The third day of westcountry J-Class racing provides the breeze the Js thrive in, with the eldest showing how it’s done

A mixed bag of conditions today (Thursday), from thick fog to warm sun, but crucially, wind. Arriving in the form of a typically blustery southwesterly that built from a force four to a five, this greeted the four J-Class yachts competing in this prestigious event here in Falmouth, Cornwall, for the third race of five – and was enough to make even the most stone-faced of these rockstar crews competing afford a grin.

For the second day running it was the oldest boat, the only original J here, and the one that seems to be in the heart of the percentage of public that have descended on this beautiful Cornish seaside town to watch, that showed how it’s done. A combination of Velsheda’s gelled crew knowing the boat inside-out, and a bold foresail call, won a scintillating race for owner-driver Ronald de Waal. Over three hours the four Js were separated by less than three minutes on the finish line to the delighted applause of the hundreds of spectators decorating Falmouth’s points and cliffs (nice work again by the race committee to bring these magnificent multi-million dollar boats to centre stage, by finishing them under the imposing Pendennis Castle).

I felt a little out of my comfort zone offering pilotage/safety calls to a skipper who had previously cruised his 40ft Rodman we were aboard up to Greenland. The Taylours, who have come to Falmouth from Sark just to watch the Js, kindly hosted myself and photographer Nigel Pert aboard, and the combination of protected wheelhouse and flybridge views aboard their motorcruiser provided the perfect spectator platform (while I certainly valued their twin radar and AIS set up, once the fog cut visibility to 100 yards).

After their over-excitable start by Rainbow yesterday, all four Js were keen not to be early for the line, and made a sterling sight as they all crossed towards the pin-end on starboard on the stroke of midday. The three newer boats, with their ultra-stiff, blackened North 3Di sails, carried medium-heavy foresails, while the easy-to-spot Velsheda with laminate-3DLs, raised eyebrows by selecting a flatter and smaller blade jib for the upwind legs. It was a move that proved decisive, as, although Rainbow managed to pin the other boats on starboard tack, made the perfect layline call and rounded the weather mark in the lead, Velsheda consistenly made the best VMG on the three upwind legs of the windward-leeward course.

Four big bear-aways in quick succession around the weather mark south of Helford River, followed by perfect spinnaker hoists and squared-back poles saw the fleet led by Rainbow take the half-hour voyage into thick fog to the east, close enough together for Ranger to be trying to blanket Velsheda’s wind. Doing double digit downwind speeds within a couple of boatlengths of each other and then to lose all visibility was extraordinary ‘sight’. At the leeward mark, Rainbow overstood slightly, making a miniscule slip of dropping their kite (as did Lionheart), but enough to allow the fuss-free Velsheda and Ranger the room to sneak inside and gain a vital couple of lengths, from which the former gained and gained as the wind increased and that jib choice spoke wonders.
The fog then lifted, the sun lit up the lush green Cornish coastline, and with crews hiking to weather and the leeward rail awash, the Js rewarded us with their sheer and renowned splendour.

By the top mark the Charles Nicholson designed J from 1932 (Velsheda) had opened up over a minute gap on Ranger and up to three minutes on Lionheart. A repeat of the sausage course format, and positions were unchanged. However Rainbow then chose not to cover their Dutch counterpart Lionheart, who tried their hand at going inshore, took the lift and layline call which ultimately won them the battle for third (the shrewd tactics of Bouwe Bekking’s perhaps).

The last kite run in a force five with sunlit spinnakers and the backdrop of St Anthony’s Head lighthouse made a sight to treasure. But the best was saved for last and served to the accumulated masses ashore, as the final short close fetch across Falmouth’s entrance saw the Js finish under Pendennis Point, with just 15s separating second placed Ranger from Lionheart in third.

If you’re intending to come and watch for the forecasted windy days tomorrow and Saturday, turn up early, as the parking for the gallery viewing understandably fills up quickly. I’m sure Princess Anne, due to attend the regatta tomorrow, has a reserved spot.

Two wins for the impeccably sailed Velsheda and one for Ranger, with two races to go – we’ll be reporting from the windy weather deck of Ranger tomorrow…

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