The Canterbury J class
With the Class numbers now over 240 it is timely to review how the class came into being and the prospects for the future.
In 1998 weed was, as now, the scourge of the Christchurch Model Yacht Club at Lake Victoria, making sailing long fin boats almost impossible. At this time Dave Heanly had purchased a commercial glass fibre hull of a traditional long keel yacht. This model, 48" long was based on a MAP plan of the famous J Class Ranger, the last of the pre W.W.II defenders of the Cup, designed by Olin Stephens. Dave discussed with Hugh Hobden ideas for developing a rig for the boat with the idea of retaining some of the traditional form with model practicality. The resulting rig worked well and with two smaller ones for higher winds, it coped with a wide range of weather. The possibilities of this design seemed ideal for Lake Victoria.
Peter Vincent and Hugh Hobden , after some protracted negotiations, purchased hulls and built up boats. With three boats sailing, others saw the potential and the rest is history - and an active Owners' Association has been formed, a set of rules drawn up and Championships sailed.
The basic philosophy was to have an easily sailed and built 'entry-point RC yacht' based on a one design principles to provide good resale value, and with racing dependant more on the skipper rather than designer/builder skill. These objects have been attained and the Class has attracted many first time sailors, mostly from the retired ranks who share the common creed, "it sure beats gardening!"
The boat can be transported easily in the average car or station wagon - sometimes fully rigged. many boats have features of the original J Class in the form of deck layouts, hatches and names like Shamrock (No 1), Thistle, Endeavour etc.
Perhaps the main following of the Class, is by "The Wednesday Windlers" who can muster fleets of 20 plus for their around-the-lake sailing on Lake Victoria. Why not visit the lake on a Wednesday? Members turn out, except in the most atrocious weather, and are pleased to "turn over the controls" to any interested spectator.
The J Class
J Class yachts were always on a grand scale, huge spreads of canvas on hulls of 120 feet or more, large crew numbers and most of all multi-millionaires able to afford them. It is this class of boat that epitomizes the peak of yachting competitiveness - racing for The America's Cup.
The class came into being with the creation of the Universal Rule in 1920 for building classes that would be similar in length, sail area and hull shape to produce seaworthy boats that could race without complicated handicapping. Waterline length was to be between 76 and 87 feet with controlled scantlings and sail area to suit the rule. Only 10 boats were purpose built to the rule, 6 in the USA and 4 in the UK. They were:-
USA Enterprise - Whirlwind - Waitamoe - Yankee - Rainbow - Ranger
UK Shamrock V - Velsheda - Endeavour - Endeavour II
Others converted to the J Rule were:
Vanitie - Resolute - White Heather - Britannia - Astra - Candida
(Blue - still sailing today)
The launching of the class coincided with the 1929 Wall Street crash and following Depression which initially did not affect the millionaire owners such as Sir Thomas Lipton, Tom. Sopwith or Harold Vanderbilt but the change in the economic climate and World War II would spell the end of these mighty racing machines
The first match for The America's Cup in J Class was between Enterprise and Shamrock V (Lipton) in 1930. Enterprise was technically superior to Shamrock, the hull was developed through scale models and tank testing and sail design developed in a wind tunnel by the designer Starling Burgess who had an aviation background and training in aerodynamics. The adjustable "Park Avenue" boom was first seen on this boat - the draught of the sail could be controlled by slides across the wide base of the boom.
The next match in 1934 was between Endeavour and the defender, Rainbow. Rainbow was a light weather boat and Endeavour came close to lifting the Cup, a vital tactical error by Sopwith lost them a "certain" 3rd race. (He did not cover the boat behind!) The 1937 challenge was with Endeavour II against the Olin Stevens designed Ranger which again proved superior in all departments. This was the last match of the J Class for the "auld Mug". Ranger was broken up for the War effort but Shamrock, Endeavour and Velsheda survived the war on mud births and all have been refurbished at great cost and today sail in major regattas around the world. Both Endeavour and Velsheda were at Auckland during the America's Cup series.
For more information on the surviving Js see www.jclassyachts.com