Jump to content

J Class (yacht)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from J-class yacht)
1930s sail plan of a J Class yacht

The J Class of racing yachts (sometimes called "J-boats") were built to the specifications of Nathanael Herreshoff's Universal Rule. The J Class is considered the apex of the era when the Universal Rule determined eligibility in the America's Cup.

Universal Rule[edit]

J Class yachts Velsheda, Topaz and Svea downwind legs

The J Class is one of several classes deriving from the Universal Rule for racing boats. The rule was established in 1903 and rates double-masted racers (classes A through H) and single-masted racers (classes I through S). From 1914 to 1937, the rule was used to determine eligibility for the Americas Cup. In the late 1920s, the trend was towards smaller boats and so agreement among American yacht clubs led to rule changes such that after 1937 the International Rule would be used for 12 Metre class boats.[1]

Universal Rule formula[edit]

The Universal Rule formula[2] is:


    • is boat length (a number itself derived from a formula that includes Load Waterline Length L.W.L in feet)
    • is sail area
    • is displacement
    • is rating
    • Herreshoff initially proposed an index of .2 but ratifying committees of the various yacht clubs changed this to, at various times, .18 or .185. This is, essentially, a 'fudge factor' to allow some boats designed and built prior to the adoption of the Universal Rule to compete.[3]

The numerator contains a yacht's speed-giving elements, length and sail area, while the retarding quantity of displacement is in the denominator. Also the result will be dimensionally correct; R will be a linear unit of length (such as feet or meters). J Class boats will have a rating from 65 to 76 feet (20 to 23 m). This is not the overall length of the boat but a limiting factor for the variables in the equation. Designers are free to change any of the variables such as length or displacement but must reduce the other variables to compensate.

J Class examples[edit]

Crew lining the gunwale of J Class yacht Ranger
Video of a J Class race

A table of well-known J Class yachts demonstrating that application of the Universal Rule could result in a rating from 65 to 76 feet (20 to 23 m). Length overall (LOA) of the yachts ranged from 119 to 139 feet (36 to 42 m). Sail areas of the yachts ranged from 7,288 to 7,651 square feet (677.1 to 710.8 m2).

Colors: Red: America's Cup challengers; Blue: defenders; Green: non-competitors

Launch Name Builder LOA LWL Beam Draught Displacement Sail area
1930 Shamrock V England Camper and Nicholsons 119 ft 1 in 81 ft 1 in 20 ft 14 ft 9 in 134 tons 7,540 sq ft
1930 Weetamoe United States Herreshoff Manufacturing Company 125 ft 9 in 83 ft 20 ft 14 ft 6 in 7,550 sq ft
1930 Yankee United States George Lawley & Son 126 ft 83 ft 22 ft 6 in 14 ft 6 in 148 tons 7,288 sq ft
1930 Whirlwind United States George Lawley & Son 139 ft 86 ft 21 ft 9 in 15 ft 6 in 158 tons 7,335 sq ft
1930 Enterprise United States Herreshoff Manufacturing Company 120 ft 9 in 80 ft 23 ft 14 ft 6 in 128 tons 7,583 sq ft
1933 Velsheda England Camper and Nicholsons 127 ft 6 in 83 ft 21 ft 6 in 15 ft
1934 Endeavour England Camper and Nicholsons 129 ft 6 in 83 ft 6 in 22 ft 14 ft 9 in 143 tons 7,651 sq ft
1934 Rainbow United States Herreshoff Manufacturing Company 127 ft 6 in 82 ft 21 ft 15 ft 141 tons 7,535 sq ft
1936 Endeavour II England Camper and Nicholsons 135 ft 6 in 87 ft 21 ft 6 in 15 ft 162 tons 7,543 sq ft
1937 Ranger United States Bath Iron Works 135 ft 87 ft 21 ft 15 ft 166 tons 7,546 sq ft

History and evolution of the J Class[edit]

