Why the world is back in love with the most elegant


Why the world is back in love with the most elegant
Nol3 Apr/May 10
£5.00 • US$15 • €9,50 Fra. Ita. Esp, Gre, Por
he international magazine tor superyachts of distinction
Why the world is back in love
with the most elegant sailing
yachts ever built
10 yachts that changed the world
A summer on board Madsummer
The $28 million Chinese vase
The true romance of'Blind'Date
- J. C. Espinosa's love of curves
40-knot Ghost ship revealed
a ne of the most awe-inspiring sights in
I modern yachting is the Spirit of Tradition
/ fleet blasting off the start line at the Antigua
* Classic Yacht Regatta. It happens every year at
the end of April. Chances are it will include at
^Ttiiniiitf^^ least two J Class yachts, hitting the line on the gun
at full tilt, exploding through the cobalt blue Caribbean rollers at
anything up to 12 knots as they charge upwind.
Watching Velsheda, Ranger, Shamrock I/and Endeavour\N\\\
bring a lump to your throat, such is the emotion generated by these
beautifully proportioned 130ft racing machines with their carbon rigs
driving 170 tonnes of steel, aluminium and teak towards the weather
mark. It's heady stuff
Watching them is one thing: racing quite another matter. In 1999 I
was aboard the rebuilt Velsheda, taking part in the Antigua Classic
Regatta. I had a single task as part of a four-man team - to tend the
forward starboard runner. Nothing else. "Let that go once we've
tacked and the whole rig comes down," warned skipper Simon Bolt, as
another wall of water thundered down the leeward deck and tried to
rip me from the winch.
Dressed in authentic off-white, one-piece cotton boiler-suits, which
had to be worn with a stout belt "so there's something to grab if you
go overboard", they were tough, adrenaline-filled days out. God knows
what it was like up forward as massive spinnakers were peeled and
headsails weighing a quarter of a tonne were wrestled to the
needle-sharp foredeck as the bow buried itself into the back of
yet another wave. Sometimes you daren't look.
But with the race won or lost, back on the dock the feeling of
elation, fuelled by being part of the 36-strong crew aboard one of
these extraordinary yachts, triggered a high like no other. You knew
you were playing a role, no matter how small, in a legendary story
that began in 1930, was halted by World War II and then defied the
pundits by opening another chapter 20 years ago. Today with five
Js in commission, all in racing trim, and at least two more new
examples about to be launched, the J Class phenomenon is back.
But why? Why does a yacht with an arguably unexciting
performance - they go upwind at 12 knots and downwind at 12
knots - costing £20 million to build and demanding eye-watering
running costs, seem to be burgeoning during the worst
recession since the class was born?
There is no single answer, but you only have to look back to the
1930s and the characters that owned and raced the Js on both sides
of the Atlantic, sometimes for the America's Cup. to understand why
the class occupies a special place in yachting history. Underlying
everything is the look of the J. It seems to transcend any change in
yachting vogue, displaying a timeless line with outrageous
overhangs and a proportion of hull to rig that is hard to better.
They possess true elegance.
There is no doubt that captains of industry who want to flex their
sporting muscle have been drawn to a class which only the very rich
can afford and there are distinct parallels between J owners in the
1930s and those of the past 20 years. The difference is that in the
1930s owners liked to shout about their achievements and hogged
the pages of national newspapers. Today, they are as quiet as mice.
Previous page: Ranger
leads Velsheda during
the 2004 Antigua
Classic Yacht Regatta.
Above: T. 0. M. Sopwith
smokes his trademark
pipe as he helms
Endeavour'in a leg of
the 1934 America's Cup.
Right: Full concentration
and plenty of teamwork
aboard Velsheda.
Inset, top left: Sir Thomas
Lipton, leading the Great
Lakes Jazz Band in a
rendition of the
Shamrock Blues.
Middle: People gather at
the Herreshoffs drydocks
on a rainy day in 1934 to
watch the launch of
Harold S.Vanderbilt's
Bottom: Sir Thomas
Lipton and a well-wisher
at Waterloo Station as he
leaves on the boat train for
Southampton at the start
of his pursuit of the
America's Cup.
