Bermuda in June was the place to be if America’s Cup racing is your thing. The foiling America’s Cup catamarans racing on the Great Sound book-ended an equally special event – the J-Class regatta.
Going from zero to hero is what the latest J-Class yacht, Svea, did at the recent America’s Cup Superyacht regatta in Bermuda. The 43 M Vitters built yacht that had spent several months training on the bay of Palma beat five J Class winning on her second ever race. Following an impressive performance finishing third on her first outing the debutante J had an action packed subsequent race. Firstly a foredeck crew-member fell overboard in under a minute to the start. The support RIB sped to the rescue scooping up the sailor seconds prior to the gun. A downwind start north of St George’s then saw Svea gybing early to pick up pace on the fleet. As the boats settled down in a procession along the coastline led by Topaz she trailed in fifth place.
Svea’s moment of genius came when Hanuman blew out its spinnaker and stopped in front of them. With Italian Francesco Di Angelo’s tactical call the team gybed to avoid the mess and picked up clear air. The Italian’s instinct bore fruit with a knot and a half’s speed gain on the rest of the fleet which resulted in them crossing the line ahead of the Netherland’s regular winner Lionheart. Their victory over the seasoned fleet in the sixteen mile race was a huge achievement in the face of the many combined years of the J-Class regattas sailed over the last ten years.
Having hit the ground running in this regatta race tactician Charlie Ogiltree concluded: “This for us has been a two year race to be here and so that was the real race that we won. Thanks to the owner for pushing us hard and for giving us all the opportunities to complete this project for him and to launch it in January and to be here in Bermuda in June. Winning is the icing on the cake for sure”.
On numerous occasions this boat nearly didn’t reach the start line. Initial plans for Svea were shelved as priorities changed in 1937. The only J-Class lines to be drawn by former Swedish Olympic sailor and naval architect Tore Holm they became overlooked for many years. It was only when International Eight Metre class secretary John Lammerts van Bueren gained permission from Holm’s family to search through his archives for Metre yachts that he came upon the lines and sail plan. This led to Andre Hoek and a buyer to purchase them. Intensive CFD tests were made against several of the fastest J-Class in the fleet and these appeared to seriously challenge their pace.
As the largest J-Class hull neared completion the buyer had to withdraw opening up a window of opportunity for a keen sailor who had previously enjoyed the seductive experience onboard other Js. This serendipitous occasion produced a potential weapon that kissed the water for the first time early in 2017.
A slice of history was made as seven majestic thoroughbreds racing in the interlude between America’s Cup playoffs and Finals. This was more than had competed in the 1930’s heyday. To be in close proximity to these majestic sloops was magical, breathtaking. The air was sucked away from you as the fleet propelled windward to the first top mark rounding. I have photographed these yachts for the past twenty years and we would not have dreamed of witnessing the sight of seven J-Class racing.
Lionheart was in a strong position going into the J-Class competition after winning the America’s Cup Superyacht regatta overall. Seasoned racer Velsheda had a point to prove having lost the silverware to Hanuman in its previous event in St Barths. Topaz helmed by America’s Cup helmsman Peter Holmberg was enjoying its second season. Meanwhile Shamrock V, the only wholly original J built in 1930, was back competing alongside the six ‘youngsters’. Campaigned by Whitbread/Volvo Ocean race skippers Stu Bannetyne and Chris Nicholson Shamrock had just two days of training completed prior to the regatta. They were on the back foot being the smallest at 36M and lightest of the fleet yet carried the glory of being the only yacht to have competed in the America’s Cup.
Billed as a light airs regatta the wind gods did not even deliver the sufficient six knots to start a race on its opening day. As a result three races were scheduled for the following day. Fortunately champagne racing conditions were provided at Murray’s Anchorage while on the Great Sound the AC catamarans were tuning up with their pre-Finals modifications.
Loaded with America’s Cup and Olympic talent three different yachts won lines honours in each of the day’s races. Close racing in 10-12 knots produced tight first windmark mark roundings. In race one Hanuman lead off the start in the 2.2 mile W/L race with Ranger snapping at her heels with Lionheart fresh from winning the Superyacht regatta a close third. The Dutch team took their opportunity to overhaul Ranger and when Hanuman final’s gybe was messed up capitalized on their mistake to take gold.
Velsheda had a strong start on the flat turquoise water in race two and powering up the first beat to lead all the way around the course chased closely by the rocket ship Svea in second place. The newest yacht in the fleet worked left down the first run and looked to threaten the leader when the top swivel of their furling headstay failed with a bang. That concluded the Swedish titled yacht’s regatta.
Velsheda crossed the finish line first with Ranger moving up into second and Lionheart beating Hanuman on corrected time by a single second in third. After two races Lionheart, with Bouwe Bekking calling tactics, lead by one point ahead of Ranger which had scored a 3,2.
At the start of race three Topaz closed the door on Lionheart close to the committee boat resulting in the latter re-crossing the line. Hanuman had a narrow lead on the omnipresent Ranger securing a win with Topaz sailing a good final run to take third from Lionheart.
With tactics called by veteran Volvo Ocean racer Bouwe Bekking, Lionheart went into the final race one point ahead. Hanuman’s receipt of a penalty for an infringement on their way to the final mark was pivotal. The Dutch team smelt blood. Overhauling early leader Topaz, Lionheart pulled out all the stops to tail Velsheda into the finish and in so doing earned them a three point buffer and the trophy. The 1934 built Dutch entry Velsheda finished the regatta in second overall admitting that they were punching above their weight in age. The winners put in long hours of training for this light airs event and it was testament to their efforts that consistency paid off.
Celebrating the America’s Cup from two eras eighty seven years apart was a real treat and a piece of history for the hundreds of spectators present.