Story of the J-Class Yachts:

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Burgess-Stevens alternate design for Ranger (1936).  Drawing: 2004 CupInfo

Burgess and Stephens alternate design for Ranger, 1936
2004 CupInfo


The J-Class was adopted for America's Cup competition in 1928, looking forward to the next regatta in 1930.  The Class itself, though, dated back to the turn of the century when the Universal Rule was adopted though no J-Class yachts had yet been built.

The Rule used a yacht's various dimensions to calculate an equivalent rating in feet.  Boats of equal rated lengths could then race against each other directly without making other allowances for time or distance sailed.  Even though one yacht might have a longer length or another yacht a larger sail area, their overall configurations had to produce a rated length that met the Universal Rule for that class. Boats in Class J, more commonly today termed J-Class yachts, were the largest constructed under the Universal Rule.  The Rule actually includes provisions for an even larger type of boat, the I Class, though none were ever built.  Inquiries made in the 1930s for a Defense in the smaller K Class were rejected.

The J-Class were the first yachts in an America's Cup match to be governed by a formal design rule.  Previous defenders and challengers were only restricted by minimum and maximum lengths set forth in the Deed of Gift.  Sir Thomas Lipton, challenging in 1930 for the fifth time, had held earlier discussions with the New York Yacht Club in hopes of adopting the Universal Rule for the previous America's Cup match, intended for 1914 but delayed until 1920.  Though an agreement to use the rule was not reached for that match, the 1914 US boats, Vanitie and Resolute, still roughly followed J-Class parameters.

Building Program:

There were only 10 J-class yachts designed and built.  Additionally, several yachts of closely related dimensions, mostly 23-Meter International Rule boats, were converted after their construction to meet the rating rules of the J-Class. 

Only the purpose-built Cup yachts, though, could compete in the America's Cup.  The "converted" J-Class yachts, while acceptable for Class racing events, were not admissible for America's Cup competition.  Responding to issues that surfaced in earlier defenses, the America's Cup rules required that all boats had to be sailed to the event on their own bottom.  Some critics pointed out the possibility that the challenger might, as a result, be disadvantaged by  being of heavier construction than the defender.  In order to avoid a situation that could be perceived as an undue advantage, the NYYC eventually agreed that all America's Cup J-Class yachts would be built to Lloyds A1 standards, ensuring that defender and challenger met the same minimum construction specifications (the nautical term is "scantlings").  Most existing yachts were not built to such standards, so the Cup-eligible boats thus ended up heavier than the ineligible J's.

(The issue of challengers having to build heavier boats due to the ocean crossing was a popular, if uncertain, explanation in the British press for the long string of American victories.  In practice, a number of challengers added internal bracing for the crossing, which was then removed before racing.  And on a few occasions defenders subsequently made the crossing in reverse in search of competition following their successful defense.  The rule requiring that the challenger sail to the event on her own bottom was actually instituted in response to a super-lightweight challenger towed to the match through canals and rivers from Canada.

