New lease on life for classic AC racers
ZAANDAM _ When Claasen Shipyards made a corporate video this year, it cannot have spent much time thinking about what to film. The yard makes spectacular sailing yachts such as the 24m truly classic Heartbeat (left). But it also distinguishes itself by turning out towering J-Class giants. Several have been delivered in recent years. More are on their way. From Claasen and other renowned Dutch yards that have become key factors in granting a new lease on life to those monuments of America’s Cup racing of some 80 years ago.
No one drives that revival harder than Hoek Design, a Dutch design studio that entered the world of the J-Class yachts only 6 years ago. “The cool thing about the Js is that it’s almost a one-design class,” Andre Hoek says in the October issue of the Spiegel der Zeilvaart, a Dutch magazine devoted to classic sail and motor yachts. “It’s a class that generates fanatic regatta racing. After a 3 or 4-hour race, the boats finish within minutes of each other. It curdles the blood!”
After a performance analysis by Gerard Dijkstra Naval Architects of existing J’s and the designs allowed under the rules of the new J-Class Association, founded in 2000, a J Class handicap system was developed. This allows all J-Class design boats to race against each other regardless of size, sail area or hull construction. Some 20 J’s were designed between 1930 and 1937. Of the 10 built then, 3 have survived: Endeavour, Velsheda and Shamrock V.
J-Class yachts must be built based on existing J-Class hull lines. There are still 10 or so of those around, dating back to the 1930s, that have never been built. Together with Van Oossanen Naval Architects BV, Hoek crafted a VVP (velocity prediction program) for the original J-Class hulls. VPPs are used by yacht designers, boat builders, model testers, sailors and sail makers to predict a yacht’s performance before it is built or modified taking into account wind conditions and hull and sail forces.
Several Js are now under construction in the Netherlands. What has been a huge boon for the class was the J-Class Association decision to allow aluminum and other materials as hull materials. Dutch yards have much experience in building aluminum hulls. “It’ll be a tall order for other nations to catch up with our experience in aluminum construction,” says Hoek. Claasen Shipyards’ aluminum division, north of Amsterdam, has produced impressive hulls as well as superstructure sections of large motor yachts.
Borrowing from the J-Class look, Hoek has launched a new one-design racer: the F-class. It is a high-performance racer designed “to be fast on all points of sail, both in light and heavy wind.” It is an extremely powerful craft. The first, Firefly (below), was built recently at Claasen Shipyards. Construction of a second is underway.
Before J Class yachts came into existence, yachts got bigger and bigger to the point of dwarfing anything in sight. That led to a Universal Rule that capped size and displacement so yachts could be raced as evenly as possible. Hoek’s F-Class builds on the J-Class tradition but mixes in modern, high performance technology like aluminum hulls, carbon spars and rudder, composite rigging and a T-style keel holding a 30-ton bulb. The outcome is a yacht radiating timelessness: long overhangs, sleek lines and flush decks. The 35m Firefly was launched in May 2011 and debuted at the Super-yacht Cup in Palma de Mallorca that same year. Construction took 9 months only _ from the first drawing to the sea trials, an unusually short period for a super-yacht of this size.