Enterprise to Endeavour: The J-Class Yachtsby Ian Dear
During the 1930s, in an era of elegant splendor spawned by wealthy owners, the magnificent yachts of the J-Class combined size and speed to totally dominate the yachting scene. Extensively illustrated, this fond tribute evokes an eventful decade in nautical history; the fourth edition recounts restoration efforts and reports on the current revival of interest in these peerless crafts.
Among the most beautiful competitors for the Hundred Guinea Cup were the storied J-boats, which raced for sailing's ultimate prize in the 1930's and are the subject of Ian Dear's book ENTERPRISE to ENDEAVOUR, which pays tribute to the great, towering behemoths that to many represent a Golden Age of Cup racing.
This past November the book was reissued by the Sheridan House publishing company, in part to mark the latest round of Cup competition now taking place in Auckland, and in part to complement the revival of the J class itself. Although originally published over 20 years ago, the book still captures the spirit of an era that is perhaps the most spectacular in the history of yachting.
Coming out at a time when it seemed the class was on the verge of extinction, Dear's book contains a wealth of photographs and information on the development and what then appeared to be the 'short history' of the J's. It opens with a description of the English 'Big Boats' that preceded the era, cutters for the most part like the royal family's BRITANNIA, and goes on to describe how these boats evolved into the Universal Rule-based J-class with boats over 120 feet long.
In all only 10 J's were ever constructed, but they brought together the cream of yachting including such luminaries as Sir Thomas Lipton, Harold S. Vanderbilt and Starling Burgess, as well as technical breakthroughs like the first aluminum mast and many radical new winch designs.
Although they have been cited many times before, the sheer mass of the Js resulted in some incredible statistics that bear repeating: 170-foot masts, 20-foot overhangs fore and aft, 4-foot-wide Park Avenue booms, 18,000-square-foot spinnakers and 5,000-square-foot mains made of Egyptian cotton that weighed over a ton.
Happily, the Sheridan House reprint features a revised Epilogue in which Dear reports on the current status of the class, which couldn't be more in contrast to the situation in the 1970s.
At that time it seemed as if only one, SHAMROCK, would ever sail again and that none could ever be put back into racing and I said this,' he writes of those dark days. 'How wrong one can be, and how glad I am that I was.'
Today a number of the giants are back in commission including SHAMROCK, VELSHEDA, ASTRA, CANDIDA and the book's namesake, ENDEAVOUR. Not that it wasn't a close call. Many of the Js, including all the American-built boats like WEETAMOE, RAINBOW, YANKEE and RANGER, were scrapped shortly after their racing careers ended. VELSHEDA lay for years with her keel buried in the mud. ENDEAVOUR was a rusty wreck before finally being brought back to pristine condition.
But in the end, there were sailors enough with the drive and financial wherewithal to make sure that more remained of the class than just spectacular photographs. In stark contrast to the time when it first appeared on shelves, Dear's book no longer looks back on a bygone era. Instead, it documents the first chapter in a story that appears ready to endure for years to come.
- Sheridan House, Incorporated
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Meet the Author
After serving for several years in the Royal Marines Ian Dear worked in the film industry and then book publishing. He has written a number of books on yachting history including The America's Cup: An Informal History, The Royal Yacht Squadron 1815-1985 and The Great Years in Yachting. He is currently working on a history of the Royal Ocean Racing Club to celebrate its 75th anniversary.
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