J Class…or J24 ?

A post written for the sailing facebook group.  This will almost certainly be my last blog post of the year as i will be taking a short break from writing over the holidays.  At the end of the main post is my 3rd video log as i get into the habit of filming and talking to the camera.

In the sailing facebook page members frequently post photographs, most often other photographers work, of J class yachts, superyachts, high end maxi-yachts and so on. Many members then respond with ‘likes’ and the equivalent of ‘oohs and aah’s although just recently one member responded to one photograph with a comment disparaging the sheer cost of such an object and that the amount of money would have been much better used to improve maybe some of the genuine problems in the world….poverty perhaps.

Now i know that neither photograph in the post are either of a J class yacht or a J24, the unknown superyacht just happened to be on one of the moorings in the Dart last year and the very sweet gaffer is SV ‘Joy’ which i think is a Falmouth punt design.  The point is that one is a privately owned monstrosity and one is the kind of boat that many working people could afford to run.

I rarely comment on these kind of posts and these photographs because i don’t particularly like the boats or what i see as the ethos behind them.  Nor do i particularly like superyachts although i still have a liking for the modern maxi’s because they are the natural development of the kind of boats i once raced on myself.  I also find that social media platforms such as facebook aren’t good platforms to have discussions and arguments about anything to do with sailing because the very media itself tends to run to only very short , often snarky responses rather than nuanced arguments.  For those that remember there was a bit of to and fro snarky-ness recently about a post that was extolling an all female event and that one effectively ended with ill considered personal attacks on the character of the responders.

To rely reply to a post with a detailed or nuanced response takes time, effort and usually a lot of carefully thought out words.  I write nearly every day, my goal being 3,000 words a day and that is an essential discipline for a writing/photographing blogger.  My daily routine when not working and not sailing or working on my boat is to put in about 3 hours solid work on new material every day and to do some editing and tidying up of posts.  I often use older posts of my own to answer a question or add meat to a post on the fb group .  This post then is a kind of response to one comment which was a negative one about one superyacht although we do regularly see similar comments about the world of sailing’s current ugliest boat ever….and presumably one of the most expensively built.

So look, i don’t like J class yachts as they are today : what i see as high end luxury toys owned by very competitive and generally disagreeable people but built beautifully by dedicated craftsmen and sailed by skilled professionals.   Back in the late 1980’s i regularly sailed past Endeavour when she was sat on the hard at Calshot being slowly re-plated by an enthusiastic and hopeful owner.  Also the old Velsheda was still working as a kind-of charter boat and i went aboard her a couple of times, nearly once helped out in crewing her. In those days she was in a pretty rough state but it was possible to see what the J class would have been like as working race boats…..more like the stripped out maxi’s that i knew well rather than the over-decorated luxury craft they are today.

Many years ago my absolute passion in sailing were the IOR maxi yachts of that period : boats like Condor, Kialoa , the big Whitbread ketches , Steinlager and F&P and so on.  Of course i was aware that these were very expensive boats to build and even more expensive to campaign offshore.  One time i got into conversation with a private maxi-boat owner and i was staggered even then by the cost of running a secondhand/second string one.    On the one hand i could see that it needed a huge accumulation of personal wealth to get to a point where someone could contemplate having such a boat designed and built and that amount of wealth would have to be inherited or created, usually through business.  I am not and never will be a businessman….just not competitive enough, hard working enough and nowhere near tough minded enough to be successful in business.  Funnily enough it is the very same personal traits needed to be successful in business that also make for cup winners : tough, competitive, ruthless , highly conscientious workers but also highly disagreeable people.

There is a saying attributed to Jim Kilroy, owner of several maxi’s named Kialoa which goes something along the lines of “i don’t call them maxi boats i all them marxi boats”.  What he was referring to, i believe, is that yes it takes a whole load of accumulation of wealth by one person to have designed and built a maxi yacht but then that the wealth essentially spreads out again .   It’s not just the designer and builder that gets a cut either think of every component from engines through rig, sails and electronics and there is s huge ‘tail’ being supported by that one mans wealth.  It’s not just the benefits to the direct economy that pays the wages of boatbuilders , sailmakers and the like but also that everyone who crewed those boats benefited directly.  Many would have been professional crew over the years that Kilroy ran race boats and hundreds of other young sailors would have got sailing time on big boats and probably some decent contribution to their sailing funds as well.

