The largest fleet of J Class yachts to ever assemble in their 87-year history raced for the first time today in Bermuda – and we were onboard Shamrock V.
However, Svea, the newest member of the fleet, had to limp back to dock after her forestay parted mid racing.
Seven J Class yachts raced against each other today off Bermuda’s azure waters, the largest collective fleet to race in their near nine-decade history.
It was a sight many had waited to see, and many thought may never happen. It was a pinnacle moment in the dramatic resurgence of the fleet over the last decade.
Three races were held off the north coast of Bermuda, in similar conditions to the America’s Cup yachts enjoyed over the weekend – 10-12 knots over typically clear Bermudan calm waters – but at a far more stately pace and in the utmost elegance.
It was a privilege to be racing aboard Shamrock V, the oldest existing J class. Shamrock is shorter and with considerably less sailplan for the same weight compared to the rest of the fleet – the result is that she is about 10 per cent slower and can only try and compete against the other Js on handicap rather than in real time.
But this did give us the perfect vantage point to see the other six Js hustle at the start, and round the top mark and set their kites as we were still beating upwind.
We spoke with Shamrock’s pro helmsman, Stuart Bannatyne, a veteran of seven Volvo Ocean Races on what it felt like to steer the eldest member of the class on this historic day.
Unfortunately the sight of all seven together only lasted for one and a half races. Whilst coming into the top gate during the second of three hour-long races, the top swivel of the furling headstay fitting on the newest J Class member, Svea, parted with a bang. The genoa dropped instantly and were it not for quick crew work, they could have dismasted.
The main was eased quickly and halyards cranked onto the foredeck. The positive news is that the rig stayed up, no one was hurt and Svea made it back to dock safely for her official Christening party this evening.
But this is a crushing blow for the Svea crew who has worked so hard over the last two years to get her ready for this summer’s big two J events. She already recorded her first race win last week and was looking particularly quick today, in second place when the incident occurred.
It is not yet known what damage to the rig might have happened or whether she will be able to race at the first J Class World Championships in August.
Will such a large number ever race again? Hopefully. There will probably be six Js racing at the inaugural J Class Worlds in August (Shamrock is planning to return to the Med). And if Endeavour or Rainbow start racing again, we could see as many as nine one day.
Certainly this class seems to go from strength to strength thanks largely to the support of some long-term owners.
We have plenty more footage,and details from onboard Shamrock and of the J Class in Bermuda to bring you over the coming days.
Here are the results from today, with three different yachts winning the races.
The racing was cancelled on Friday due to low wind. There are two more races scheduled tomorrow, 20 June, which will conclude the J Class Regatta