5 J-Class yachts race for the first time in 76 years, with the spoils going to Hanuman

History, pomp, rockstars, and celebrities aboard five of the most stunning, grandiose yachts afloat, as the J-Class yachts Hanuman, Lionheart, Rainbow, Ranger, and Velsheda raced today. Interestingly enough they finished in that alphabetical order too… but only after a dramatic race that saw consistent and multiple positional changes throughout. (See the video here)
It was a truly stunning sight as five 40m Js, ranging from the original Camper & Nicholson built Velsheda (1933) to the Holland Yachtbouw built Rainbow (2012) circled each other off the French paradise port of Gustavia. Baking sunshine but a light SEly breeze that threatened 10 knots max allowed the all-star crews (including three owner-drivers) to ease into their grooves as they dialed up in a starting zone surrounded by spectator superyachts due to start the St Barths Bucket tomorrow (plus a certain Jimmy Buffet out enjoying the spectacle on his Tofinou – only in St Barths don’t you know).

There was a slight anticlimax as the pin-end was reset after being hit and dragged, and the photographers who were lined up to get the money shot of five Js hitting the line were denied their opportunity after Lionheart forced Velsheda into a penalty turn two minutes before the start (spoilsports!).

Ranger crossed first followed closely by her fellow super-Js Lionheart and Hanuman, where the powerful barrel-nosed white-hull remained in clear air until the last leg. But the fleet would converge and dissipate multiple times as the tacticians favoured inshore or offshore beats and gybes – showing just how close the racing can be despite the incredibly variable ages, materials and designs of these boats.

Lionheart went from second to last and back to second during two legs (making up three places on the second beat), Velsheda caught up with the fleet after her poor start and traded places frequently with Rainbow and Hanuman. But it was the latter, the replica of Endeavour II, helmed by Ken Read and navigated by Juan Villa that pulled out the show-stopping tactic of the race. Ranger had worked the inshore route admirably, but on the last beat, when the fleet decided to head offshore in what appeared to be fresher breeze, Hanuman had a clear lane inshore. Despite looking dead and buried, it’s amazing how yacht racing can work out, and in the two mile beat Hanuman gained nearly five minutes on the fleet by my reckoning, rounding the last windward mark over three minutes ahead of Lionheart and over eight minutes ahead of Velsheda.

Perhaps it was their virginal good luck charm onboard – a certain Richard Branson certainly had a triumphant grin on his face, and owners Kristy and Jim Clark were apparently delighted with the result. “We got the break we needed after trying to go left all day, and finally got the lane we wanted,” said a triumphant Skipper Ken Read afterwards. He was really surprised at how many lead changes there were and thinks it will continue to be a dog fight all regatta.

Despite being neck and neck at the finish for the wooden spoon, Ranger beat Velsheda by nearly a minute on corrected time. But with the breeze forecasted to increase on the weekend, I wouldn’t be surprised to see these comparative veterans show the ‘new’ boats how it’s done.

Images with thanks to Ingrid Abery