The J-Class Yachts

Name     Built Owner Designer Builder AC Role LWL LOA Disp. (tons) SA Disposition
Enterprise US J 1 1930 Aldrich Syndicate W. Starling Burgess Herreshoff Mfg. Co. 1930 Defender 80 120 128 7583 scrapped 1935
Whirlwind US J3 1930 Whirlwind Syndicate L. Francis Herreshoff George Lawley and Son, Boston   86 130   7335 scrapped 1935
Yankee US J
1930 Yankee Syndicate Frank Paine George Lawley and Son, Boston   84 126 148 7288 scrapped 1941
Weetamoe US J
1930 Morgan syndicate Clinton Crane Herreshoff Mfg. Co.   83 125.5   7550 scrapped 1937
Rainbow US   1934 Harold S. "Mike" Vanderbilt W. Starling Burgess Herreshoff Mfg. Co. 1934 Defender 82 127.7 141 7535 scrapped 1940
Ranger US J
1937 Harold S. "Mike" Vanderbilt W. Starling Burgess and Olin Stephens II Bath Iron Works 1937 Defender 87 135.5 166 7546 laid-up 1937; scrapped 1941
Shamrock V UK J K3 1930 Sir Thomas Lipton Charles Nicholson Camper & Nicholson 1930 Challenger 81.1 119.8 134 7540 restored
Endeavour UK J K4 1934 T.O.M. Sopwith Charles Nicholson Camper & Nicholson 1934 Challenger 83.3 129.8 143 7561 restored
Endeavour II UK J K6 1936 T.O.M. Sopwith Charles Nicholson Camper & Nicholson 1937 Challenger 87 135.8 162 7543 laid-up 1938
Velsheda   J K7 1932 W.L. Stephenson (US) Charles Nicholson Camper & Nicholson   83       survives
Other Yachts                        
Vanitie US   1914   William Gardner             scrapped 1938
Resolute US   1914   Nathanial G. Herreshoff   1920 Defender 74'11" 106'4"   8775 scrapped 1939
White Heather II UK   1907 W.L. Stephenson (US) Fife              
23M yachts                        
Cambria UK K4 1927 Sir William Berry William Fife III     80 135     survives
Astra UK K2 1928 Sir Mortimer Singer Charles E. Nicholson Camper & Nicholson           survives
Candida UK K8 1932 Hermann Andreae Charles E. Nicholson Camper & Nicholson           survives
Britannia UK K1 1893 HRH Prince of Wales George L. Watson Henderson's on Clyde   87'10" 148'0"   10,317 stripped and scuttled 1936