Rainbow and Velsheda racing at the J Class Solent regatta, 2012

Prior to the adoption of the Universal Rule, the Seawanhaka Rule was used to govern the design of boats for inter club racing. As the Seawanhaka Rule used only two variables: Load Waterline Length () and Sail Area, racing boats at the time were becoming more and more extreme. Larger and larger sails atop shorter and wider boats leading either to unwieldy, and ultimately unsafe, boats or craft that simply were not competitive.[3] In order to account, in some ways, for the beam and the relationship of the length overall () to the load waterline length the universal rule was proposed, taking into account displacement and length, which itself was a result of a formula taking into account such things as "quarter beam length". As different boats were designed and built, the notion of classes was derived to maintain groupings of competitive class.

The J Class Endeavour of 1934, shown here in 1996

Following Sir Thomas Lipton's near success in the 1920 America's Cup, he challenged again for the last time at age 79, in 1929. The challenge drew all the novelties developed in the previous decade on small boats to be ported onto large boats, and pitted British and American yacht design in a technological race. Between 1930 and 1937, the improvements brought to the design of sailboats were numerous and significant:

  • The high-aspect bermuda rig replaces the gaff rig on large sailboats
  • Solid-rod lenticular rigging for shrouds and stays
  • Luff and foot grooved spars with rail and slides replacing wooden hoops
  • Multiplication of spreader sets: one set previously (1914), two sets (1930), three sets (1934), four sets (1937)
  • Multiplication of the number of winches: 23 winches, Enterprise (1930)
  • Electrical navigational instruments borrowed from aeronautics with repeaters for windvane and anemometer, Whirlwind (1930)[4]
  • "Park Avenue" boom (Enterprise, 1930) and "North Circular" boom (Rainbow, 1934) developed to trim mainsail foot[5]
  • Riveted aluminium mast (4,000 lb (1,800 kg), Duralumin), Enterprise (1930)
  • Genoa Jib (Rainbow, 1934) and quadrangular jib (Endeavour, 1934)[6]
  • Development of nylon parachute (symmetric) spinnakers, including the World's largest at 18,000 sq ft (1,700 m2) on Endeavour II (1936)
  • Duralumin wing-mast, Ranger (1937)

All these improvements may not have been possible without the context of the America's Cup and the stability offered by the Universal Rule. The competition was a bit unfair because the British challengers had to be constructed in the country of the Challenging Yacht Club (a criterion still in use today), and had to sail on their own hull to the venue of the America's Cup (a criterion no longer in use today): the design for such an undertaking required the challenging boat to be more seaworthy than the American boats, whose design was purely for speed in closed waters regattas. The yachts that remain in existence are all British, and probably log more nautical miles today than they ever did. This would not have been possible if Charles Ernest Nicholson did not obtain unlimited budgets to achieve the quality of build for these yachts.

Yacht designer Clinton Hoadley Crane noted in his memoirs that "America's Cup racing has never led to good sportsmanship. The attitude of the New York Yacht Club [...] has been more that of a man in the forward position at war who has been ordered to hold his position at all costs – at all costs."[7] In 1930, Thomas Lipton spent $1,000,000 for his Shamrock V challenge when America was facing a stock market crash, but the NYYC still built four cup defenders. The rivalry led both countries to put on a display of true technological innovations using the maximum load waterline length authorized by the rule for Endeavour II and Ranger in 1937.

Most J Class yachts were scrapped prior to or during World War II because steel and lead had become precious to the war effort. In the post-war era, J Class racing was deemed far too expensive, so no challenge for the America's Cup was placed until 1958 with the smaller third International Rule 12 Metre class.

Rigging problems[edit]

The original yachts carried 165 ft (50 m) masts, but they dismasted frequently. As a consequence, British yachtsman Sir Richard Fairey (Chairman of Fairey Aviation, and owner of Shamrock V) suggested an America's Cup challenge in the smaller K-Class.[8] The New York Yacht Club refused the drop in size.

The J Class rule was amended in 1937 to force rigs to weigh a minimum of 6,400 lb. The larger scantling would prevent the frequent dismastings that had been previously observed in the British Big Class season of 1935.


