The J Class Regattas in the UK this Summer.
This summer saw the return of J Class Yachts racing in two Regattas, with the first in Falmouth hosted by the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club, from 26th -30th June, and the second in the Solent from the 18th-21st July, hosted by the Royal Southampton Yacht Club, and both regattas were huge successes with thousands of J Class enthusiasts following the races, and I was one of them.
It is difficult to explain the thrill of watching these monsters racing at close quarters, and they are, quite simply, the most elegant yachts ever devised, designed and built.
Painting by Stephen Renard of “Whirlwind being passed by Enterprise to windward, with Yankees Weetamoe”
competing for The America’s Cup Selection 1930
(available from Objects of Desire Gallery – THIS PAINTING HAS NOW BEEN SOLD)
The Origins of the J Class
The J class has its roots in the oldest sporting race in the world, the America’s cup. This international event was born from an annual race around the Isle of Wight, hosted by the Royal Yacht Squadron, and called the 100 Guineas Cup. An overseas yacht was allowed to participate for the first time in 1851. The yacht, ‘America’, was built that year to an innovative new design and sailed to the Solent in search of racing.
Initially excluded from racing against British yachts she was finally allowed to enter the Round the Island Race for the 100 Guineas Cup which she won and the trophy became known as the America’s cup and was taken back to the USA.
A Stunning Painting by Stephen Renard of, “Britannia Leading White Heather off the Needles”
(Britannia was converted to J Class in 1931 and White Heather in 1930)
(for sale under ‘Objects of Desire’ in the Arts and Culture Section)
Britain’s greatest America’s Cup Challenger was Sir Thomas Lipton, 1st Baronet, KVCO, a self-made man, merchant and passionate yachtsman. He created the Lipton tea brand and grew rich on importing tea to Britain and shared his interest in racing with George V. The King and Sir Thomas Lipton, enjoyed each other’s company so much so that the King tried on a number of occasions to get Sir Thomas elected a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron, but the members closed ranks and ‘blackballed’ him several times, on the grounds that it was socially embarrassing to share ones Yacht Club with ones Grocer! As a ‘self-made man’ Sir Thomas was not readily accepted by the British upper classes and it was not until shortly before his death that he was finally admitted to the Royal Yacht Squadron. He was inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame as late as 1993.
However between 1899 and 1930, Sir Thomas challenged the American holder of the America’s Cup through the Royal Ulster Yacht Club no less than five times with his yachts, Shamrock through to Shamrock V. He had a near success in 1920 and made a final attempt at the age of seventy-nine in 1929. His well documented efforts to win the cup earned him a specially designed trophy for ‘the best of all losers’ and made his tea brand famous in the U.S.
In 1931 some American’s had the advantage of having enough money to build no less than four J-Class yachts, which were all launched within a month of each other. They were Enterprise, Whirlwind, Yankee, and Weetamoe reflecting the famous quote from J. P. Morgan about yachts, ‘If you have to ask how much it costs, you cannot afford it’. In Britain the one person who could match this was Sir Thomas Lipton who spent $1million on Shamrock V to make his challenge for the Cup. This was all in stark contrast to the rest of America facing a stock market crash.
In all ten yachts were built to the J Class rule between 1930 and 1937, six in America and four in Great Britain, three of which were designed by Charles Ernest Nicholson; Shamrock V, Endeavour and Valsheda. The latter never served for an America’s Cup Challenge.
The sixth J Class yacht to be built, and the second built on British soil, was Valsheda, but by 1941, following the outbreak of the Second World War, all the American boats had been scrapped, and Endeavour and Valsheda, had become houseboats in a mud berth on the River Hamble. Only Shamrock V was still sailing! In 1968, Endeavour II was broken up and scrapped in Southampton. Quadrofiglio (Shamrock V) had been hidden in a barn in Italy throughout the War Years and following her owner’s death in 1962 was sold to Pieru Scanu who saved her two weeks before she was to be scrapped in Genoa.
