The biggest season ever for the J Class yachts kicked off in style off during the St Barth Bucket in the Caribbean in March. Have a look at the fabulous images and video here
If anyone was in any doubt that 2017 is the year of the J Class yachts, the St Barths Bucket in March smashed that truth home. Despite its long, illustrious history, the J Class is on course to field its biggest fleet ever this summer during three showcase events in three appropriately fabulous locations: St Barth in March, Bermuda in June and Newport in August.
The fleet has been gearing up for these events over the past couple of years. Six J Class yachts lined up together for the first time ever in March and, as you can see from the images, the results were nothing short of mesmerising.
St Barth provided dream sailing conditions – four days of racing included two windward-leeward days and two coastal races, all held in winds from 15-20 knots and some punchy swells.
“The word I keep using is ‘historic’,” said Hanuman’s skipper Ken Read. “What’s happening in this class is historic on so many levels – not just the amount of boats that are showing up on the startline, but the type of sailing, how crews are sailing these boats, how close the racing is in boats of this size… it’s never been seen before, and it’s really fun to be a part of.”
At the 30th edition of the St Barths Bucket, it was veteran competitor Velsheda, the 1933-built JK7 that has been campaigned by her owner-driver and many of the same crew for two decades now, which was quick to show real form.
Over the first two days the crew produced a near faultless display of windward-leeward racing, executing strong starts and demonstrating wise sail selection, consistent boatspeed and crew-work for an unbeaten scoreline.
After Velsheda crossed the line 1st in the first race, there was an anxious wait to see who would win on handicap. The modern J Class yachts are rated for three different wind strengths.
Andrew Yates, the chief measurer for the class, explained how Velsheda is a heavier boat with a longer waterline than Hanuman and owed time to the 2nd placed yacht – 20 seconds in that first race – which resulted in an exact tie on handicap. This was to be a close regatta.
The next two races proved Velsheda was the J to beat. “We won the starts and were able to defend or attack with great crew work when it got close,” said Velsheda’s wily tactician Tom Dodson.
“If we get ahead we can sail our own mode which, in a breeze, makes us hard to pass.”
Had the big modifications to Hanuman and Lionheart not paid off? It is more likely that their upgrades were targeted at the light to medium wind range and flatter waters expected in Bermuda and Newport.
Their displacement was reduced by up to 10 tonnes. Ken Read said Hanuman felt ‘tippier’ and that they were still learning how best to sail her in St Barth. But he maintains the modifications were about the boat not the rating – “we always felt the rating comes second, making the boat better comes first.”
Team Lionheart came ashore unusually dejected after the first day. A jib halyard strop broke before the start and they had a poor start in the second race. They were plagued by gear failure in the regatta, with a spinnaker-pole end fitting failing twice on consecutive days.
A glance at Shamrock and Topaz tied up stern-to alongside each other in Gustavia, meanwhile, was enough to show how different the designs are, how the overall length of the Js increased during the 1930s and how the freeboard of today’s modern replica is significantly higher.
The crew of Shamrock went to St Barth knowing they wouldn’t be able to compete on the water, but certainly managed to acquit themselves respectably on handicap.
Separated by seconds
Free from the constraints of the windward-leeward format, the leaderboard was shaken up a little during the latter two days. During the final 21-mile clockwise race around the island, the lead changed multiple times.
Just 23 seconds separated Hanuman and 2nd placed Lionheart at the finish – the first four Js crossing within minutes of each other after more than two hours of racing. That’s more comparable to one-design racing than a handicap fleet with ages varying over 85 years!
Svea, the latest J Class yacht to launch, is due in Palma for sea trials and race prep and will then ship straight to Bermuda, where seven Js are due to race in June.
In terms of sailing spectacles it simply doesn’t get much better than this.