Five Js open St Barths batting
No one could deny that Opening Day of the St. Barth Bucket included some magic on the water. Five historic J Boats competing against each other in a traditional fleet race was a rare and beautiful sight, and the finesse with which they were handled over a 15-mile course (six windward-leeward legs at around 2.5 miles each) was impressive…and then some.
The first two legs were all about Ranger fending off Hanuman, but then Lionheart made an ambitious play to overtake Hanuman and then eventually Ranger to lead by the gate at the bottom of the second downwind leg. What happened after that could only be described as Hanuman and its well-oiled team pulling a rabbit out of their hat. “We got a break we needed at the right time,” said Ken Read, the world champion and Volvo Ocean Race veteran who helmed Hanuman. “We were trying to go left all day, and we finally got the lane we wanted.”
Lionheart, Hanuman and Ranger had seemingly sailed into a hole after going left at the gate, and when Lionheart and Ranger tacked to go right (joining the side already chosen by Rainbow and Velsheda), Hanuman continued left…and left…and left…until it found the port rhumb line to the last windward mark. They would round it a full 15 boat lengths ahead of Lionheart, with Rainbow trailing 12 lengths behind that and Ranger and Velsheda pulling up the rear. The order would carry on to the finish where Hanuman’s official finish time topped Lionheart’s by almost three minutes.
"There was a transitioning cloud line in play all day long on the left side of the race course,” said Read, who named fellow Volvo sailors in his afterguard — Kelvin Harrup, Kimo Worthington and Juan Villa— as critical minds in his team’s decisions. “It was in play both upwind and down, and it was what sprung us in the end.”
Read made it a point to say that his all-star team was also a great group of friends, including owners Kristy and Jim Clark and their special guest today, Richard Branson.
The normally pristine waters were churned by an abundance of spectator boats, and it is expected to be an even more chaotically beautiful sight tomorrow when the J Boats are joined by an additional 31 superyachts that have signed up for this edition of the famous Bucket Regatta.
Lionheart’s Captain Toby Brand summed up the spark of excitement on board his boat today that will no doubt grow into a fire by Sunday, when the racing will have concluded after four days. “Everyone has been stoked about the Bucket,” said Brand, referencing the fact that there has not been a J Boat spectacle like this since 1936 when the yachts were in their America’s Cup heyday. “We all had a special feeling as we were going out today; we talked about is as a team. Just lining up on the starting line, everybody had a lump in their throats. We were chuffed to be here and be involved and get a really good fight on the water.”
Lionheart, unlike the other J Boats here, is not an original or replica of any boat from a previous age of sail. It was built from one of three rejected designs proposed for Ranger. The Ranger DNA, however, is evident in the knuckle bow.
The Ranger here, which won the Bucket overall in 2010, is a copy of the original Ranger that was built for Harold Vanderbilt and raced 34 times in her life, winning 32 of those races. It was broken up during the second World War to use as metal for the war effort.
Rainbow was built last year and is a copy of the original 1934 Rainbow built for Vanderbilt to defeat Endeavour. The new Rainbow is the only J Boat with a hybrid propulsion system, using a lithium ion battery and two generators.
Velsheda, the only original J Boat here, was built in 1933 for W.L. Stephenson, owner of the Woolworth chain of shops. It was relaunched after a rebuild in 1997.
The aluminum-hulled Hanuman, built in 2009, is a replica of the steel-hulled Endeavour II, which was built in 1937 to battle the J Boats in the America’s Cup Race that year. She was beaten by Ranger and scrapped in 1968.
Images from Carlo Borlenghi/www.borlenghi.com