The most regal vessels in the sailing world are J Class yachts. These long, graceful, single-masted race boats with their simple lines were first introduced in the 1930s, the golden era of sailing. Tycoons raced each other for individual glory and national pride in the America’s Cup races that decade. A helmsman in a tie and blazer stood behind large wooden steering wheels of powerful, graceful yachts like Shamrock V, Yankee, Enterprise, Endeavour, Ranger, and many others, while crews of a dozen or more sat on the yacht’s high side, legs hanging over the edge during the maneuvers. World War II brought the glory days of yachting to a quick end. Many of the grand J Class yachts were scrapped because steel and lead became so precious to the war effort.
By the 1980s, only three J Class yachts remained. These were rehabilitated by new owners, made even better with the use of lighter, stronger hull materials and advanced sails. In 2000, the creation of the J Class Association revived the class, and four years later, a new replica of Ranger (which had won 32 or so races) launched to sail against the three original yachts. The J Class is now arguably as strong as it ever was in the 1930s, and certainly much more advanced technically, with three original yachts and six replicas (built to an original design of a 1930s J Class boat) competing for glory. Last June, these magnificent yachts raced in the America’s Cup Superyacht Regatta in Bermuda, perhaps the most stunning sideshow ever for the hallowed Cup.
The J Class will compete in four events this year: St. Barts, Palma, Porto Cervo, and St. Tropez. Svea, the most recent member of the J Class, took third in its first race during the America’s Cup and took first in last month’s St. Barths Bucket. While the vessel may well be the yacht to beat this year, the other J’s are still contenders. Owners are investing heavily in sail and rigging technologies and a handicap for each yacht helps even the races.
Here are the five most recent J Class yachts.