Interiors are sumptuous, per tradition, but are limited by the narrow beam that helps to define the class. Committing to a J is a statement in the world of high-end sailing, but it is not a commitment to backward thinking. The new Rainbow, for example, is being fitted with lightweight diesel-electric propulsion. Two generators send 350Kw shaft horsepower to an adjustable-pitch propeller that can freewheel and charge the batteries while under sail on long voyages.
Michiel de Vos, an engineer at deVosdeVries design, collaborated on the interior of the Ranger replica, and he crews aboard Shamrock V. Loads are high, and unlike the more robustly built modern versions, “you can see the boat deforming,” he says. The feel of being under sail on a J is unique: “The boat is so narrow that the rail is near the water or in the water all the time, and the bow doesn’t ride over waves, it slices through them. If you’re trimming from the low side, take care.”
And yes, there are lots of bodies aboard, but everybody has a job. With the deck so narrow and with no lifelines for security, de Vos says, “You want people on-station, not running around.”
In the 1930s, each of the many bodies forward of the cockpit represented hired crew, though they weren’t paid on the scale of professional sailors today. J Class boats today sail with mixed pro and amateur crews. You don’t want to take one of these beasts around a race course without practiced pros at the core of the team, but the individuals who own the boats don’t consider it a proper sailing experience unless they have their friends along. The plan is to gather the class in-full at Cowes, England, for a pre-Olympic regatta in the summer of 2012. Get your cameras ready.