Toby Hodges profiles the world's most beautiful fleet of classic racing yachts – the J Class

Shamrock V – JK3

J Class yacht Shamrock sailplan

J Class yacht Shamrock sailplan

LOA: 36.50m /119ft 9in · LWL: 26.7m/87ft 7in · Beam: 6.00m/19ft 8in · Disp: 166 tonnes

Original lines: Charles E Nicholson

Modified design: Dykstra Naval Architects

Launch year and yard: 1930, Camper & Nicholsons

Identifying features: The only wooden J and the smallest. Dark green hull with bronze deck fittings.

Current state: She has just had a refit in Palma after a long period under her past owner chartering, cruising and occasional racing.

Race prediction:Her smaller size means she will struggle against the other J Class yachts in real time – but she has the most experienced skipper and her recent mods are all aimed at making her competitive on handicap.

Skipper: Simon Lacey · Race Helmsman: Mike ‘Moose’ Sanderson

Voiles de St Tropez

J Class Shamrock rears up over the swell on a boisterous day’s racing at Les Voiles de St Tropez, 2014

Velsheda – JK7

J Class yacht Velsheda sailplan

J Class yacht Velsheda sailplan

LOA: 39.25m/128ft 9in · LWL: 27.8m/91ft 3in · Beam: 6.57m/21ft 7in · Disp: 180 tonnes

Original lines: Charles E Nicholson

Modified design: Dykstra Naval Architects

Launch year and yard: 1933, Camper & Nicholsons. Rebuilt by Southampton Yacht Services in 1997.

Identifying features: Dark blue hull, pinched transom and that iconic sharp J bow.

Current state: Continually optimised and very well prepared.

Race prediction: Highly experienced, well-gelled crew and a yacht that is looking particularly nimble and aggressive at the start. Despite surrendering size to the modern J Class yachts she’s a firm favourite to win any regatta.

Skipper: Barney Henshaw-Depledge · Race helmsman: Owner-driver

Helen Fretter goes racing on board J Class yacht Velsheda

Velsheda at 2016 Les Voiles de St Tropez. Photo Maria Muina.

Velsheda at 2016 Les Voiles de St Tropez. Photo Maria Muina.

Endeavour – JK4

J Class yacht Endeavour sailplan

J Class yacht Endeavour sailplan

LOA: 39.31m/128ft 12in · LWL: 27.30m/89ft 7in · Beam: 6.68m/21ft 11in · Disp: 175 tonnes

Original lines: Charles E Nicholson

Modified design: Dykstra Naval Architects

Launch year and yard: 1934, Camper & Nicholson. Relaunched by Royal Huisman in 1989.

Identifying features: Royal ‘Endeavour Blue’ hull, clean deck, single deckhouse.

Current state: Completely refitted by Yachting Developments in 2010-11. Based between Palma and Cascais she is for sale through Edmiston and in prize condition.

Race prediction: Fully optimised and race ready, but is up for sale and now already unlikely to be ready in time for Bermuda.

Skipper: Luke Bines · Race helmsman: N/A (Torben Grael in 2012)

Video exclusive: what it’s like to sail the iconic J Class Endeavour

Ranger – J5

J Class yacht Ranger sailplan

J Class yacht Ranger sailplan

LOA: 41.63m/136ft 7in · LWL: 28.80m/94ft 6in · Beam: 6.41m/21ft 0in · Disp: 203 tonnes

Original design: Starling Burgess and Olin Stephens

Modified design: Studio Scanu, Reichel Pugh, Fred Elliot and Dykstra Naval Architects

Launch year and yard: 2003, Danish Yacht

Identifying features: White hull with snub nose and spoon bow.

Current state: Refitted and optimised at Newport Shipyard 2016, where chainplates were moved forward and tracks modified to take a bigger headsail.

Race prediction: The heaviest J, but a rocket in flat water, such as in Bermuda’s Great Sound. A veteran crew whose consistency is Ranger’s trump card.

Skipper: Dan Jackson · Race helmsman: Erle Williams

Ranger J5 – the first completely new J Class yacht

Ranger, J5 RYS centenary 2015. Photo Paul Wyeth

Rainbow – JH2

J Class yacht Rainbow sailplan

J Class yacht Rainbow sailplan

LOA: 39.89m/130ft 11in · LWL: 26.90m/88ft 3in · Beam: 6.42m/21ft 1in · Disp: 167 tonnes

Original lines: William Starling Burgess

Modified design: Dykstra Naval Architects

Launch year and yard: 2012, Holland Jachtbouw

Identifying features: Black hull, red bottom and modern grey rig with race boom.

Current state: Sold in 2015 by Chris Gongriep, the former owner of Holland Jachtbouw, she has since solely been used for cruising by her US owner who shows no signs of wanting to race, although she will be in Bermuda to watch.

