuman JK6 and heralded the start of the Dutch era. Delivered in 2009 she was built at the Royal Huisman Yard and designer Gerard Dykstra oversaw the project. A replica of Endeavour II she is owned by the Silicon Valley tycoon Dr Jim Clarke. Already the owner of Royal Huisman built superyachts, Hyperion and Athena, he has proved every bit as colourful an owner as Vanderbilt Lipton et al. In 2009 these two new Js met in regatta action in Newport Rhode Island as their predecessors had done in 1937. This time the Endeavour II replica prevailed. In 2010 they met again in the Caribbean at St Barths, where Ranger prevailed 2-1 and then a few weeks later in a famous incident Dr. Clarke pulled Hanuman from participation in the Antigua Classic Week in protest over spiralling costs and the use by other owners of parachuted in professional crew. Heated exchanges via open letters took place just as it had done 80 years before. She is currently for sale at $22 million.
Hanuman’s winter optimisation proved successful – Image courtesy of Paul O’Grady
Build three, another Dutch project, Lionheart JH1. Built by Classen Jachtbouw, alustar hull specialists, she was ordered in 2005 by Tom Tom founder Harold Goddijn and following tank testing and design optimisation of unused Stephens and Burgess Ranger designs by Dutch designer Andre Hoek, the owner chose 77F design. She was launched in 2010 and proved to be an instant success on the regatta circuit and was the winner of the prestigious Guinea Cup at the Solent 2012 regatta. She is the largest J built to date.
Lionheart with her distinct two cockpit layout – Image courtesy of Gerhard Standop
Lionheart in close quarter tacking duel Palma SYC 2013
Image courtesy of Paul O’Grady
Ranger and Lionheart duel around a mark at Falmouth
Image courtesy of Gerhard Standop
Build four, the latest to be completed was launched in early 2012. Rainbow JH2, a replica of the 1934 Burgess designed victor over Endeavour. Again a Dutch collaboration between Bloesma, Holland Jachtbouw and Dykstra naval architects, ordered by Dutch property tycoon and HJB yard owner Chris Gongriep, she was launched in March 2012, and after short sea trials competed in the Falmouth and Solent regattas in the summer of that year. In 2013 with the crew and owner having gained more experience she won her first bullets in the Rolex Maxi Yacht Cup regatta in Sardinia and was much closer in performance to the seasoned Velsheda, Lionheart and Hanuman. She is currently for sale with the owner rumoured to have taken on another J class project, J8 which had stalled after the hull had been built. POA, but $20 million should get your phone call returned!
Rainbow under full power at her inaugural regatta Falmouth
Image courtesy of Lottie Richardson
So by early 2012 a global fleet of 7 Js existed and J fever gripped the sailing world. Following the success of a J Class regatta in 2011 at Newport attended by Velsheda and Ranger, for the 2012 season the UK planned to host two regattas, one in Falmouth and the other in the Solent where a race over the original 100 Sovereigns Cup course of 1851, the race that spawned the Americas Cup and all its history, was planned and the UK based J Class association under the stewardship of David Pitman had hoped that the new four, plus the originals, Shamrock V, Endeavour and Velsheda would show to make a unique spectacle of all seven competing. In the end charter or other commitments kept Shamrock and Endeavour away and Hanuman’s owner who still could not be persuaded to compete, blanked the invite. Velsheda, Ranger, Lionheart and Rainbow showed up at both events and although not quite the one billed we were treated to a magnificent spectacle. Marred slightly by rumours of unsatisfactory organisation and a “breakage” withdrawal by Rainbow for the blue riband Sovereigns Cup race the events were nonetheless heralded a great success and thousands of spectator craft followed the mighty four out on the water enjoying the magnificent spectacle.
Prior to the 2013 Caribbean season Hanuman underwent some optimisation changes under the expert guidance of North Sails president and experienced Americas Cup and Volvo Ocean Race campaigner Ken Read. Jim Clarke was persuaded to re-enter Hanuman complete with high calibre professional crew (in an about turn to his 2010 stance) to the fray and for the first time since 1937 five J Class were seen at a regatta. The St. Barths Bucket in April 2013. Click on link and then enlarge to view a truly exciting video of this regatta.
The sight of one or two 140 foot plus Js manoeuvring for start line advantage is pretty good but five powering up their huge Bermudan rigs and dashing to windward for the start line in close formation each with thirty or so top professional crew plus celebrity billionaires such as Sir Richard Branson sitting along a rail is a truly spectacular sight.
