During their prime in the 1930s, J-boats, vessels measuring from 75 to 87 feet on the waterline, dominated international racing, and among this elite fleet, Ranger was the swiftest. Harold Vanderbilt’s boat, launched in 1937, successfully defended the America’s Cup that year and went on to win 35 of 37 races in its career—averaging speeds of 12 mph in those competitions—before it was dismantled in 1941.
Earlier this year, in a development that admirers hope will inspire a J-boat revival, a recently constructed replica of Ranger, drafted by the same designer who worked on the original, began sailing competitively. The construction of the new Ranger was commissioned in 1999 by John Williams, an Atlanta real estate developer and owner of the 159-foot Georgia and the 121-foot Atlanta, two racing sailboats built by Alloy Yachts in New Zealand. Williams had chartered the J-boat Endeavour and had become so enamored with it that he considered building a replica of that vessel. Paolo Scanu, the naval architect hired by Williams to work on Georgia, had another idea. If you are going to build a new J, Scanu asked Williams, then why not build the fastest one—Ranger?
Scanu was already familiar with the boat. More than a decade earlier, he had met naval architect Rod Stephens, whose brother Olin designed the original Ranger. After the two traded tales and observations about their careers, Rod gave Scanu a copy of the Ranger drawings. Rod has since passed away, but Olin, cofounder of the design firm Sparkman & Stephens, was eager to contribute to the next-generation Ranger. Stephens and Scanu teamed with Reichel/Pugh Yacht Design, Glade Johnson Design, and several other designers and naval architects to create a vessel that features the original hull lines of its namesake.
The original Ranger, along with J-boat competitors Endeavour, Velsheda, and Shamrock V, was designed specifically for racing, leaving little interior space for accommodations. Although Williams planned to race aboard his new sailboat, he also wanted to cruise and make Ranger available for charter (at $75,000 per week through Camper & Nicholsons). The latter required that the boat’s builder, Royal Denship of Denmark, construct the hull and deck of steel to meet British Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) code.
Although the steel burdens Ranger with more weight than is optimal, the design team was able to offset some of the heft. The boat features a lightweight carbon fiber mast and boom as well as two sets of sails—one for cruising and the other for racing—that weigh a fraction of those aboard the original Ranger. Belowdecks, African crotch mahogany veneers give the interior an exotic appearance, but they are mounted on foam core to reduce the boat’s weight.
Ranger departed the Denmark shipyard in January and sailed to the Caribbean, where Williams competed in the St. Bart’s Bucket and Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta against Velsheda and Cambria, two of the original J-boats. “It would be great,” says Ranger Captain Dan Jackson, “to see more of these boats built and to see a new era of Js.”
Camper & Nicholsons