The J Class
Formed by the current owners
of Js the Lymmgton-based
association encourages those
nterested in building new yachts
to abide by its rules stating that
yachts can only be built to designs
of a J that was launched or to
designs for yachts that were never
built. The JCA insists that yachts
are fitted out below and can cope
with the paraphernalia of a
modern superyacht: freeboard
measurements have been
increased and overhangs drawn
out to match. New rating rules
enable fair racing for a fleet that
ranges from 119ft LOA to more
than 140ft. A maximum waterlme
length of 87ft - originally the key
parameter for the class - is no
longer restricted
industry who want to
FLEX their sporting
MUSCLE have been
drawn to 7s
.. , -
The J Class - so named because it was the letter allocated to its
particular size by the Universal Rule to which the yachts were built
(K and M Class yachts were, for example, shorter on the waterline) emerged in 1930 and marked a quantum leap in yachting technology.
The so-called Big Class, which flourished in the UK in the 1920s,
was impressive, but comprised a hotchpotch of design altered over
many years. Yachts like King George V's Britannia, built in 1893 as a
gaff-rigged cutter but converted in the 1920s to Bermudan rig to rate
as a J, Candida. Cambria. White Heather'and schooners like Westward
were even larger and more expensive to run. But as the greater
efficiency of the Marconi or Bermudan rig became apparent their
days were numbered.
One catalyst for the J Class itself was legendary grocer Sir Thomas
Lipton's final crack at challenging for the America's Cup in 1931. He
did so under the Universal Rule with the composite, wooden-planked.
Charles E. Nicholson-design Shamrock V. It was the 14th challenge
since 1851 and the Americans, despite the withering effects of the
Great Depression, reacted in dramatic fashion, organising their
defence with four syndicates, each bulging with millionaires, putting
forward separate Js: Enterprise. Whir/wind. Weetamoe and Yankee.
which apart from Enterprise had already been launched.
Key to the American effort was the remarkable Harold Vanderbilt of
the New York Yacht Club, who had inherited fabulous wealth from the
family's railroad companies, making him one of the country's richest
men. Brought up on the family's Idle Hour estate on Long Island
Facing page:
Shamrock Vracing off
Yarmouth during 2001
America's Cup Jubilee.
Above: Vanderbilt and
Sopwith, aboard Ranger
(right) and Endeavour II.
give no quarter off
Rhode Island in the 1937
America's Cup.
Left: Velshedain action
during the America's
Cup Jubilee.
Far left: Velsheda off
Porto Cervo in the Maxi
Sound, he was a keen and accomplished sailor, and he used American
technology and teamwork to build a far superior J in Enterprise.
The defence completely overwhelmed Lipton's effort. The British
press castigated Lipton's lack of preparedness and old-fashioned
attitude. Vanderbilt. who among other things is credited with inventing
contract bridge, left no stone unturned. "Mr. Harold Vanderbilt does
not exactly go boat-sailing because summer is the closed season for
fox-hunting," stated an acerbic critic in the British yachting press.
Later when Shamrockwas owned by aircraft builder Sir Richard Fairey
and was being used to tram crew for another Cup challenge, Beecher
Moore, a skilful dinghy sailor who was draughted aboard the J to try to
sort her out, reported in Yachts and Yacht/ngmany years later: "We
found that when we got on board it was very much like a well-run
country house, in that the gentleman does not go into the kitchen and
on a well-run J Class the owner does not go forward of the mast."
There was a yawning gap between the way the Americans and
British approached the Cup and, for that matter, how they ran a yacht.
Revolutionary metal masts. Park Avenue booms to improve sail shape
(the British copied this American design with their 'North Circular 1
version), bronze hulls that needed no painting, superior sails, and
campaigns that cost £100,000 even in those days, blew away the
Brits. Lipton had spent just £30.000 to build and equip Shamrock.
In the second Cup challenge in Js, in 1934, SirT. 0. M.
Sopwith's first Endeavour, also designed by Nicholson and
equipped with wind instruments designed by her aircraft
Right: Regular rivals
Ve/sheda (left) and
Rangerrace in the 2008
Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup.
Top Mrs Sopwith and Lady
Leone aboard Endeavour.
Far left: Harold S, Vanderbilt
did a sterling job for the
US defence.
Left: Velsheda competes
in the 1934 King's Cup
Race at Cowes.
industrialist owner, nearly won the Cup, snatching defeat from
the jaws of victory after leading the series 0-2.