During the 1970s Endeavour’s hulk was sold for £10 and restoration began. In 1975 Quadrofiglio (Shamrock V) arrived from Italy and was re-fitted at Camper & Nicholson’s yard, supervised by the owner’s son. Paulo Scanu, a Naval Architect.
The Return of the Legend
By 1998, Valsheda, Shamrock V and Endeavour had all been restored and raced against each other at Antigua Classic Week that year, signalling the return of these legendary racing boats.
Of the ten massive yachts that were built to the J Class specification, only these three survived, and in 2000, the J Class Association was formed to promote, protect and develop the interests of these wonderful yachts and it has been a great success, so much so that these spectacular boats now race all over the world.
The past 20 years have seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of people who can afford to indulge their passions in this way, and the J Class has been a prime beneficiary, with billionaires competing to outdo each other, and there is no doubt that you need deep pockets to indulge this particular passion.
Today, there are seven yachts sailing, with one more under construction, and three in the design phase. The four new J Class yachts are Ranger, launched in 2002, Hanuman in 2009, Lionheart in 2010, and Rainbow in 2011.
Those participating in this year’s two UK Regattas were Valsheda, Lionheart, Ranger, and Rainbow, and they are due to Race again in the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup in September, and in ’Les Voiles de St Tropez, in September/October, and I am hoping to be there to watch them, because this is one of the greatest sights on earth.
The New Owners
Of course, building a J Class yacht today is still the preserve of the super rich, but instead of the King’s Grocer, the new owners are Technology and IT Billionaires, like Dr Jim Clark who built Hanuman which he is now offering for sale for US$18 million.
After nearly three decades of sailing, Jim Clark, the Netscape and Silicon Graphics founder and Silicon Valley icon is leaving behind his life at sea and selling his two prized sailing yachts, the 136-foot Hanuman and the 295-foot Athena. the 68 year old Clark, a returnee to this year’s World Billionaires List, due mainly to some smart investments in Apple, says that he has decided to sell his boats to settle down at his home in New York with his eight month old daughter and his wife, former Australian model, Kristy Hinze. However he is not letting his passion drift away too easily and expects to break even on the sell of his boats. He has listed Hanuman for $18 million and the asking price for Athena, the fourth largest sailing yacht in the world, is a cool $95 million.
J Class yachts are rare, Lionheart, a boat similar to Hanuman, sold in June 2011 for about $19 million.
According to research by Boat International, 2012 started off as a slow year for yacht sales, but has picked up as the market stabilizes from the depths of the 2008 financial crisis. In 2009, 194 super yachts were sold, of which 33 were sailing yachts. Last year, 262 yachts were sold, 39 of which were of the sailing variety.
Girl Power behind the Resurrection of J Class Yachts
Billionaire’s money is only one part of the J Class resurrection – one unsung hero or should that be heroine is Elizabeth Meyer who has not always been afforded the recognition she deserves in the part she has played in restoring these magnificent boats so that they have regained their proper place in the hearts of yacht enthusiasts.
It may have all started subconsciously when her mother, Mary a Star Class sailor would place her babies in the bilge of her dinghy and go sailing. On one occasion she looked down and noticed that Elizabeth was beginning to drown in the bottom of the boat, the response from her mother was, ‘Someone put the baby to windward of the centreboard trunk, she’s drowning!’.
Elizabeth Meyer is the first to insist that she is no heiress, having made her money through buying and selling land and building and restoring more than 80 homes. Her most famous client being Jackie Onassis. However in her own words she found that some people involved in building houses to be ‘really rough’ yet in comparison the world of yachting and the people involved to be ‘wonderful’ and ‘lovely’ so in 1983 she decided to sell her business to her partners and move into yacht restoration management.
At this time she was writing for yachting magazines and whilst covering an article on the Big Class went to see Astra, Candida, Lulworth and Vesheda. Whilst she was sailing Valsheda in the Solent she saw Endeavour on the hard at Calshot Spit. Endeavour was out of the water and had nothing inside her but Elizabeth says that she was like something out of a dream. She bought the hulk of Endeavour for only £10 but this was just the start of her investment. She made her seaworthy and two years later relaunched her to take her to the Royal Huisman Yard in Holland for fitting out. If that was not enough in the same year, 1986, she founded J Class Management and took on the restoration of Shamrock V in America. Her dream was to see both boats racing again, in the waters where their first owners, Thomas Lipton and Tom Sopwith had pitted them against America’s finest.