By the 1980s only three J Class yachts were still in existence: Shamrock V, Endeavour and Velsheda, all designed by Charles Ernest Nicholson. Velsheda never served for an America's Cup challenge.

A revival of the J Class was triggered by Elizabeth Meyer, who oversaw the refits of Endeavour and Shamrock V. For several decades Velsheda lay derelict in the mud of the Hamble river – she was refitted in 1984, too, and then more completely in 1997.

In August 2001, as part of the celebration of the 150th Jubilee of America's Cup celebration, the three existing J Class racers were brought to the Isle of Wight for a round the island race.[9]

The creation of the J Class Association[10] in 2000 and the launch of a new replica of Ranger in 2004 accelerated the revival of the class. Several replicas and original designs were subsequently built and the association now organizes races for the J Class in Newport, Falmouth and Cowes.

The current J Class fleet comprises nine boats: Endeavour, Hanuman, Lionheart, Rainbow, Ranger, Shamrock V, Velsheda, Topaz, and, launched in January 2017, Svea.[11]

On March 12, 2020, Svea and Topaz collided while maneuvering at the start line of the Superyacht Challenge Antigua. Both boats retired from racing with damage; two sailors were injured.[12][13]

List of J Class yachts[edit]

Ten yachts were built to the J Class rule between 1930 and 1937, six in America and four in Great Britain.

Other boats raced in J Class regattas: the yachts Katoura (Starling Burgess, 1927), Resolute (Nathanael Herreshoff, 1914) and Vanitie (William Gardner, 1914) served as trial horses and most International Rule 23mR yachts were converted to the J Class, of which three remain in existence: Astra, Cambria and Candida.

J Class conversions    did not compete or qualify    Challengers    Defenders    replicas
Launch Name Sail Designer First ship-owner and Yacht Club Description
1893 Britannia 1 K1 Scotland George Lennox Watson Prince Albert Edward, RYS YRA first class rater converted to the J Class (1931). scuttled (1936)
1907 White Heather II B1 7 K7 Scotland William Fife III Myles Burton Kennedy, Royal Albert YC 23mR converted to the J Class (1930). scrapped to cast the lead for Velsheda (1932)
1914 Resolute J1 United States Nathanael Greene Herreshoff Henry Walters syndicate, NYYC Universal rule 75-footer defender (AC1920). converted to the J Class (1931). scrapped (1939)
1914 Vanitie I1 United States William Gardner Alexander Smith Cochran, NYYC Universal rule 75-footer defender trials (AC1920). converted to the I Class (1931). scrapped (1939)
1928 Astra K2 JK2 England Charles Ernest Nicholson Sir Adam Mortimer Singer, RYS 23mR converted to the J Class (1931). refitted (1987)
1928 Cambria K4 Scotland William Fife III Sir William Berry, RYS 23mR refitted (1995, 2001).re-rated as a J Class (2003)
1929 Candida K8 England Charles Ernest Nicholson Hermann Anton Andreae, RSYC 23mR converted to the J Class (1931). refitted (1989)
1930 Shamrock V JK3 England Charles Ernest Nicholson Sir Thomas Lipton, RUYC Unsuccessful challenger (AC1930).[14] restored by Pendennis shipyard (2001).
1930 Weetamoe 1 United States Clinton Hoadley Crane George Nichols syndicate, NYYC defender trials (AC1930, AC1934). scrapped (1938)
1930 Yankee 2 JUS2 United States Frank Cabot Paine John Silsbee Lawrence syndicate, NYYC defender trials (AC1930, AC1934, AC1937). scrapped (1941)
1930 Whirlwind 3 United States Lewis Francis Herreshoff Landon Ketchum Thorne syndicate, NYYC defender trials (AC1930). scrapped (1935)
1930 Enterprise 4 United States Starling Burgess Harold Vanderbilt syndicate, NYYC successful defender 4:0 (AC1930). scrapped (1935)
1933 Velsheda JK7 England Charles Ernest Nicholson William Lawrence Stephenson, RYS restored by Southampton Yacht Services (1997)
1934 Endeavour JK4 England Charles Ernest Nicholson Sir Thomas Sopwith, RYS unsuccessful challenger 2:4 (AC1934). restored by Royal Huisman (1989)
1934 Rainbow J5 J4 United States Starling Burgess Harold Vanderbilt syndicate, NYYC successful defender 4:2 (AC1934). defender trials (AC1937). scrapped (1940)
1936 Endeavour II JK6 England Charles Ernest Nicholson Sir Thomas Sopwith, RYS unsuccessful challenger 0:4 (AC1937). scrapped (1968)
1937 "77C"-Ranger J5 United States Starling Burgess & Olin Stephens Harold Vanderbilt, NYYC successful defender 4:0 (AC1937). scrapped (1941)
2004 "77C"-Ranger J5 United States Starling Burgess & Olin Stephens John A. Williams, NYYC replica of "77C"-Ranger (1937) built by Royal Denship
2009 Hanuman JK6 England Charles Ernest Nicholson James H. Clark, NYYC replica of Endeavour II (1936) built by Royal Huisman
2010 "77F"-Lionheart JH1 United States Starling Burgess & Olin Stephens Harold Goddijn original design (model "77F", 1937) built by Claasen Jachtbouw
2012 Rainbow JH2 United States Starling Burgess Chris Gongriep, ZZV replica of Rainbow (1934) built by Holland Jachtbouw
2015 Topaz J8 United States Frank Cabot Paine original design (proposal "A", 1935) built by Holland Jachtbouw
2017 Svea JS1 Sweden Tore Holm Thomas Siebel, StFYC original design (1937) built by Vitters Shipyard


