Saturday, June 18, 2011

Power and Glory

As heavy rains and high winds washed away any chance of racing at the International J-Class Regatta on Friday, it gave me an opportunity to reflect on the imposing vessels sitting idle in Newport Shipyard.

The image of the J-Class has become so outsized in terms of the history of sailing that they have come to mean many things to many people. Some will look at these 130+ foot long specialized racing boats as reminders of the extravagance and excesses of a bygone era, and of men who seemed determined to ignore the widespread hardships of the Great Depression. Others will see the delicate curves, soaring masts, and acres of sail area, and become as enamored with the boats as generations of ordinary sailors and marine artists have before them.

Ranger sitting dockside

As a kid, I can remember looking at a painting of the 131-foot long J-Class yacht Rainbow which hung in the clubhouse of my summer sailing program. While most other Opti sailors hardly gave the old picture a passing glance, I could not help staring at it in fascination. On Rainbow, the distance between the tip of the bow and the point where the hull finally touched water was over 20 feet long, a distance longer than the entire length of the largest boat I'd ever sailed.

I imagined the sheer power of what I was looking at. What the groans and whines of many tons of stress on the wooden rigging must have sounded like. What it must have felt like to sail one.

When I look at these boats, I must admit that I do not think about their socio-economic, artistic or cultural implications. I simply cannot help but be amazed at what human ingenuity is capable of creating. These boats represented the highest achievements of the proud maritime industries of the United States and Great Britain up to that point. They were raced hard, and carried with them the hopes of many.

On Friday, I almost, almost, got a chance to travel back in time, and see for myself the boats that inspired and awed so many. Sadly, the weather did not cooperate. I can only hope that someday, somehow, I'll get another chance.


For a great gallery of photos from the earlier (and nicer!) days of the regatta, go HERE.

For more history about the J-Class yachts, go HERE.

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