Enterprise Launched April 14, 1930.  Pioneered "Park Avenue" boom design.  Spruce original mast replaced by circular section double-skin duralumin mast built by Glenn L. Martin Co, May, 1930. Tobin bronze plating. Triple-headed rig. Trialed with retracting spreaders. Adversely affected by rule changes for 1934 requiring full accommodations for crew and winches located above decks.  Broken up September, 1935, at Herreshoff. Aldrich Syndicate: Harold Vanderbilt, Vincent Astor, George Baker, George Whitney, Floyd Carlisle, E. Walter Clarke.
Whirlwind Launched May 7, 1930.  Name: "Whirlwind" was also the name of a clipper ship owned by syndicate member Landon Thorne's family.  Double-ended, inspired by Herreshoff's M-Class Istalena.  Mahogany planking over steel frames.  Pine deck.  Spruce original mast replaced with duralumin.  Led J's with double-headsail rig. Electric wind-speed devices. Sold to Pynchon. Whirlwind Syndicate: Landon Thorne, Alfred Loomis, Paul Hammond. Longest J-Class until 1937. Scrapped at City Island, 1935.
Yankee Launched May 10, 1930. Yankee Syndicate: John Lawrence, Charles Francis Adams, Chandler Hovey. Spruce original mast.  Tobin bronze plating.  Triple-headed rig.  Defense Trials, 1934, modified including bow entry, slightly longer waterline, and increased sail area. Nearly beat out Rainbow for 1934 Defender.  Sold to Gerard Lambert, 1935.  Sailed to England, 1935 (only US J to do so), racing Lambert's schooner Atlantic and winning by 17 hours.  Raced in England, took eight first-place finishes in 32 races.  Defense Trials, 1937, tested single-headed rig, mast step moved forward, lowered center of ballast, larger mainsail.  Sold for scrap by Lambert (reportedly for $10,000) in April, 1941, Fall River, MA, with proceeds donated to war effort. Tender: Utility
Weetamoe Launched May 10, 1930.  Name: "Weetamoe" was an American Indian Queen;  Tobin bronze plating.  Triple-headed rig. Morgan Syndicate: George Nichols, J.P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Arthur Curtiss James, George T. Bowdoin, Henry Walters, Gerard Lambert.  Cost estimated at $300,000 for hulls, rig, and sails.  Narrowest of the four 1930 US boats. Sold to Fredrick Henry Prince, October, 1930.  Hull modified for 1934, including larger and heavier keel; believed to be slower, later restored to original configuration.  Weetamoe also raced in the off-years between defenses.  1930 Tender: Emblane.
Rainbow Last Herreshoff-built America's Cup boat.  Duralumin mast built by Glenn L. Martin Co.  Adopted bending boom design. Bar rigging.  Scrapped August, 1940, Fall River, MA. Reportedly brought $12,000.
Ranger Design based on Burgess's scheme derived from models tested in Stevens Institute towing-tank during partnership work with Olin Stephens; final design has elements of both men's ideas; design lines established by August, 1936; keel laid December, 1936; cost $500,000; steel hull, flush riveted;  heat-treated steel rod shrouds; translucent bakelite deck inserts; lost mast on delivery cruise off Cape Cod; replaced with new in 21 days; used wheel, rigging and sails salvaged from Rainbow and Enterprise (same No. 1 main was used on all three); Vanderbilt's 3 J's all used the tender Bystander, which also served the 12M defender candidate Vim in 1958, and challengers Gretel (1962) and Dame Pattie (1967);  Launched May 11, 1937;  Bath Iron Works Hull # 172; built at cost; funded solely by Vanderbilt; named for US frigate Ranger commanded by John Paul Jones; largest displacement J-Class; Hauled at end of 1937 and never sailed again.  Sold for scrap May, 1941, bringing $12,000.
Shamrock V Built at Camper & Nicholson yard in Gosport.  Mahogany planking over steel frames, yellow pine deck; teak stem, stern posts, and counter-timbers; hollow spruce mast, elliptical section; lower sail area but greater rig height relative to other J's; Extensively tuned up in England before 1930 Challenge; Sold to Sopwith 1932; modified by Sopwith including hull and rudder; Sold to Sir Richard Fairey; Sold to Mario Crespi post-war; Sold to Piero Scanu 1962; renamed Quattrofoglio (spelling uncertain but roughly "Four Leaf" in Italian as a play on her original name); ketch-rigged?; Appeared in movie "Swept Away"; Rebuilt at C&N 1967-70; Sold to Lipton Tea Co. 1986, donated to Newport Museum of Yachting; Restored under Elizabeth Meyer 1989, rig, bulwarks, deckhouse rebuilt to original; sold to Newport Yacht Restoration School 1995; sold to Newport Shamrock V Corp 1998; refit 2000 at Pendennis, under Gerard Dykstra; sold to Marcos de Maraes, Brazil. Lipton had a 23M yacht also named Shamrock, sometimes confused with his America's Cup boats.  The 23M was broken up in 1933.
