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December 28th 2010. By Diane Byrne.

Lionheart, the new J-Class Yacht

The resurgence of J Class yachts continues with this long and lovely racer-cruiser.

Anyone who follows the history of sailboat racing is likely familiar with the storied J Class yachts. They emerged after the Universal Rule (which controlled the size and displacement of America’s Cup racers) was adopted in 1930. Lacking bowsprits but boasting big, beautiful rigs, the 10 J Class contenders were unlike anything ever seen before and performed spectacularly. Their names are famous to this day: Enterprise, Yankee, Velsheda, Endeavour, Rainbow, and Ranger, just to name a few.

At 43.4 meters (142 feet), Lionheart is the longest J Class in existence.

Unfortunately, all seven of the American-built Js were scrapped. For the survivors, major restoration projects started in the 1970s and continued through the late 1990s. In 2000 the owners decided to preserve the history and integrity of the Js and formed the J Class Association. Their passion inspired a few more knowledgeable yacht owners to begin commissioning replica racers—specifically, “super Js,” as they’re commonly called, bearing the maximum waterline length permitted under the J Class rules. As a result, the past several years have seen these authentically reproduced beauties compete in the Superyacht Cup and other megayacht regattas, even against one another.

But they haven’t all been built purely to race. Some are embracing the creature comforts of today’s luxury yachts, so that they can be used for pleasure cruising as much as for competition. Perhaps the most notable super-J in this regard is Lionheart, delivered in the summer of 2010.

Lionheart’s story is as intriguing as the story of the Js themselves. She’s based on the never-built Ranger F. This was one of several alternate designs that had been created for Harold Vanderbilt, the railroad executive and skilled yachtsman, in preparation for the 1937 America’s Cup. One day in 2006, an experienced yacht owner asked Andre Hoek, the head of Hoek Design, which J Class yacht he’d want if he were to commission one for his own use. Hoek and his team analyzed all of the performance data of the original Js, including the never-built ones, and of the new yachts, narrowing it down to five. Those five were further analyzed, with Ranger F, designed by Starling Burgess and Sparkman & Stephens for Vanderbilt’s syndicate, emerging as the best overall performer. The owner then informed Hoek he’d like to build a new yacht based on that design.

Lionheart cabin

Warm, teak paneling lines the bulkheads, and nothing is fussy or overstuffed.

Measuring 43.4 meters (142 feet), Lionheart is the longest J Class in existence. She also has astounding 17-meter (56-foot) overhangs. She’s built entirely of aluminum, something the new J Class rules permits (the original Js were made of steel). Her builder, Claasen Jachtbouw, had a good working relationship with Hoek, having constructed 16 of his projects previously.

An enormous amount of research went into determining optimal longitudinal stiffness, righting moments, sail plan, and the related loads. Further research went into the mast and boom. Hall Spars, a well-known name in racing and cruising circles, built the spars in two pieces using carbon fiber. There’s also a belowdecks furler for the headsail, used for racing and cruising alike. In addition, there’s a removable inner forestay employing a manual furler for the staysail, for cruising with a Yankee staysail setup.

As much as Lionheart’s owner wanted to bring this America’s Cup design to fruition, he also wanted to make her a comfortable cruiser. He envisioned both personal trips and charter usage. No other J is available for charter, so imagine the attraction of spending a week aboard one of the most famous sailboat designs in the world. (Lionheart is the only J built in compliance with MCA regulations. She’s also built to ABS certification standards.)

For times when racing ends and cruising is on the agenda, the center and aft cockpits will be fitted with tables for dining. Guests will only get use of the center one, however; the aft cockpit is part of the owner’s private area. It’s a design element that Hoek has employed on other sailing yachts, notably Adele and Athos. Still, because of the expanse of deck space, guests won’t feel confined when Lionheart is port-hopping around her base in the south of France or offshore in a good breeze.

Lionheart cockpit

The cockpits will be fitted with dining tables while cruising.

The owner’s cockpit, meanwhile, affords a lovely location to enjoy breakfast or a nightcap at anchor. It also has direct access from the owner’s full-beam stateroom, as you might expect. That stateroom, like the rest of Lionheart’s interior, is classic in every sense. Warm, teak paneling lines the bulkheads, beautifully and simply finished. Furnishings are similar: nothing fussy or overstuffed, whether in the three guest staterooms or four crew cabins. Owner/guest and crew accommodations are separated by a combination saloon and dining area amidships.

When Lionheart debuted at the Monaco Yacht Show in September, as part of the YPI Brokerage display (a division of Yachting Partners International), she was sandwiched between far more modern-looking megayachts. Still, show-goers couldn’t help but stop and take a second look when they spied her long lines and low deckhouses. The same reaction will no doubt take place when she enters her first race, and not just from onlookers on land. As much as they may not want to admit it, her competitors could get a good, long look as she passes them on the racecourse.

Diane Byrne
Diane M. Byrne is the founder and editor of the daily updated website Megayacht News. A longtime yachting writer, she also contributes to Yachts International, Boat Exclusive, and other magazines. She is additionally a member of the International Superyacht Society Board of Directors and Vice Chair of the U.S. Superyacht Association.