Race prediction: Was cruised and raced extensively for a couple of seasons after she was built and has proven to be a supremely fast boat for her size in the right hands.

J Class yacht Rainbow – the Dutch destroyer

Rainbow J/H2

Hanuman – JK6

J Class yacht Hanuman sailplan

J Class yacht Hanuman sailplan

LOA: 42.19m/138ft 5in · LWL: 27.50m/90ft 3in · Beam: 6.60m/21ft 8in · Disp: 180 tonnes

Original lines: Charles E Nicholson

Modified design: Dykstra Naval Architects

Launch year and yard: 2009 Royal Huisman

Identifying features: Carries the old Endeavour II sail number JK6 – but a totally modern day reinterpretation of Sopwith’s second boat, built in aluminium.

Current state: Her weight and stability were optimised at Newport Shipyard in 2016 and she was also fitted with a new mast and rigging, plus a new furling headstay.

Race prediction: With her same core Comanche/Puma crew and Ken Read on the wheel, this is a highly race-oriented J Class yacht.

Skipper: Greg Sloat · Race helmsman: Ken Read

Inside J class yacht Hanuman

Yacht Hanuman

Yacht Hanuman. Photo Cory Silken

Lionheart JH1

J Class yacht Lionheart sailplan

J Class yacht Lionheart sailplan

LOA: 43.4m/142ft 5in · LWL 27.2m/89ft 3in · Beam: 6.55m/21ft 6in · Disp: 180 tonnes

Original lines: Starling Burgess and Olin Stephens

Modified design: Hoek Design

Launch year and yard: 2010, Bloemsma and Claasen Jachtbouw

Identifying features: Black hull and rig, bulwarks giving a high freeboard effect, two deckhouses.

Current state: Constantly upgraded, Lionheart has new North raw sails with plans to build more sails before Bermuda.

Race prediction: Lionheart is consistently optimised, has some key pros and a fantastic crew spirit. Should be finishing in the top three in Bermuda.

Skipper: Toby Brand · Race helmsman: Owner-driver · Tactics: Bouwe Bekking

J Class yacht Lionheart J/H1 – replica of an original that was never built

J Class yacht Lionheart featuring the flat, clear deck. Photo Maria Muina.

J Class yacht Lionheart featuring the flat, clear deck. Photo Maria Muina.

Topaz J8

J Class yacht Topaz sailplan

J Class yacht Topaz sailplan

LOA: 42.7m/140ft 1in · LWL: 27.8m/91ft 3in · Beam: 6.75m/22ft 2in · Disp: 180 tonnes

Original lines: Frank Paine

Modified design: Hoek Design

Launch year and yard: 2015, Holland Jachtbouw

Identifying features: Longest waterline of all the Js (for which there is a sail area penalty) she has a striking Art Deco interior and a dark blue hull with turquoise antifoul.

Current state: New and raring to go.

Race prediction: With her fuller volume forward, longer waterline and shorter keel, Hoek believes she will be the fastest J Class downwind and in light airs. The crew has practised hard since last year and now has top big boat helm in Holmberg.

Skipper: Romke Lopik · Race helmsman: Peter Holmberg

New J Class yacht named Topaz is launched – and the design team says she is “absolutely stunning”

Svea JS1

J Class yacht Svea sailplan

J Class yacht Svea sailplan

LOA: 43.6m/143ft 1in · LWL: 27.6m/90ft 7in · Beam: 6.65m/21ft 10in · Disp: 180 tonnes

Original lines: Tore Holm

Modified design: Hoek Design

Launch year and yard: 2017, Bloemsma / Vitters

Identifying features: Dark grey metallic hull, near flush ultra-clean, ergonomically optimised deck with low single doghouse and huge 8ft diameter wheel that turns in a well that extends down to the keel frames.

Current state: Just launched.

Race prediction: Tore Holm was a gifted Metre designer and Svea looks like a fast upwind boat, with a race oriented deck design and a slippery underwater shape. It’s asking a lot of her crew to be competitive for 2017.

Skipper: Paul ‘PK’ Kelly

Race helmsman: Owner driver

Nine Js and counting: J Class Svea J-S1 is sold and under construction at Vitters

The history of the J-Class

The Js are inextricably linked with the America’s Cup as, barring Velsheda, all were built for the purpose of America’s Cup racing. From 1929 to 1937, 20 J Class yachts were designed. Ten of these went on to be built, with six racing in the America’s Cup finals. A modern J Class yacht’s  lines can only be taken from the original designs, ensuring the fleet’s look endures.

J Class events 2017

St Barth’s Bucket
16 to 19 March
Six J Class yachts entered to race

America’s Cup Superyacht Regatta
13 to 15 June
Seven J Class yachts expected to race with their own start

America’s Cup J Class Regatta
16 to 20 June
Eight J Class yachts expected, with seven Js lined up to race

J Class World Championships, Newport
21 to 26 August
Seven J Class yachts expected