Endeavour Steel hull, Steel mast, originally "North Circular" bending boom, later "Park Avenue" boom; Originated use of double-clewed "quadrilateral" jib; Sold to Herman Andrae; Chartered to Sopwith for 1936; Broke loose from tow mid-ocean returning to England, missing and feared lost, September 1937; Laid up 1937 Camper & Nicholson; Sold for scrap 1947 to Charles Kerridge Limited, intent to scrap keel for lead content, but hull reprieved; sat as abandoned hulk for decades; sold for 10 pounds in 1970's; owned by British Maritime Trust 1973-77; John Amos and Graham Jack 1978-80; John Amos 1980-83; restoration started; sold to Elizabeth Meyer 1984; restored by Meyer, with Gerard Dykstra as designer, work completed at Royal Huisman and re-launched in 1989; sold to Dennis Kozlowski (2000), yacht based in Newport, RI; sold to Cassio Antunes (2006) for reported $13.1 million USD, apparent plan to base in Cayman Islands and Cascais, Portugal.
Endeavour II Launched June 8, 1936.  Greatest LOA, tallest rig (158 ft. from deck).  Flush-plated steel hull. Steel framing, planking, mast, wood Park Avenue boom.  Steel centerboard.  Pine decks.  Launched and trialed in 1936 for 1937 challenge.  Twice dismasted in 1936 trials. Laid up 1937 Camper & Nicholson; Sold for scrap 1947 to Charles Kerridge Limited, intent to scrap keel for lead content.  Hulk remains to be broken up in 1968.
Velsheda Only J-boat not designed to compete in America's Cup; Steel mast; reused material from smelting White Heather II's keel;  Ends modified 1935;  Name combines Stephenson's daughters Velma, Daphne, and Sheila; (laid up 25 years?); Restored Terry Brabant 1983, maintaining very original condition; Sailed as charter;  Sold to Swiss owner, refit stalled for lack of funds;  Laid up Gosport; Sold in 1996, major refit 1996-7 at Southampton Yacht Services under Gerard Dykstra, interior, CF rig, sails, modernized, but less authentic; Current owner Ronald de Waal.  
Vanitie A 1920 Defender Candidate, Vanitie lost to Resolute in 1914 trials (defense postponed) and 1920 trials, losing 7-4 in final 1920 selection series. Owned by Alexander Smith Cochran.  Not designed as a J, but altered after construction to rate as a J; not acceptable for AC as a J-Class yacht because lightweight, not Lloyd's A1. Sold to Gerard Lambert, 1928. Trial horse 1930 and 1934 America's Cup defender trials. Laid-up at Herreshoff Mfg. and scrapped there in 1938.
Resolute Converted to schooner rig in the 1920s; Not designed as a J, but altered after construction to rate as a J; not acceptable for AC as a J-Class yacht because lightweight, not Lloyd's A1.  Sold to E. Walter Clarke.  Laid-up at Herreshoff Mfg. and scrapped there in 1939. Beam 21'11", draft 13'9".
White Heather II Converted to J rating in 1930.  Established Nicholson's reputation in big racing yachts.
Cambria Cambria shares name with First Challenger to a US Defender, 1870; Sold to Mike Sears (US, McDonnell-Douglas) 1972; Sold to Charlie Whitcombe (NZ) 1987; Sold to AUS restoration Group (Denis O'Neil, John David, Iain Murray) 1994; refit `99?; for sale 2000 ($7.5 M); rated as a J-Class, 2003, though she was not rated as such in the 1920s and 30s.
Astra Not designed as a J, but altered after construction to rate as a J in 1931; raced well as J in light weather; Sold to Sir Howard Frank; sold to Hugh Paul, 1930; sold to Italian ownership 1950, converted to Yawl rig; Gian Carlo Bussei led restoration 1987 at Cantieri Navali Becooncini, La Spezia, Italy.
Candida Sailed poorly under J rating, converted to yawl Norlanda by Nicholson for Italian Owner; restored 1989.
Britannia Launched April 20, 1893; Defeated America's Cup Defender Vigilant in fleet racing on the Clyde, 1894; Built for HRH Albert Edward, Prince of Wales; Sold to private owners, 1897;  Bought back in 1902, after the Prince had acceded to the throne as Edward VII; Passed to his son George V after Edward's death in 1910; Rated after construction as 23M; not designed as a J, but altered in 1931, converted to "Marconi" rig, sail area 8,700 sf, triple-headed, and rated as a J; modified to double-headed-rig and Park Avenue boom in 1935; Scuttled off the Isle of Wight by Edward VIII, July 9, 1936, as per wishes of his father, George V, who did not wish to see the yacht live on to a life of decline once he was gone.