Sopwith was also up against Vanderbilt, who this time sailed
Rainbow, which many considered to be the slower boat. But the
British campaign was hobbled by a pay dispute - Endeavour's crew
got £5 a week but they wanted a raise for'going foreign'- and the
campaign approach was again brought into question when the first
thing to be stripped off the yacht when they won a dispute over
reducing weight was the bath!
Back in Britain, the 1935 season proved to be the zenith of J Class
and Big Class racing, although by the end of it the Js were under the
cosh for their tendency to lose masts. Five went over the side that
year and Endeavour II, launched with en eye on the next Cup
challenge, lost hers twice. There was added spice in the competition
off the shores of the UK with the arrival of the American J Yankee, now
owned by millionaire and Listenne businessman Gerard Lambert, who
enjoyed sparring with the Brits. But even Yankee lost her mast and the
press rounded on the class for being dangerous and wasteful!
That wasn't enough to stop Sopwith. whose tail had been extracted
from between his legs following the last defeat in Newport: Endeavour
//was towed across the Atlantic in a veritable armada that included
the first Endeavour. The British yachts found themselves up against
the most advanced sailing machine the world had ever seen - Ranger.
dubbed'the Super J1.
Vanderbilt was the man to beat again. Not only had he bankrolled
the entire defence as American business remained beset by a
struggling economy, but he used highly scientific means to perfect
design. The brilliant naval architect Starling Burgess, who had
designed for Vanderbilt throughout the 1930s, was now aided by the
equally brilliant but considerably more youthful Olin Stephens,
Between them they finally selected 'model 77-C1 from six tank tested.
The yacht was considered ugly by some and not a natural to look at.
but Vanderbilt's team trusted the science (still the difference between
the Americans and the Brits) and Ranger with her bluff or barrel bow
and 'low slung' counter was the result. She proved to be dynamite on
the race course and Endeavour //didn't stand a chance. She was
beaten in five straight races by large margins. The Americans and
Vanderbilt had done it again. War then brought an end to an
extraordinary era in yachting.
Only ten J Class yachts were built to the Universal rule (see table)
and not a single American yacht survived. Most were scrapped for the
war effort. In any case, the American way was to discard the machine
once it has served its purpose. In Britain they faired a little better, and
some Js were mud-berthed on the East and South Coasts. Two
survived in the UK: Velsheda, originally built by the businessman who
ran Woolworths in the UK (W. L. Stevenson named her after his
daughters Velma, Sheila and Daphne), but which never challenged for
the America's Cup: and Endeavour, saved by becoming a houseboat
on the Hamble. Shamrock ended up in Italy and survived the war
hidden in a hay barn.
In his seminal book about the J Class. Enterprise to Endeavour.
yachting historian Ian Dear predicted in the first edition in 1977 that
the likes of the Js would never be seen again. By the time the fourth
edition was published in 1999 he was quite happily eating his words!
Left: Ra/nbowwas
successful in the 1934
Cup - another triumph for
a Vanderbilt-inspired team.
Top and above:
Views of Ve/sheda
racing in the Maxi Rolex
Cup in 2008.
The American Elizabeth Meyer was, without doubt, instrumental
in bringing the class back to life when in the 1980s she extracted
what was left of Endeavourfmm a Hamble mud-berth, began
rebuilding her in Calshot, and then moved her to Royal Huisman
in Holland, who completed the restoration superbly.
With the transom of the original Rangermounted on a bulkhead in
her saloon. Endeavours still regarded as one of the best-looking and
potentially fastest Js. She was owned briefly by Dennis Kozlowski. the
disgraced tycoon who ran Tyco, who famously said: "No one really
owns Endeavour, she's part of yachting history. I'm delighted to be the
current caretaker." Unfortunately he ended up in prison and the State
of New York became Endeavour's'caretaker' before they sold her to
her current owner, who has kept the yacht in the Pacific. She's
currently being refitted in New Zealand.
Ronald de Waal is a Dutchman who until recently was chairman of
the Saks Group in the USA and has made a fortune in clothing. He has
dedicated a lot of time to improving Velsheda over the years since he
had her rebuilt by Southampton Yacht Services to a reconfigured
design by Dutch naval architect Gerry Dykstra. Ronald de Waal steers
the yacht himself to great effect and has had some legendary tussles
with Ranger, the new Super J built in Denmark for American realestate magnate John Williams. The rivalry between the two is fierce
and even led to a collision between the yachts in Antigua last year. But
Ve/sheda would have been lost had it not been for British scrap-metal
merchant Terry Brabant who saved her from a muddy grave on the
Hamble and famously sold his Rolls-Royce to cast a new lead keel for
the yacht. With very little modern equipment he sailed her hard in
the Solent, chartering her and crossing the Atlantic for a Caribbean
season, all without an engine! Without Brabant's initiative Ronald
de Waal wouldn't have what he has today.
