With the J's racing in Falmouth and the Solent this summer, we look at what makes them so special...

J class fleet: The boats


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Replica of an original design by Burgess/Stephens in 1936, reconfigured by André Hoek.
Built by Freddie Bloemsma and Claassen Jachtbouw, launched 2010.

Identifying features: Black hull like Rainbow, but squared doghouses separated by an unusual guest cockpit
Rockstar rating: Dutch owner/driver with round the world sailor Bouwe Bekking calling tactics and six America’s Cup professionals on board, plus designer André Hoek.
Odds: The longest J, so should have pace, with good local knowledge aboard for Falmouth, but a relative unknown on racecourse so lacks experience.

Ranger may have been christened the ‘Super J’ in her time, but in the modern fleet Lionheart, at 142ft 5in, is now the largest. She was built for a Dutch owner and then put on the market on the day she was launched in June 2010 after a five-year project. Lionheart broke away from the Dykstra & Partners grip and was designed by fellow Dutch naval architect André Hoek and she’s the first replica of a boat that was never actually built – she was design 77F, one of seven rejected Ranger models from 1936.

On the water she looks more a cross between a J Class and a superyacht, with a ‘safe’ guest cockpit separating two unusual squared doghouses. Lionheart is geared to race, cruise and charter and is MCA-coded to enable that.

Whether her extreme overhangs and length, freeboard height with bulwarks and such modern deck aesthetics distance her from the true spirit of the J Class is questionable. But the more pertinent issue is how she will perform as she’s a relative unknown on the racecourse.

Replica of original Rainbow, designed by Starling Burgess in 1931 and hastily revisited for the 1934 America’s Cup Defence. Rainbow beat Endeavour, although she was acknowledged to be slower. Redesigned by Dykstra & Partners. Built by Holland Jachtbouw, launched 2012.

Identifying features: Black hull, gold cove, red bottom and anodised grey winches and deck fittings.
Rockstar rating: Owner/driver, but with experienced team plus Volvo and Olympic pros.
Odds: Promises much, but lacks on-water time.

Rainbow is the one I’m most worried about,” admits Endeavour’s skipper Simon Lacey. “We know our speed against the others – they’re the ones to watch.”
The wildcard. The newbie. The Dutch destroyer. Fresh out of the starting blocks at Holland Jachtbouw, with flush decks and mahogany doghouse, jet black aluminium hull with gold leaf cove, she looks the business, complete with Southern Spars high modulus rig and dressed in a spanking new suit of North 3Di and 3DL sails.
The new Rainbow is a hybrid superyacht. This is not easy when you consider her skinny beam and the fact that the original plans allowed no room for an engine. So WhisperPower were commissioned to devise a hybrid propulsion system so she can operate for silent periods on her lithium batteries alone.

While the experience of her skipper Nick Haley, who previously ran Windrose of Amsterdam and Athos, both also from the HJB yard, will certainly count, only launching a couple of months before the event is Rainbow’s handicap. Or perhaps it’s a historical replay. The Americans were originally slow out of the starting blocks with Rainbow after three quiet seasons following the Wall Street crash. Starling Burgess already had the hull design after Sir Lipton had mooted a Challenge in 1931, which was dug out and Rainbow was built at Herreshoff’s yard in a record-breaking 100 days.
Long on the waterline (82ft) for the time, she was a fair competitor to Endeavour, with a similar shape, but Endeavour’s drawn-out counter got the beauty nod. Scrapped in 1940, the original Rainbow was probably a slower boat than Endeavour, but she was better sailed. Will history repeat itself this summer?

Designed by Charles Nicholson in 1932, she was the one J not to sail for the America’s Cup. Partially restored in 1984. Reconfigured in 1996 by Gerard Dykstra. Built in 1933 by Camper & Nicholsons

Identifying features: Dark blue hull, double doghouse. Blue, white and red spinnaker.
Rockstar rating:  Low on pros, good owner/driver, but seasoned crew who know the drill better than any.
Odds: A good light airs boat and has the ‘home’ advantage – a welcome return.

