From key people involved in their history to how they compete, find out interesting facts about the Js



How do yachts compete?

To conform to the rules of the J Class Association a yacht must have a historic hull shape, from which the performance potential is measured and capped. This is to allow smaller and larger types of J built in different materials to race against each other fairly. To facilitate this, the ratings changed from the traditional measurement rating based on waterline length to a performance rating system.

By permitting hulls to be built in different materials, such as aluminium, modern equipment can be installed without sinking the boat too low – although an extra 100mm freeboard and bulwark is now allowed. Hanuman, Lionheart and Rainbow are built in aluminium as are three more in the pipeline.

The J Class Association worked with the Wolfson Unit to create performance ratings for all Js. The information is fed into three different wind bands (low, medium, strong), depending on type of course. “Each boat then has a combination of six different handicaps,” the Association’s secretary David Pittman explains.

The vital point of all this, especially for the spectator, is that despite all the differences in age, length and materials, the Js are still neck and neck on the water, meaning those that are better sailed are the ones that will win.

What started the Js?

Elite racing in the first 30 years of the 20th Century was in the Big Class – including Cambria, Britannia and Lulworth. But as these yachts kept growing, along with the crews and budgets needed to manage them, the Universal Rule was developed in America effectively to limit size and displacement.

And it was to this rule that Sir Thomas Lipton mounted his final Challenge on the America’s Cup in 1930 and built the first J Class, Shamrock V. When the New York Yacht Club (NYYC) agreed to race in J Class it heralded an incredible thirst for innovation in yachting, which is only equalled perhaps today.

The Americans won that Match – and 1934 and ’37 – principally because they were more innovative, threw a lot more time, energy and money into the competition and used multiple designers to the UK’s one (Charles Nicholson).

But aircraft manufacturer Sir T. O. M Sopwith represented a new era of British big boat owners, a competent helmsman who applied science and technology to his yachts, producing threatening Challengers in Endeavour in 1934 (which was narrowly beaten by Rainbow – the replica of which has just launched) and Endeavour II in 1937 (the replica of which is Hanuman), beaten by Ranger.

While 1934 was considered the zenith of J Class racing, the 1937 campaign and the appearance of a contender with the longest waterline possible under the rule – a so-called ‘Super J’ – showed just how much performance could be gleaned from a purposefully restrictive rule. With the intervention of World War II, this was the last America’s Cup for 21 years and, together with the death of keen yachtsman King George V, it spelt the demise of Big Class racing.

The American Js were all scrapped during the war for their valuable materials. In the UK Shamrock went to Italy, while the English mud saved Endeavour and Velsheda, preserving them until a new breed of J Class enthusiast came to the rescue.


Key people in the J class history:

Harold Vanderbilt was helmsman and part owner of all three winning Js, Enterprise, Rainbow and Ranger

Gerard Dykstra drew Endeavour, Velsheda and Shamrock, and created replicas Hanuman, Rainbow and Yankee

Elizabeth Meyer: commissioned the rebuild of Endeavour in 1984 and oversaw Shamrock’s restoratio

André Hoek: A master of the modern J, his performance analysis has attracted interest in a further three Js, two in build