Shamrock I/is owned by a Brazilian telecommunications
businessman Marcos de Moraes who had the yacht rebuilt at
The ten originates
SirThomas Lipton
Syndicate (me W. Aldrich.
H. Vanderbilt and others)
Syndicate (me J. P. Morgan,
Clinton H. Crane
C. Vanderbilt, Gerard Lambert)
Syndicate (me Landon Thorne L. Francis Herreshoff
L, Hammond and Alfred Loomis)
Frank C. Paine
Syndicate (me Chandler
Hovey and Frank Paine)
William L. Stephenson
Charles E. Nicholson
T. 0. M. Sopwith
Charles E. Nicholson
Syndicate of 18 led by
W, Starling Burgess
Harold Vanderbilt
T. 0, M, Sopwith
Charles E. Nicholson
Harold & William Vanderbilt
Starling Burgess/Olm Stephens
The modern fleet
Shamrock V
Marcos de Moraes
Ronald de Waal
John Williams
Burgess, Stephens/
Dr Jim Clark
For sale
Chris Gongnep
NEW BUILDS The Hoek office is working on two identical Js to the design of Svea.
a 1937 Thor Holm design, with the build due to start later this year:
Atlantis, a Frank Paine design from 1936, could be ready for 2011,
been spared "when it
comes to Hanuman's
J Class action
Yachts regularly race in the
Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta
(April), the Maxi Rolex Regatta
in Sardinia (September) and
Les Voiles deStTropez
(October). Velsheda,
Endeavoursnd Shamrock V
have raced in the Antigua
regatta and famously as part
of the 2001 America's Cup
150th Jubilee. There's now a
mouth-watering prospect of
a fleet of seven Js racing in a
series of regattas to coincide
with the London 2012
Olympics, Events in Falmouth
and Cowes are being planned
with a round-the-lsle-of-Wight
race following the original
1851 America's Cup course
as a finale. That will be worth
waiting for.
Pendennis Shipyard in Falmouth in 2001. He tends to keep away
from the race course but with a number of events being planned in the
run-up to the 2012 London Olympics he might be tempted back.
The latest new J to launch, Hanuman, a modern interpretation of
Endeavour II. has recently entered the racing fray. She was commissioned
by serial yacht owner Jim Clark (Hyperion and Athena), the American
who brought us Netscape and Silicon Graphics, and who remains a
colossus in Silicon Valley. Hanuman. named after a Hindu deity, built by
Royal Huisman and designed by Gerry Dykstra, has had no expense
spared when it comes to rig and sail wardrobe. Last year she beat Ranger
in the Newport Bucket but in March this year she lost out 2-1 to the same
boat at the St Barths Bucket. They were due to meet again with Ve/sheda
at the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta in April. Another Dutchman, property
developer Chris Gongnep. who has owned a number of yachts including
Sapphire and Windrose of Amsterdam, has given the go-ahead for a new
version of Rainbow, which is well advanced in Holland at Freddie
Bloesma's aluminium hull fabrication yard. The yacht, reconfigured by
Gerry Dykstra, will be in the water in 2011 with a full-on race programme.
About to be launched is Lionheart. the biggest J so far. redesigned by
Andre Hoek and built in Holland by Claasen Jachtbouw. after an
extensive research programme. Unfortunately, her owner's business
commitments mean that he won't be able to enjoy the fruits of this
project - she's for sale with Yachting Partners International and Hoek
Brokerage, What an opportunity to join a class with such a remarkable
history and one which looks destined to run and run! SYW
Facing page, main photo:
Hanuman, the modern
recreation of Endeavour II
from Royal Huisman.
Above: The interior and
cockpit of Hanuman is
by Pieter Beeldsnijder.
Facing page, far left:
Rangero\\ Porto Cervo in
the 2008 MaxiRolex Cup
Facing page, bottom right:
Mrs Sopwith takes the
wheel of Endeavourin 1934.
Left: Ve/sheda and
Ranger racing in 2008.
Below left: Rangerchases
Velsheda during the 2004
Antigua Classics Week