Jim Clark withdrew his new J Class yacht Hanuman on the eve of Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta and considers selling her
Dr Jim Clark, the owner of the new J Class Hanuman, shocked competitors at the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta by pulling out of the event on the eve of racing and suggesting that he may sell his new yacht to ‘someone who wants to go racing’.
The much-anticipated clash between the evenly matched Velsheda, Ranger and the Endeavour II interpretation Hanuman was shaping up to be one of the great J Class events of the year. But Clark’s decision, based on what he sees as excessive professionalism and the fact that Ranger wasn’t being steered by her owner John Williams, brought the curtain down on the show before it had even begun.
From the deck of his 300ft yacht Athena, moored opposite Hanuman, which was looking somewhat forlorn as she was packed up, Jim Clark told us that he had got wind of a $200,000 professional crew budget for Ranger and that Erle Williams, Ranger’s helmsman, was being paid $3,500 a day. “I’ve got better things to spend half a million dollars on, like my daughter, but she’s married to the founder of YouTube so she won’t need it,” said a clearly disgruntled Clark, who in another extraordinary move circulated a letter among competitors explaining why he had pulled out of the event.
In it he explains that those members of the crew over and above the core professional unit who run Hanuman ‘got little more’ than their air fares and accommodation. “I have a group of fine men who came to sail for the pleasure of it and got little more than the trip to Antigua and room and board. I will let them have that for free, or they can chose to go home, but I am not going to race Hanuman under these conditions.”
He told Yachting World that he had phoned Tom Whidden, the head of North Sails and told him not to fly to Antigua to join Hanuman. He added that he would race if John Williams agreed to steer Ranger and have no professional crew apart from the core paid crew.
I was invited aboard Williams’s mothership Vita where I asked for his view of this extraordinary turn of events. He was clearly amazed when I quoted to him what Clark thought Erle Williams was being paid and said that the figure of $200,000 for a crew budget was rubbish. He then lifted up his shirt and showed me the scar which indicated that he had had open heart surgery and he revealed that he was due to have part of his spine fused, so steering Ranger was out of the question.
Clark’s assertion in his open letter that ‘what is going on now has nothing whatever to do with the J Class Association Rules’, which he claims stipulate that ‘either the owner or the captain, or a non-professional skipper, must drive the boat’ is, in fact, flawed. The rules state that professionals can steer for a certain percentage of the length of a race – about one-third – and, in any event, the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta was not being raced under JCA rules.
John Williams said: “I am keenly disappointed with his (Clark’s) decision,” pointing out that it had taken years for him to work up Ranger and that Ronald de Waal had also spent many seasons getting Velsheda up to speed.
Jim Clark’s Hanuman met Ranger on the race course last year at the Newport Bucket in a ‘soft’ competition and then there was a more serious get together at the St Barths Bucket two weeks ago when Ranger beat Hanuman 2-1 in pursuit-style racing. Williams said: “I think after Newport where he beat us using 3DL cruising sails – ours were old Spectra – he thought he would clean up. It probably goes back to when he was building Hyperion and I was building Georgia and it turned out our mast was two metres taller than his. Our crew would call up in the morning and say we could see dirt on the top of his mast with our camera.”
I talked briefly with the owner of Velsheda, Ronald de Waal, who had just returned to the dock from a day’s training. He had spent some time earlier in the day trying to broker some sort of peace with Jim Clark. “I tried, I tried,” he shrugged.
Jim Clark told Yachting World that he felt he had been ‘drawn in’ to racing Hanuman and that he would now consider selling her to someone who ‘wants to go racing’. Meanwhile, the crew of Hanuman were devastated and as far as the racing was concerned Kenny Coombs, who runs the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta regatta, part of the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge, said Hanuman will receive a DNS for each of the four races because she had officially registered as an entry.
Below is Clark’s letter in full. In a postscript he writes: “This should be made a completely public letter.”
I have come to the conclusion that racing in the so-called J Class Association is a complete farce. I learned from talking to the captain of Athena today that both Velsheda and Ranger have a complete, paid professional racing crew.
If I wanted to hire a paid professional crew, I would build a real, modern racing boat, or I would make a challenge for the America’s Cup. But that type of competition is not of interest to me.
I built a replica of a J Class boat because I thought it was very beautiful. Originally, I did not want to even race it, but last summer, Mr Williams wanted to prove something so he challenged us to a race. I reluctantly did the race. It was pretty evenly matched, even though John Williams did not drive (in the proper spirit of the rules), and hired a professional skipper.
What is going on now has nothing whatsoever to do with the J Class Association Rules. The rules stipulate that either the owner or the captain, or a non-professional skipper, must drive the boat. Obviously, the owner of Velsheda, being a true sailor, can drive his own boat, and has done so for quite some time. Because of the nature of his rivalry with John Williams, however, even he has gotten seduced into hiring a crew.
I am not going to do that. I did not build Hanuman to let someone else drive it. But I also know that professionals are called that for a reason. I am not going to hire professionals to win a trophy.
I have a group of fine men who came to sail for the pleasure of it, and got little more than the trip to Antigua and room and board. I will let them have that for free, or they can chose (sic) to go home but I am not going to race Hanuman under these conditions.
To make things clear, however, if at any time, either the owner of Velsheda or Ranger agrees to drive their own boats for the pleasure of racing each other, and have no paid professional except the full-time crew members, I will happily do so in the spirit of gentlemen’s racing, and, I emphasize, in the spirit of the J Class Association Rules.
In the meantime, I wish them well and hope they don’t crash into each other again.