Sparkman & Stephens say they are offering 'new' J Class designs after analysing the lines and performance of one of their most famous creations, Ranger
Like the creators of the fictional Jurassic Park who used DNA to
reconstitute dinosaurs, the renowned yacht design firm Sparkman & Stephens
is poised to reconstitute the majestic J Class racers that stalked the
America1s Cup courses off Newport in the 1930s.
Riding a recent surge of interest in the class, S&S is reanalyzing the plans
and model-test data ‘the DNA of the J Class as it were’ it used in the
development of 1937 America’s Cup winner Ranger. The renewed interest in
these sublimely beautiful, supremely powerful racing yachts, coupled with
new regulations established by the J Class Association, has turned what was
historically cherished intellectual property into new opportunities for
‘We’ve been contacted by several serious yachtsmen about building J Class
yachts for racing, cruising and charter,’ says S&S President Greg Matzat.
‘We believe momentum is building toward creation of more of these
Anyone lucky enough to be on the Solent between mainland England and the
Isle of Wight in August 2001, witnessed a sight unparalleled in the annals
of yachting: the three surviving J Class yachts Endeavour, Shamrock V and
Velsheda engaged in a series of races celebrating the America’s Cup Jubilee.
The Jubilee brought together what many believe was the most impressive fleet
of classic and modern yachts and yachting luminaries the sport has ever
seen. But for all the historical horsepower on display that week, nothing
stirred the hearts and minds of sailors like the sight of the mighty Js
dicing in the choppy waters off Cowes. One could only imagine what a fleet
of seven or eight Js with all their power and grace might look like
converging on a weather mark or flying downwind for the gun with thousands
of square feet of sail filling the horizon. Today, S&S is poised to make
that dream a reality.
In 2000, the owners of the existing J Class yachts formed an association to
promote, protect and develop the interests of the group. In 2003, a
yachtsman named John Williams launched a version of Ranger. She was the
first to be built to the new rules that govern the class. In a more recent
indicator of rising interest in the class, Netscape founder James Clark
announced he has commissioned Royal Huisman Shipyard in the Netherlands to
build a replica of Endeavour II, the British yacht that lost to Ranger in
the 1937 Cup.
The J Class was based on the Universal Rule, which was popular among large
yacht sailors in the first third of the 20th century. The Universal Rule
took into account length, sail area and displacement. The J Class had a
maximum rating of 76 feet under the Universal Rule and a maximum allowable
waterline length of 87.08 feet. The J Class existed for just a short time,
1930 to 1937, and only 10 J Class yachts were built, with Endeavour,
Shamrock V and Velsheda the only originals to survive terminal neglect or
the scrap yard.
As part of its ongoing efforts to promote the class, the J Class Association
announced not long ago that it will allow newly constructed J Class yachts
to be members and race, provided they use original pre-1939 lines plans. The
association also will allow aluminum hull construction and will race under a
During the 1930s, it was found that the longest-waterline boats were the
fastest. Both Ranger and Endeavour II were built to the maximum waterline
length of 87 feet. In addition to the 10 J boats built, there are pre-1939
lines for eight additional hulls, all of which have 87-foot waterlines. Of
the eight, Sparkman & Stephens owns the designs to seven, thanks largely to
the model-testing program the firm undertook with Starling Burgess during
the development of Ranger.
The models were given Sparkman & Stephens design numbers 77-A through 77-F,
and 77CE. While the models all had 87-foot waterlines, they had different
beams, displacements, longitudinal centers of buoyancy, prismatic
coefficients and wetted areas. These so called Ranger models also offer new
J boat owners more internal volume with their long waterlines than the
existing J boats Endeavour, Shamrock V and Velsheda, providing more
accommodations for cruising and charters.
As with modern America1s Cup yachts, the J Class designs were optimized for
venue-specific sailing conditions. The final lines for Ranger were derived
from model 77-C which was believed to be the best suited for racing in
Newport where summer winds are light and seas relatively small. Ranger1s
lines were modified though from the model lines, most noticeably in the bow.
The model 77-C did not have the ‘hooked bow’ found on Ranger.
The other lines in the S&S model series performed better in different wind
and sea conditions. S&S has digitized all of the model lines and has been
making new performance studies and comparisons using modern velocity
prediction computer programs and comparing these results to the original
model test results.
According to Matzat, S&S’s studies show that all of the models lines will
provide fast boats, but the differences offer potential customers the
ability to select the lines that best meet their performance and other
requirements. ‘Basically, all the boats we’ve analysed probably could have
beaten Endeavour II as Ranger did,’ says Matzat. ‘We want people to know that
if they’re interested in the class, we have viable, competitive plans for
them that will allow them many years of fantastic racing and cruising in
these magnificent sailing machines.’