With slick crew work and flat water speed, the experience of the Super J thwarts the new Dutch J’s

“10 minutes until the start of the first Falmouth J class race since before the war” – the Irish tones of safety radio officer Jim Donal reverberated through the spectating fleet this morning (he is providing first class, informative ‘commentary’ all week on VHF Channel 69). It was quite a sight today seeing four J’s race in the UK, and whilst the modern J is a very different animal to those that sailed off this westcountry coastline 80 years ago, these yachts remain marvels of the seas. Their black 3Di sails look menacing, matching the Cornish mist and drizzle this morning. Yet despite visibility poor enough to delay the start by an hour, hoards of spectator yachts and ribs flocked out of Falmouth Bay to witness Lionheart, Rainbow, Ranger and Velsheda line up against each other in the first race of the J-Class UK regattas.

It was the very first race for the brand new Rainbow from Holland Jachtbouw, a replica of the J that defeated Endeavour in 1934. And it was also the first time fellow new Dutch aluminum Lionheart, the largest J ever built, raced against these other Js -hence there were many unknowns. A precision start saw all four get away cleanly in 10 knots of SW breeze, but the fluky, shifty wind ensured some positional changes, particularly between Velsheda and Rainbow who looked close for speed.
But it was Ranger that got out of the blocks first and rounded the first mark towards the Helford River, and once they set their large spinnaker their crew work shined ensuring helmsman Erle Williams was never challenged for the lead (most of the crew have raced on Ranger for five years or more). At nearly 143ft the might of the all black Lionheart looked like she would pose a threat when she rounded that windward mark within a minute of Ranger, ably navigated by Volvo vet Bouwe Bekking, but as their kite went up, a tear midway up the leech soon saw their biggest downwind sail blow up, and with very light apparent breeze this Hoek designed replica of a super J that was never built was dead in the water, finishing last by some margin.

This left an interesting race between the only original J here, Velsheda, and the newest, Rainbow, both with owner-drivers (along with Lionheart). Rainbow’s light footed downwind speed saw them overhaul Velsheda, but having rounded the bottom mark, the British Camper and Nicholson built boat tacked early and found cleaner breeze offshore, regaining their lead and holding it for the final downwind leg.

Naturally, the sun came out once the sails went down, but despite the photographers’ moans the racing still made for a great spectacle. The one big shame was that the course kept the Js so far offshore. The intention was to finish them off Pendennis Point, which would have delighted the assembled clifftop crowd, but after two and half hour’s racing the last leg was shortened and finished offshore. Hopefully, for the sake of all those wanting to watch these incredible machines race, the forecasted stronger wind later this week will allow the PRO from the Royal Cornwall YC John Pickup to set marks or finishes closer to land.

The wind looks set to increase all week, which is when these leviathans will come into their own. Stay tuned.

Photos by Nigel Pert

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