  1. ^ universalrule.com History of the Universal Rule of Measurement Archived March 8, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Norman L. Skene (1904). Elements of Yacht Design. The Rudder publishing company. p. 146. ISBN 978-1-57409-134-2.
  3. ^ a b "The J Class rating rule adapted from Yankee III, by Earl Boebert" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-23. Retrieved 2009-11-24.
  4. ^ Jacques Taglang. "1930–1934: Electric instruments". America's Cup AC-Clopedia. Archived from the original on 2011-07-07. Retrieved 2010-02-03.
  5. ^ Jacques Taglang. "1930–1934: An exchange of ideas, from the 'Park Avenue' to the 'North Circular'". America's Cup AC-Clopedia. Archived from the original on 2011-07-07. Retrieved 2010-02-03.
  6. ^ Jacques Taglang. "1934: The quadrilateral jib". America's Cup AC-Clopedia. Archived from the original on 2011-07-07. Retrieved 2010-02-03.
  7. ^ Clinton Hoadley Crane (1952). Clinton Crane's Yachting Memories: 60 Years as Yachtsman, Designer and Racing Authority. D. Van Nostrand Sporting, New York. [emphasis in original]
  8. ^ "J5 - Ranger History". sy-ranger.com. Retrieved 21 November 2015.
  9. ^ "Happy birthday America's Cup". BBC News. 18 August 2001. Retrieved 2015-06-19.
  10. ^ "J Class Association".
  11. ^ Charl van Rooy (2 February 2017). "Vitters launches J Class Svea". Super Yacht Times. Retrieved 2017-02-26.
  12. ^ "VIDEO: Massive J Class collision". Scuttlebutt Sailing News. 12 March 2020. Retrieved 13 March 2020.
  13. ^ "Day 1 at the Superyacht Challenge Antigua". J Class Yachts Association. 12 March 2020. Retrieved 14 March 2020.
  14. ^ "Players of the Game; Charles E. Nicholson. Designer of Shamrock V. A Builder of Yachts. Designed Famous Schooner. Is in Sole Charge. Challenger Sleek and Handsome. Very Successful at Starts". New York Times. August 18, 1930. Retrieved 2010-12-14.

Further reading[edit]