It wasn’t until September 1989 that Shamrock V and Endeavour sailed against each other, at Newport, Rhode Island being skippered by America’s Cup legends, Ted Turner and Gary Jobson. She acknowledges Gary’s contribution and states that she could not have done it without his help because it takes 45 sailors to man each boat and she had no money to pay them or even give them a place to stay. All she could offer was some clothing and kudos. However she did not reckon on the lure of these fabulous boats and by word of mouth they ended up with 300 applicants and in fact ended up with 500 people sailing in races and regattas during that period.
When the boats arrived at Newport there were around 3000 spectator boats, more than had been there in the heyday of 1937. Even Jackie Onassis was there and having seen Endeavour radioed to ask to come aboard. Her message was picked up and by the time Jackie arrived alongside Endeavour in a tender, the dock was so crowded it broke apart and sank!
The re-emergence of the Js electrified America’s eastern seaboard, spurring a renewed interest in classic boats. The boats were skippered by famous celebrities like Ted Turner, John Carey and Ted Kennedy. All these big names drew attention to what she was doing and they were having a good time as well.
By this time Elizabeth had 98% of her net worth tied up in Endeavour and in spite of being able to charter her out for a million dollars a year by charging $60,000 a week or $12,000 a day these monies only covered her costs. She was also trying to raise money for Shamrock’s restoration and there was a lot of pressure because in 1993 she founded the International Yacht Restoration School which was responsible for the rescue and restoration of no less that eighty classic yachts and to date has restored 350 boats. She does admit that it was not all hard work and that in between the racing schedule she had time to sail Endeavour to Turkey, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Norway, Italy, The Greek Islands, the Caribbean and Alaska. They went the whole way down the West Coast of America to San Diego for the start of the America’s Cup in 1995.
It would be difficult to imagine the number of Js sailing the world today, with the three originals, Shamrock V, Endeavour and velsheda, plus the new ones, Ranger, Hanuman, Lionheart and others in buoild, without the feisty flair of Elizabeth Meyer who literally put them back on the map with a series of very public races in the waters of Chesapeake, New York Harbour, Newport and boston 20 years ago.
The final word on Elizabeth Meyer’s role in the resurrection of the interest in classic yachts must go to the lady herself, “The ballsiest thing I ever did was to restore Endeavour but IYRS is my proudest achievement.”
There is no competition when it comes to comparing the looks and style of a J Class Yacht against the massive ‘Gin Palaces’ which now dominate the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. These J Class yachts are rather like classical architecture; impossible to better. There is nothing more elegant afloat than a J-Class yacht under full sail; if you do not believe me, then get yourself down to St Tropez at the end of September, and I will prove my point!
Incidentally, it is the best time to see St Tropez, because all the tourists have gone home, and all the plastic ‘tubs’ have been removed, and the harbour is full of Vintage yachts.
And here is some special advice, only for readers of the Vintage magazine. I suggest that you get up really early, and grab a table on the first floor balcony of Hotel Sube, from where you can look down on acres of classic boats, and have a really good breakfast, at the same time.
Les Voiles de Saint Tropez, September 29th – October 7th 2012.
Organized by the Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez, Les Voiles de Saint Tropez aspires to keep the spirit of yesteryear. Mixing yachts from the past with those from the present is a key feature of their approach. It has demonstrated to be highly successful, as teams throughout the fleet share a genuine camaraderie as well as esprit de corps that is rarely present in modern competitive sport. Rolex has been part of this landscape since 2006, supporting the Rolex Trophy: a race within the Tradition division for classic yachts over 16 metres in length “on deck”.
View from Hotel Sube’s Balcony overlooking Port of St. Tropez