Old fashioned glamour
I’m just back from a week in Mahon, working on the J Class racing at the Maxi event there.
The Js are one of those boats that you think you know. Endlessly photographed, referred to reverentially, they are historic, stratospherically expensive museum pieces. Except they’re not, they’re race boats – that’s what they were conceived as, and now, 80-odd years on, it’s what the modern rebuilt versions are being used for: dialling up on start lines, diving in on laylines, and occasionally ditching their crew in the sea (no lifelines, remember).
Despite their grandeur, the boats are not raced tentatively. It might be have been a bit breezy and lumpy at times off Mahon – but if conditions call for an A2, then the call goes to hoist the A2, and try not to wimper thinking of the repair bill when it blows halfway down the run. The entry list was littered with Volvo and Cup veterans such as Bouwe Bekking, Andrew Cape, Ken Read, Murray Jones, Kevin Burnham and Wouter Verbraak. For many it was their first trip to Mahon, while for some of the regular J crew the Menorcan port is a familiar venue thanks to the Classic regatta hosted there. One boat captain commented that it was easier with the Js, because they were so much more manoeuvrable than the Classics. All 40 metres and 140-something tonnes of them.
Together with the Wally yachts, the three J Class yachts certainly put on a show, practising manoeuvres around the city harbour and reaching out along its narrow port channel under full sail. But they are not all for show. The best place to realise that is somewhere around the windward mark. The rope technology might be new, the winches might be hydraulic, but the power crackling through those elegant hulls as sheets are eased sounds all but untameable.