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Posted by on Jan 28, 2011 in Racing Sailboat, Sailboat Racing, Sailing, UK, US |

J Class Racing Comes to Newport and the Solent

Two hundred tons, 140 feet overall, the J Class racing yachts are gearing up for serious racing.

Three J Class yachts — both originals and recreations of originals — will race on Narragansett Bay in June, 2011 in a regatta staged by Sail Newport, Regatta Partners, and the J Class Association. These 140-foot designs competed for the America’s Cup in Newport in the 1930s, and they have long defined the ultimate look of a classic yacht—long-ended, low-slung, with enormous sail area. Come June, we can watch Velsheda, Shamrock V, and the re-created Ranger duel on the Bay. A year later, an even larger fleet is expected to race a series of regattas in the U.K., including a race for a new Hundred Guinea Cup. (It is no coincidence that it will bear the same name as the trophy won 160 years ago by America, the schooner for which the America’s Cup then took it’s name).

J Class yachts are sometimes called "racing submarines".

J Class yachts are sometimes called "racing submarines".

David Pitman, secretary of the J Class Association, made these announcements last night at Newport’s Jane Pickens Theater at an evening honoring the class. The event was hosted by Sail Newport, which will be the official organizing authority for the event, according to Brad Read, SN’s executive director who emcee’d the evening. Read also introduced the three members of Regatta Partners who are producing the event—Bill Morton, Bob Peck, and Nick Downs.

Pitman’s presentation of the J Class’s 81-year history began with its heyday in the 1930, 1934, and 1937 America’s Cup campaigns and ranged from how wet the boats were for the 30-strong crews to how many replicas are now under construction or recently finished. (The latest, Lionheart, was recently launched and profiled on Yachtworld.com “Lionheart, the new J-Class Yacht“.)

VIPs and speakers at the J Class event included (l to r) David Pitman, Bill Morton, Brad Read, Keith Stokes, Governor Lincoln Chafee, Nick Downs, and Bob Peck.

VIPs and speakers at the J Class event included (l to r) David Pitman, Bill Morton, Brad Read, Keith Stokes, Governor Lincoln Chafee, Nick Downes, and Bob Peck.

The J Class presentation was the main event of the evening, but leading up to it, Read recounted the 11th-hour near-miss of a broad-based coalition to bring the America’s Cup to Rhode Island in December, as well as the positive results that have stemmed from that effort, including planned improvements to the waterfront facilities of Fort Adams State Park. Read showed an exciting video of the foiling Moth Class (here’s the You Tube link) and announced that the International Yacht Restoration School is building a couple of these exotic carbon-fiber boats to get Sail Newport youth jazzed about sailing. (IYRS has a new composites technology program.)

After that, Brad gave his brother Ken Read the stage in the form of a video update on the Puma building program in neighboring Portsmouth, Rhode Island, for the next Volvo Ocean Race. The new boat is scheduled to be complete in April. Brad pointed out that Puma has spent $20 million in the state over the last two years, making it the second biggest sailing program in the country, behind Larry Ellison’s Oracle team.

Keith Stokes, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation spoke in support of re-establishing Newport’s pre-eminence as a world-class regatta host, and newly inaugurated Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee also took the stage to describe Rhode Island’s sailing venue, sailors, boatbuilders, sailmakers, and sparbuilders as the “best.” Referring to the J Class, the Governor asked rhetorically why Rhode Island shouldn’t have the best boats, too.

All in all, it was a pleasant evening. With a foot of snow outside on the streets, the evening put more than 200 sailing fans in the mood for warmer weather and a J Class spectacle in June. I spoke with Dan Jackson, former captain and current manager of Ranger, and he said they planned to put a turning mark right in front of Fort Adams. Should be fun to have a ringside seat while three crews of 30 in rapid succession either douse or set their 10,000-square foot spinnakers.

John Burnham