A Good Day to be an Old J: Velsheda Tops her Newer Counterparts
Velsheda’s clean, smart start at the race committee end of the line this morning foreshadowed her brilliant performance to come over the rest of the race and the day, as the J Class started its Bucket Regatta series and chalked up two windward-leeward (twice around) races in a testing breeze of 15-22 knots. Winning the J Class’s Kings Hundred Guinea Cup, a coveted trophy saved for a special race day at a choice regatta each year, Velsheda topped five other Js here in St. Barths. This is the largest-ever gathering of the historic yachts, which were weapons of choice in the America’s Cup during the 1930s.
Velsheda (J7) lined up against Shamrock V (J3), Hanuman (J6), Lionheart (J1), Ranger (J5) and Topaz (J8). Significant is the fact that she is one of the older J Class yachts, considered an original, while the others are mostly newer replicas. (Shamrock, the first J Class yacht ever built, is also an original.)
Velsheda was designed by Charles Ernest Nicholson and built in 1933 by Camper & Nicholsons (an industry Friend of the Bucket). In her 1930s hey-day, she represented the most advanced technical design, but by 1937 she was laid up in a mud berth on the River Hamble where she became derelict until her rescue in 1984.
“Obviously, she’s had a lot of upgrades and refits and new systems over the year, but she’s still a graceful ol’ girl: more superyacht than race yacht, really,” said Velsheda’s navigator Campbell Field. “A lot of people have invested a lot of money and time over the years in these Js, especially the new ones, to race them around the track really, really hard. We’re kind of envious of some of their systems, but we work with the tools we’ve got.”
Field said Velsheda’s symmetrical spinnaker stands out among the asymmetrical spinnakers used by the others here on downwind legs. “We’re quite comfortable with that sail, especially when the breeze is up, like today. Jibing an asymmetrical is more complicated, but our sail is easy for us to jibe, with almost no loss (of time). For us, it’s all about the pressure as opposed to the angle.”
Velsheda and Hanuman tied for first on handicap in today’s first race, but Velsheda went on to win the second race more convincingly. “We were feeling into it for the first race, which was also the first of our season,” said Fields, whose team is preparing for the J Class Worlds this summer, “but the second race, we nailed the start; we were at the line on time and up to speed, so we were pretty happy with that. To win any day is a nice day, and to have a trophy at the end of that day is the icing on the cake.”
The J Class is due to sail one windward-leeward race tomorrow at 1:30, as the rest of the Bucket fleet – 32 of the world’s most beautiful and technically sophisticated superyachts – start at 11 a.m. on a course that routes them counter-clockwise around the island of St. Barths.