J Class yacht: Lionheart
by Oliver Dewar
With the launch of the new J Class Lionheart the renaissance of this classic, 1930s racing class continues to deliver outstanding, elegant and powerful yachts. While the use of modern materials and new design technology is permitted with replica J Class yachts and strict rules are applied to the hull shape, each new design is subtly different and Lionheart successfully combines comfort and outstanding looks with breathtaking sailing.
A fundamental tenet of the modern J Class rule is the hull design, which must be based on one of the original 18 1930s J Class designs from the drawing boards of L Francis Herreshoff, Frank C Paine, Charles Nicholson, the American design duo of W Starling Burgess and Olin Stephens, and Swedish designer Tore Holm.
When the owner contacted the Hoek Design office in 2005, five of the 18 designs were already taken. Intensive research indicated that, potentially, the fastest hull design available was one of the five Burgess/Stephens designs submitted to Harold Vanderbilt for the original Ranger, but discarded. Quickly, the designs for Ranger 77F Model were reserved and the J Class Lionheart project moved a further step forward.
Construction of the yacht’s aluminium hull was undertaken at Bloemsma Aluminiumbouw in Makkum, northern Holland, before shipment south via barge to Claasen Jachtbouw for all interior work and system-fitting.
The yacht’s Burgess/Stephens-Ranger design-DNA is immediately apparent in the soft knuckle at the bow, unlike the ‘English’ Charles Nicholson Js with their uninterrupted sweep of the hull forward producing needle-sharp bows.
A second, striking impression is the double cockpit layout with a private owner’s cockpit and deckhouse aft of the wheel and a large guest cockpit leading to the main deckhouse and companionway forward of the wheel. While the J Class Association has strict rules for replica hull designs, the deck layout is a matter of personal choice as long as the overall appearance is in keeping with the original J Class style.
This layout overcomes the problems of an exposed helm position and cramped seating when the small, dayboat-style cockpit is used for sail storage when racing. Its benefits are clear with the exhilaration of standing behind the exquisite binnacle and helming unbounded by a cockpit combing, yet clear of the mainsheet and traveller and in close communication with crew or guests sitting in the large, forward cockpit.
The interior of J Class Lionheart is intentionally simple and practical, based on the owner’s belief that 90 per cent of the time on board is spent on deck. For the crew area forward of the mast additional sail storage space has been sacrificed for extra accommodation on the premise that a cramped crew is more likely to jump ship after the first cruise or regatta.
The guest accommodation consists of three twin cabins and the owner’s full-beam cabin furthest aft, each with an en suite head and shower. J Class rules forbid portholes, so the guest cabins have skylights, while the owner’s cabin is filled with light from the aft deckhouse, which also provides immensely comfortable interior seating or a pilot berth with views to the horizon from the large side windows.
Under sail, the experience is unlike any other breed of yacht. Although stanchions and guardrails can be fitted for cruising or offshore voyages, when removed, the lack of obstruction provides an incredible view along the sweep of the varnished toe rail to the uncluttered foredeck and aft across the enormous stern overhang.
Lionheart is an exceptional addition to the J Class fleet and has brought a new approach to many aspects of replica J Class design. How she will match up to the five existing Js on the race course is yet to be seen.
Photography by Ed Holt