Since being relaunched in the mid-Eighties and again in the late-Nineties, Velsheda has been a torch bearer for J Class racing.

She was the first original J to be radically altered, with new deckhouses and a carbon rig, which led to new ratings for modern Js. Whether purists agree with such modifications or not, she sparkled at the America’s Cup Jubilee in 2001 and the multiple regattas on both sides of the Atlantic since. Her mirror-finish dark blue hull and gleaming brightwork proudly marries traditional looks with modern technology.

Velsheda was originally commissioned by Woolworths magnate W. L. Stephenson who scrapped his previous boat White Heather II to build Velsheda, recycling the keel and mast.

The first J to be built all in steel, she was the only one not to be built to race for the America’s Cup, so although Velsheda competed energetically in the British Big Class regattas and won her premiere season, we’ll never know how she would have fared as a Challenger for the Cup.

Like Endeavour, she was laid up in 1937 in the mud banks of the Hamble River, but was partially restored in 1984 to be cruised, chartered and raced occasionally. However, it was when Dutchman Ronald de Waal purchased her in 1996, and had her fully rebuilt at Southampton Yacht Services, under the close eye of Gerry Dykstra, that she was reborn. She sported a new carbon fibre mast and inboard diesel engine installation for the first time. Velsheda has since raced tirelessly under the same custodian, who has proved a worthy helmsman, enjoying close battles with Endeavour and Ranger, particularly at their meetings at Antigua Classics.

With a new carbon rig and EC6 rigging, as well as improved hydraulics, Velsheda has had a lot of work put into the sails and a lot of practice on crew work. This consistent teamwork and regatta experience could be her trump card.

Replica of original Cup winner, designed by Starling Burgess and Olin Stephens in 1937.
Reworked by Studio Scanu, Reichel-Pugh, and Fred Elliott. Built at Danish Yacht Boatyard in 2002/3

Identifying features: White hull, boxer’s nose of a bow, flattened stern.
Rockstar rating: Erle Williams calling the shots, supported by a gelled crew.
Odds: Along with Velsheda, she has the most racing experience, she is lethal in flatter water, but Solent waves may punish her.

As the first completely new J, Ranger was the forerunner of the new breed of J Class. Her owner John Williams became hooked on J racing when he saw Endeavour and Velsheda battle for spoils at Antigua Classics in 1998. With the formation of the J Class Association, class rules allowed for replicas of original J designs to race, heralding the birth of the modern fleet.

The original ‘Super J’ Ranger was designed by Starling Burgess and Olin J Stephens for Vanderbilt’s 1937 Cup Defence against Endeavour II. Super J means the yacht was built to the maximum waterline length allowed (87ft). You might wonder why no one had done this before, but it brings with it the problem of keep-ing the correspondingly high mast in one piece. The original Ranger had the most amazing stats: she started 34 races and won 32.

She was 8ft 6in longer than previous Defender Rainbow and sported a very distinctive snub-nosed barrel bow and bore the fruits of the scientific approach of the young Olin Stephens. This was the first time tank tests were carried out on the models, which was arguably the reason Ranger defended the Cup so imperiously.

Despite her ungainly flattened stern and ugly bow, model 77C was selected from eight designs as potentially the best all-rounder in six to eight knots. The tank tests had given the Americans the confidence to build such an unusual hull and a Duralumin rig – this was the first time mast, boom and spinnaker booms were all built in aluminium.

Ranger dominated the trials and was unanimously selected as Defender after which she went on to outclass Endeavour II, winning by 17 and 18 minutes in the first two races.

Today’s Ranger is a regatta competitor with a luxury interior and, unlike the rest of the new builds, has a steel hull like the original, but sports a central cockpit wheelhouse largely made from carbon fibre, as well as weight-saving materials throughout her mahogany-veneered interior. She is campaigned exhaustively on both sides of the Atlantic.

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. J class regatta history
  3. 3. J class fleet: The boats
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