how to spot the J Class yacht fleet

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Credit: Jeff Brown / Breed Media

The ultimate J Class yachtspotter’s guide

18 May 2022• Written by Holly Overton

The J Class is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and powerful classes of sailing yacht in the world. An original fleet of 10 was constructed in the 1930s for the purpose of competing in the America’s Cup, but in a sad twist of fate, only a few were able to survive the cull for metal during World War II. Some were later salvaged from the scrapheap and rebuilt as modern-day racers while others were constructed as replicas by owners who admired their classic lines and racing credentials. Nine J Class sailing yachts race today but could you tell an original from a replica? Could you identify which J Class yacht is which by its sail number? Here's an essential guide to the J Class fleet... 

Shamrock V

Sail number: JK3
Length: 36.5m
Year of build: 1929

With more than 80 years under her keel, Shamrock V is one of the most historic sailing yachts still afloat today having been built by Camper & Nicholsons in 1929. Her current owner bought Shamrock V in March 2016 and in the process inherited a legacy. This 36.58 metre is the original J Class yacht and the only one with a wooden hull to have survived to the present day. Her original owner Sir Thomas Lipton is remembered as the lovable loser of the America’s Cup, having unsuccessfully challenged on five separate occasions between 1899 and 1930, taking each defeat with characteristic good grace.

Endeavour

Sail number: JK4
Length: 39.56m
Year of build: 1934

Endeavour was launched by Camper & Nicholsons in 1934 and is hailed as one of the most iconic sailing yachts in the world. Commissioned by Sir Thomas Sopwith, this 39.56 metre design was a highly rated contender heading into the 16th America’s Cup, but ended up losing 4-2 to Harold S. Vanderbilt's Rainbow. However, this is widely acknowledged to have been more down to tactics than design or performance. After spending the better part of 50 years languishing in obscurity, she was meticulously restored by Dutch yard Royal Huisman in 1989 and was most recently refitted in 2011 by New Zealand yard Yachting Developments

Velsheda

Sail number: JK7
Length: 38.5m
Year of build: 1933/2016

Velsheda was built in steel in 1933 for WL Stephenson, the chairman of Woolworths in Britain, and named after his three daughters Velma, Sheila and Daphne. This 38.5 metre yacht is the only original J Class not to have been built for the America's Cup. Between 1937 and 1984 she languished in a mud berth on the Hamble River before scrap-metal merchant Terry Brabant rescued her and chartered her on a shoestring budget with no engine, mostly in the Solent but also in the Caribbean. In 1996 she was purchased by Dutch fashion entrepreneur Ronald de Waal who commissioned Southampton Yacht Services to rebuild her. Since then de Waal has raced her extensively.

Ranger

Sail number: J5
Length: 41.55m
Year of build: 2003

Credit: Tino Baum

Ranger is a 41.55 metre replica of the J Class yacht of the same name, which was built for the 1937 America’s Cup by a syndicate led by railroad heir Harold Vanderbilt. Starling Burgess and Olin Stephens had been asked to produce eight sets of lines and the one selected as most suitable for the conditions expected off Newport, Rhode Island — design number 77C — was one of Burgess', although Stephens later helped with some refinements. Known as 'The Super J', the original Ranger comprehensively beat Endeavour II in the Cup and won all but two of the other 33 races in which she competed that year. She never sailed after that and was broken up in 1941. With the design optimised by Reichel-Pugh, the new Ranger was built in steel — true to the original but unlike the subsequent modern Js — by Danish Yachts in 2003 for an American owner. 

Hanuman

Sail number: JK6
Length: 42.1m
Year of build: 2009

The reincarnation of the 1937 launch Endeavour II, Hanuman was launched in 2009 by Dutch shipyard Royal Huisman. This 42.1 metre yacht features her predecessor’s original Charles E. Nicholson design, while the underwater geometry is courtesy of Dykstra Naval Architects. After completing the rebuilds of Endeavour, Shamrock V and Velsheda, Hanuman was Dykstra's first J Class new build project. Commissioned by serial yacht owner Jim Clark, Hanuman is named after the son of the Hindu wind god, which it flies on its spinnaker, and her regatta performances have backed up this name. She took first place at the 2017 St Barths Bucket, which saw six J Class yachts battling it out on the high seas.

Lionheart

Sail number: JH1
Length: 43.4m
Year of build: 2010

Credit: Jeff Brown / Breed Media

Lionheart is based on Burgess and Stephens design number 77F, which was one of those rejected in favour of 77C for the 1937 America’s Cup. However, after extensive research by Hoek Design Naval Architects, 77F was considered to be the best set of lines for the variety of racing conditions likely to be encountered at regattas around the world today. Lionheart was built in aluminium by Bloemsma and Claasen Jachtbouw in Holland, and was launched in the summer of 2010. Her first owner's business commitments forced him to sell her and she was purchased in mid-2011 by Dutchman Harold Goddijn, the founder of Tom Tom. At 43.4 metres overall and with a stunning 17 metre overhang, she is the second longest J afloat. Lionheart became the first Hoek-designed J to hit the race course and made its debut at the Superyacht Cup in Palma.

Rainbow

Sail number: JH2
Length: 39.96m
Year of build: 2012

The original Rainbow was launched in 1934 at the Herreshoff yard in New England after a mere 100 days under construction and went on to win the America’s Cup in the same year. However, she was requisitioned during World War II and eventually scrapped. The modern Rainbow is an altogether more high-tech affair — built at Holland Jachtbouw in 2012 as the fourth of the new generation Js. She was built for an experienced sailing yacht owner to a design by Dykstra Naval Architects and is the first J to be fitted with a hybrid propulsion and power system. Rainbow is currently listed for sale. When heeled over, its red underside is a dead giveaway for yachtspotters out there.

Topaz

Sail number: J8
Length: 42.62m
Year of build: 2015

Topaz is based on an unbuilt 1938 design by Frank C Paine, the son of the three-time America’s Cup winner General Charles J Paine. Her modern aluminium incarnation measures 42.62 metres and was launched by Dutch yard Holland Jachtbouw in 2015. Hoek Design Naval Architects, who styled Topaz inside and out, describe her as “a good all-round performer”. She was the longest J by waterline length at the time of her launch but was later dethroned by Svea.

Svea

Sail number: JS1
Length: 43.6m
Year of build: 2017

The newest and longest member of the J Class fleet, Svea was launched by Dutch yard Vitters in February 2017 measuring 43.6 metres. Her design by Hoek Design Naval Architects incorporates an integrated traditional long keel from the original 1937 drawings by Swedish designer Thore Holm, which were unearthed by yachting historian John Lammerts van Beuren. However, the designers have brought the 75-year-old design right up-to-date with an aluminium hull and 53.75 metre carbon fibre main mast. As a result, Svea displaces just 182 tonnes — two tonnes less than Hanuman and six tonnes less than Ranger.