Following their final practice in stellar conditions today, four J-Class yachts Velsheda, Ranger, Lionheart and Rainbow prepare to race for four days in the Solent.

The UK may not have had much of a summer so far – indeed yesterday (Monday July 16) seemed more like November – but with 20 knots and bright sunshine today, the estimated 120 professional crewmembers racing the four Js were treated to a day of dazzling Solent conditions. I was onboard the brand new, fresh out of her Holland Jachtbouw box, Rainbow today, an replica of the American defender from 1934. It was an ideal opportunity to see how she stacks up against her competition here in Velsheda, Ranger and Lionheart. And despite being the smallest and newest J, she certainly showed the legs to frighten her rivals. We saw her potential, along with that of the largest J built, Lionheart, in Falmouth where the crews of both new Dutch aluminium builds were learning to get the best out of their boats, as expertly shown by the long-serving members of Ranger and Velsheda. If the crew-work keeps gelling aboard Rainbow or Lionheart this week, either are capable of causing an upset.

Host club of this Solent regatta, The Royal Southampton Yacht Club, set a startline off the entrance to Beaulieu River to conduct three practices starts for the Js today, before they go into full race mode from Wednesday, culminating in a proposed race around the Isle of Wight for the Hundred Guinea Cup on Saturday.

Three of the Js are tied up each evening in Ocean Village, while Rainbow is alongside her chartered mother ship MV Holland around the corner in the shipping port. This impressive salvage tug from 1951 is being used to feed and shelter Rainbow’s 25 race crew. Stepping aboard her this morning was almost as awe-inspiring as going aboard Rainbow herself – especially when the captain fired up her original 10 piston direct reversible Werkspoor engine that resides below most of her aft deck… a fantastic piece of engineering. Look out for Holland at the Olympics where she will be chartered by Delta Lloyd as the Heneiken bar!

Aboard Rainbow, conditions couldn’t have been better for crews to practice in full race mode. Her owner and full-time crew of seven had cruised her since the Falmouth regatta two weeks ago, visiting harbours like Fowey, Dartmouth and Poole where she was able to make use of her silent-running hybrid power installation by Whisper Power – but she was now back to 3Di sails and being fine-tuned to race. These modern J’s, Rainbow especially, are super-clean on deck, with minimal winches capable of hoisting halyards and winching sheets quicker than the retina can focus on the tailing end being spat out of the self-tailer.

Our starts were a little on the cautious side, but safe and at the windward end, and when we hit the line for the last practice time alongside Lionheart, and proceeded towards the top mark in the western Solent with them on the same tack, our speeds were impressively similar given these two boat’s size difference. Loaded up to the limit with full main and No.3 genoa’s doing 11 knots to windward with another J half a boat length to weather is a new and scintillating way of viewing these waters.
I hope to be reporting to you from Velsheda tomorrow – and would urge you to get out on a boat or line the shores over the coming days to watch this once-in-a-lifetime event.

Wednesday’s racing will be in the Western Solent, and the J-Class Association has issued the following advice for spectators:
Respected sailing journalist Bob Fisher will be providing expert safety information and commentary of the racing on VHF Channel 03. For those afloat, marshal boats will fly a yellow flag – please follow any instructions they give you to keep you away from Js turning unpredictably and extremely fast.
Whilst there are just four boats, the racing may be enhanced by the use of a gate at the leeward end of the course. Please listen to channel 03 for details of the course. If gates are used, please keep well clear of both gate marks – leave at least 150 metres at either side of each mark and 150 metres behind the line. Because the yachts turn very fast and could make a tight or wide turn, please give them lots of space.