Ranger’s crew line up on the windward rail as she heels on port tack
Image courtesy of Paul O’Grady
Billionaires with their own yachts still love sailing a ‘J’ – Richard Branson on board Hanuman in St. Barths
Image courtesy of Carlo Borlenghi
Close quarter match racing between class rule yachts produces thrilling sailing action and when that class is the largest single masted class ever designed it is truly spectacular. Hanuman’s improvements proved very successful and she achieved three out of four line honours and four overall wins at the regatta.
The year continued with the almost too good to be true news that the June SuperYacht Cup in Palma had received entries from the Big 5, and a regatta in European waters was to be blessed with the presence of five Js for the first time since 1938. Pundits billed it as the “return match”. Four days of fantastic match racing action were seen with Hanuman emerging victorious once again, but only after securing the final day race win needed over Velsheda.
Js battling for start line advantage is an awesome sight
Image courtesy of Stuart McClellan
The Mighty 5 on a first windward leg – Image courtesy of Paul O’Grady
Close quarter approaching the first mark – Image courtesy of Merijn de Waard
This epic year was not done. Velsheda, Rainbow and Ranger entered the Rolex Maxi Cup in Sardinia at Porto Cervo and here the newest J, Rainbow, scored her maiden race victory ending the regatta with two wins but just losing out overall to the seasoned Velsheda on the final day. A few weeks later Hanuman, Velsheda, Lionheart and Shamrock V were all seen at the season ending climax of classic yachting the Voiles De St Tropez and again close match racing meant the regattas outcome went down to the last day, with Velsheda winning overall after sail and gear failure scuppered the mighty Hanuman mid race on the final day.
With a competitive reliable (unlike their forebears) fleet of four modern Superyachts plus three fully restored originals, one of which is competitive in regatta action, a season where they graced four iconic global regatta locations and a class with three further projects in build and two in development stage. Cheveyo in the UK being built by Spirit Yachts Atlantis or J8 as she is now known and Svea, a design from the board of famous Swedish master Tore Holm, both at HJB in Holland. Plans for Yankee and Enterprise replicas have also been drawn up.
Who could possibly argue that this is not the Golden Era? The person most responsible for resurrecting interest in these behemoths does. Elisabeth Meyer who restored Endeavour is sceptical, has no interest in the class and has been quoted as saying “The J Class no longer exists. The new boats are so altered from the original designs that they are not J Class sloops but big pseudo classics and the association changes will alienate public fans of Js”. Not from where I was in Palma it hasn’t!
Five Js congregate at a regatta in Europe, The Palma SYC for the first time since 1938 Image courtesy of Paul O’Grady
The Mighty 5 duel downwind under huge spinnakers – Image courtesy of Simon Walding
The only missing ingredient for this new Golden Era is for the class to once again be chosen as the design to compete for that Auld Cup. Maybe AC35 could hold a surprise yet. History has a way of repeating itself.
And finally if this article has inspired you to experience the excitement of sailing on one of these magnificent yachts then contact SailingAction for this unique opportunity taking place in St. Tropez in October 2014:-
About the author:-
Stuart McClellan has been a passionate sailor and follower of all things yachting since he was 11 years old, starting out with his father who on retirement purchased a small family cruising yacht in 1971. Based in Tollesbury on the Essex coast, every time they left the Woodrolfe Marina they would pass a very large rotting hulk buried in the mud used as a houseboat. Enquiry as to what a J class (he was mistakenly told the hulk was a J Class) was and the provenance and history of the SY Merry Maid led to many a trip to the library for information and a lifelong passion for the Big Boat Class of the Golden Era of the 1930s was spawned. Forty two years on the passion for the beautiful classic yacht aesthetic has been joined by an equal passion for ocean going high tech multi-hulls. Stuart has had the good fortune to sail big multi-hulls in both Europe and Australia .
A city career in Proprietary Derivatives trading at UK merchant bank Schroders and private trading firm Manro Haydan and for the last 15 years as an independent, part funded this sailing passion, but his desired J Class yacht purchase has yet to be made. Currently he and his family enjoy cruising the beautiful East Coast estuaries on his 1960 Baltic Clinker or Halberg Rassy.
To share this passion he co-founded SailingAction, a specialist charter organiser for participation and viewing of iconic regatta action particularly J Class, Classic, Thames Barge and working sail and multi-hulls in the UK and Europe. Uniquely offering bunk and day ticket rather than whole boat charter, offering luxurious champagne days SailingAction has many satisfied customers who have experienced the beauty, majesty and awesome sights out on the water that regatta action brings.
Sailing Action details:-
T: 07748 334625 01206 299661 07734 097922
Images reproduced by kind permission of Sailingaction and its clients Stuart McClellan, Gerhard Standop, Lottie Richardson, Simon Walding, P O’Grady Merjin de Waard. All rights reserved.