Conceived at the height of the affluent 1920's, the J-boats arrived during the Great Depression.  They required enormous crews, and, despite expert attention to their technical details, still broke an astonishing number of masts.  While they were in most regards the most advanced sailing yachts yet built, and they were  indeed powerful sailing thoroughbreds formed in sleek lines that can race the pulse of almost every viewer, the glorious J's proved too extravagant for their own good.  Most had very limited sailing careers outside of America's Cup.  Ranger, whose 1937 cost was upwards of $500,000, was laid-up at the end of her debut season and never sailed again.  All of the American J's were scrapped between 1935 and 1941. Most of the British J's were either abandoned or scrapped.

When NYYC sought to revive the America's Cup in the 1950s, there was a faction that favored returning to the J-Class.  Mike Vanderbilt even stated that not only would he like to see the Cup contested in the large boats, but that if so he would consider rebuilding a new Ranger to the design of the original.  Still, another faction hoped for smaller dual-use yachts that could be used in offshore racing when the Cup year was ended.  With cost estimates for a 1958-era J starting around three million dollars, the impulse for a J-Class defense faded away in the face of economic pressures and a compromise was reached to sail the America's Cup in International Rule 12-Meters.

Endeavour in Newport, 2004
Photo 2004 CupInfo
  Out of nine America's Cup J's, only two survive today: Shamrock V, the 1930 Challenger, and Endeavour, the 1934 Challenger.  Velsheda, distinguished by being the only yacht built as a J-class though not intended for America's Cup, is intact and sailing, too.  Of at least seven other boats that were rated as J's, two remain: Cambria, and AstraCambria was originally a 23-Meter International Rule yacht, but later altered to rate as a J. The surviving boats have all had extensive restoration and re-building. Endeavour was rescued from near oblivion, too delicate to move without structural reconstruction.

The J-Class Resurgent

J-Class rigs today are no longer built of wood or dur-alumin, but with modern lightweight composites.  Their sail technology is long past being canvas duck, and many other subtle changes have been made to make the ongoing maintenance and operation of these yachts a realistic proposition.  Still, the J-Class owners have gone to great lengths to insure the integrity of the boats.  The J-Class is self-administered, rather than governed by an outside organization as is the case with almost all other classes.  This allows the members to more easily adapt the rules in order to serve the needs of these uniquely historic yachts.

Most of the surviving J's are available for charter.  Cambria was reportedly for sale in 2000.  Endeavour changed hands in 2006 for a reported $13.1 million USD, though as her former owner Dennis Kozlowski said, "No one truly owns Endeavour.  She's a part of yachting history.''

Recreations, Replicas, and a Tender:

For decades, most yachting fans thought that we would never again see the likes of these boats again, the few survivors would sooner or later fade away, and the whole history would be reserved for books and fading photographs, but following the restoration of the surviving hulls rumors grew throughout the late 1990's and early 2000's about building "new" J's.  In 2001, all of this dock talk began to become reality:

Wooden Boat magazine, March/April 2001, described a "Dutchman" who had commissioned a new Ranger built to the original's plan.  This incredible rumor came true, and a piece of lost sailing history was brought back to life.  The new version of this "Superboat", as Mike Vanderbilt once called her, was officially launched in October, 2003. 

Designed by Studio Scanu and Reichel-Pugh, and built by Danish Yachts, Skagen, Denmark, she is not an exact replica of the original. Some would term her a re-interpretation, as a number of changes were made including greater freeboard, and Ranger's original designers did not participate in the project.  The new Ranger first competed head-to-head against other J's in Antigua, Spring, 2004.  It took some additional adjustment after launch by her owners and designers to seek the proper trim that would make her float on her lines, an essential step in the process of being officially rated a J-Class yacht.  Visit the Ranger Website for more info.  J-Class Management is also at work on a restoration of Bystander, tender to the original Ranger.

Endeavour II
An Endeavour II replica is being built at Royal Huisman Shipyard, with a planned 2008 launch date.  Gerard Dykstra and Partners is leading the project, which features a lightweight Alustar (aluminum alloy) hull and carbon-fiber mast.  See additional photo at Yachtspotter

Drawing: 2008 Dykstra & Partners
New J-Class Yacht Rainbow
(click image to view large pdf)

Based on an unbuilt alternate design by Starling Burgess and Olin Stephens II that was considered for 1937's America's Cup defender Ranger, this new boat is being built at yards in the Netherlands for an expected 2008 launch.  Lionheart will be the longest J-Class yacht when completed.
See more including photos of the completed hull at the Lionheart Website and the story of sailing onboard including photos and videos Cruising J-Class Style Aboard Lionheart at Yachting World
Designer:  Hoek Design
Builders: Bloemsma Aluminiumbouw and Claasen Jachtbouw BV

Tore Holm's unbuilt 1937 design, said by some to be faster in the test tank than any of the original boats, is being pursued by Hoek Design

Name To Be Announced
In late March 2008, reports of another replica about to begin construction appeared on the Classic Boat website.  Whether this is one of the known projects, such as Svea, above, or yet another replica about to become reality, such as Rainbow, below, should become known shortly.

