Battle of the J Class
- Fri, 23 Mar 2012
Yesterday saw the enchanting sight of four J class yachts out racing together- Endeavour, Velsheda, Ranger and Hanuman in hot competition for the first time. The 2012 St Barts Bucket sees two of the only three remaining original J boats, Endeavour and Velsheda, and two facismiles Ranger (replicating Ranger C) amd Hanuman (replicating Endeavour II) fighting for honours.
With race 1 due to start today (Friday 23 March) at 1500 GMT, the competition looks fierce at 47 superyachts take to the water.
Here we look back at what makes the J class competitors so special:
Hanuman, launched in 2009 and scooping the Sailing Yacht of the Year Award in the 2010 World Superyacht awards, was the first completely new J ever built in Holland. She was by Royal Huisman under the design governance of Dykstra & Partners for Netscape founder Jim Clark. She is a replica of Endeavour II, which challenged for the 1937 America's Cup.
At that time she was the largest of all the Js and was built of steel. But with the newly crafted J Class Association rules allowing more modern technologies, Hanuman is in Alustar with a carbon rig. She has proved a powerful performer, with a clutch of trophies in her wake, including a previous Bucket.
Launched in 2003, Ranger follows the lines of the original Starling Burgess and Olin Stephens-designed Ranger C, again from 1937. She has been replicated by the design and build team of Sparkman & Stephens with Reichel Pugh and Danish Yachts, for owner John Williams, who has raced her hard and well, matching most often against Velsheda.
Distinct for her forebear's barrel bow, like all replicas Ranger has to be more versatile than her namesake. As Williams writes on his website: ‘A modern J Class yacht is significantly different from 1930s versions. Nowadays, it has to conform to stringent safety regulations - bulkheads, escape hatches, etc. It has to offer the ability to cross oceans with accommodation and all support services associated with a superyacht. All this is not easily packed into a long, thin racing hull."
It doesn't stop him winning, though, and from past experience, his rival Velsheda will have to look to her laurels.
Built by Camper & Nicholsons in 1933 for W. L. Stephenson, who brought the Woolworth brand to Britain, Velsheda never raced for the America's Cup, but won an astonishing number of British regattas. Revolutionary in her time, adopting an aluminium mast and Terylene threads, sadly she was laid up in 1937 when she joined many of her age as a graceless houseboat.
Then in 1984 she was plucked from her mudberth and rejuvenated in the first of a series of works, the key reconstruction being later at the hands of Southampton Yacht Services in 1997 for her current owner Ronald de Waal. Her hull shape may be the only true remaining vestige of her original form, but her completeness for contemporary events is unquestionable.
Crossing back and forth across the Atlantic for Caribbean and European seasons, Velsheda is not only a popular regular contender at regattas, but also perhaps the world's most-travelled of all
J Class veterans. And when she gets the bit between her teeth, she's still one to watch.
Some say she may as well change her name to Iconic as she is so often labelled this way, but the 1934 C. E. Nicholson-designed, Camper & Nicholsons-built J Class Endeavour couldn't be more aptly named. An elegant lady, loved, discarded and loved again, she has truly inspired the most extraordinary endeavours. First it was Sir T. O. M. Sopwith, who was forced to swap his professional crew, who had gone on strike, for a team of amateurs and unseemly failure in the America's Cup. Then in the 1980s, after decades of sliding dereliction - at one point she reputedly changed hands for just £10 - in stepped the indefatigable Elizabeth Meyer, who rebuilt her to the highest standards of the time, simultaneously kickstarting a whole new generation of high-value renovations.
In different hands, Endeavour has now been reborn once more after an extensive 18-month refit, which came to an end in October last year at Yachting Developments in New Zealand with Dykstra & Partners as naval architects. And in a pleasing continuum it was both Dykstra and project manager Jon Barrett who also oversaw the first five-year refit at Royal Huisman begun in 1989.
With Endeavour one of only three original Js still afloat, great care has been taken to conserve as much of the fabric and structure as practical while taking full advantage of all modern methods of enhancing function and performance.
The work included a new deck structure, new rig and sails, a new deck layout and crew quarters. Main engine, generators, hydraulic systems, winches, electrical system and electronics, bow thruster and air conditioning were all replaced or upgraded. A Southern Spars lightweight, carbon high-modulus mast and Park Avenue boom with EC6 continuous rigging have taken a full three tonnes out of the rig. Less critical, but certainly indicative of the no-expense-spared approach, and a nice finishing touch, she has a gold-leafed mast crane at the truck of the 176ft/53.7m mast.
Yachting Developments MD Ian Cook says: "Working on Endeavour has been an honour. She is something special; everyone involved has put their heart and soul into the refit. I think the care and passion is very evident in the end result."
Back in time, when Sopwith first brought Endeavour to life, he borrowed every stretch of technology from his own illustrious design career in the aviation industry to create a yacht that swept the yachting world into a frenzy. She prepared well for her Cup Challenge against Velsheda and Shamrock V. Her destiny looked set and her demise was so sad. Looking at her today, you can see she's again resplendent and ready to take on all comers. Where better to start than the St Barths Bucket?
Photos courtesy of Billy Black.