In late May, 2008, Dykstra and Partners announced that a new build of the 1934 America's Cup Defender Rainbow was underway, with an expected launch date of 2010.  Read the Press Release

Other projects:
Hoek Design is also studying replicas of 1930's Enterprise and another boat from Yankee designer Frank Paine.  Yankee herself has also been rumored as a new project, as well.  Earlier reports of a Ranger alternate-design carrying the name of Seawolf may have been referring to the project that has become Lionheart, see above.  Whirlwind and Weetamoe are the only two designs of the original ten J's that aren't known to be sailing, building, or under serious consideration as of 2008.  The J-Class website points out that there are 10 unbuilt J designs from the 1930's, so the possibilities for more J-Class yachts are intriguing.

Yachting World reported in May, 2003, that construction was underway on a yacht replicating the famous G.L Watson design Britannia.  Photos showed a nearly completed hull at Solombala Shipyard, in Arkhangel, Russia, and included interviews with the yacht's owner Sigurd Coates of Norway.  The design was adapted by Cesil Stephansen from published plans.  The original designer's modern descendent company, G.L.Watson & Co., Ltd., has no involvement with the Arkhangel boat.  Little was been heard of this ambitious project for years, until the yacht was finally launched only to become subject of a financial dispute, trapping her in Russia until 2009, when she "escaped" to Norway. 

In the Spirit

A similar project to return elegant yachts to competitive racing, the W-class, was set in motion by Donald Tofias, an American enthusiast.  He commissioned naval architect Joel White to design a new class with lines evocative of famous racing yachts like the New York 50's and the J-Class.  The first two boats, Wild Horses and White Wings, were built in Maine of modern cold-molded wood construction and launched in 1998.  It is Tofias' aim that there will eventually be a whole fleet of the beautiful W-class to regularly compete against each other.  The one-design W-76 is actually similar to the New York 50's.  Tofias' long-range plans involve a range of classes including 46, 62, 76, 105, and 130.  The 130's would be nearly identical in basic dimensions to the J-class. See the W-Class Website.

Additional Links:
Chris Cameron onboard Ranger at Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, 2010: Photo Gallery

Web Sites of Particular Interest:
The J-Class Association
J-Class Management, Inc.


Further Notes:

The Royal London Yacht Club made and withdrew its inquiry for a K-Class challenge in 1935.  The intent had been to reduce costs, not the least of which was hoped to be a lower velocity of mast replacement, but the K-Class line of thought was rejected for several reasons.  For one, the K-Class wasn't so much smaller than the J-Class as to have clearly led to significant savings.  Additionally, no K-Class yachts existed on either side of the Atlantic while several J's of various pedigree were available for testing, training, and racing in 1935.  Also a factor was that the NYYC was already actively considering another challenge at the time the RLYC began their communication  about the K-Class and it was the NYYC's policy to consider only one challenge at a time, in keeping with the Deed of Gift.

Sailing to the Event on Own Bottom:
This provision of the Deed of Gift was at times strictly interpreted to the the degree of making sure that the challenging yacht actually was under her own sail while traveling to the match, not towed by another boat.  Challengers returning across the Atlantic after Cup matches concluded were sometimes towed for convenience. Eventually the NYYC agreed at various times to permit towing the yachts to the match, particularly when conditions were light, and in 1956, for the coming of the 12-meter yachts in 1958, the Deed of Gift was amended to eliminate the requirement.


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