I definitely come from one side of the tracks, and that’s the side where i aspired to being a crewmember on a maxi-yacht.  I did eventually get there, not because of my awesome sailing prowess (not) but because i had other useful skills : mainly that i could mend people at a basic level and knew how to splice big wire to big rope.  I sailed in a Whitbread race so i have done my serious time with maxi’s and many of my friends from that period are now the same people who run J class boats and super-maxi’s. Unlike many of them i had a distinct moment of ‘Satori’ when i suddenly realised that the world of superyachts and big classics didn’t just make me uncomfortable but actually quite viscerally nauseous.  It was a pretty strange experience and right then i knew i had to walk away from the industry.     Today of course i am just another small boat owner like the hundreds around this coast that just about keep themselves afloat on a tiny budget , a wing, several prayers and a lot of hard, dirty work.

Whichever way i look at it though i just don’t like luxury superyachts and the world of status symbols and naked displays of wealth that they imply.  I certainly don’t like the world of service culture to pampered owners and guests although i often get along fine with the professional crews that chose to live that way.  There is, i think, a genuine problem with displays of wealth that shout that loud and i think it comes down to something that is becoming worse in the world : that the already rich are becoming much richer and the poor much poorer (relatively speaking).  It seems to be most noticeable in corporate structures where the salary of the CEO isn’t hundreds but often thousands of times greater than a lowly employee….that’s never a good look when to have a job, pay taxes and still not make ends meet is a reality for many.  Then when we also find that the CEO is on a massive bonus for maximally cheating the tax system and that the tax burden then is heaped on lower end workers is a hard smack in the teeth. That can only foster resentment and it is the basis for much crime.  Right now as i write it is partially that sense of unfairness coupled with naked resentment that is driving protests and riots in one European country.

Some would say that a sailing boat of any size is luxury toy and even i have experienced the ‘it’s alright for some’ kind of attitude when i talk about my little boat.  I don’t think it scales well though, to own that boat i have to make other sacrifices as do many other small boat owners.  Nor do i have a crew maintaining the boat for me and pandering to my every desire.  If i need to get work done i have to do it myself, want the boat to look smart ? then i have to wash and polish it.  Funnily enough there is an analogy with horse-riders/owners and i heard this from a colleague….that to own a horse as a ‘normal’ ie non-wealthy person is to shovel lots of sh*t on a daily basis….i get it, i really do.

So i don’t particularly like the J class, don’t even admire them as objects now. I happen to think that from raw, powerful racing boats they have become over fussily outfitted luxury apartments that also sail.  I guess my version of the J class are the modern racing super-maxi class and i would still feel at home aboard boats such as Rambler, Wild Oats and the like…tech but not ‘prettyfied’ inside.          Those, to be sure are very expensive machines.  I guess the way it falls is that if we want to have boats like that to crew on and race then they have to exist and the only way of getting to that is through the wealth produced by successful business.  I can’t help but wish that more of their owners had a more ethical approach to their low paid employees, paid their corporate taxes and didn’t just ‘willy-wave’ their wealth and status in our faces so much.

And breathe !

Vlog 3, back in the workshop.

The well named ‘Joy’ , also on the Dart this year.

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4 Comments

  1. You’ve probably seen this Steve but as an antidote to the J Class, it takes some beating:

    Freedom for Tooting and all that 😉

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    1. I hadn’t seen that and wasn’t aware of it……from being Mr Smartly attired corporate maxi-yacht captain i seem to have turned out much more like the infamous ‘Old Harry’. I’m surprised so far that i haven’t got outraged flak for the post, maybe people just don’t care !

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  2. I’m sure you and Old Harry would have a good yarn off-watch.I thought that your post was fair minded. I agree such conspicuous displays of wealth are vulgar and despise the obsequious service culture that goes with it. Perhaps people aren’t bothered? I’d say the majority have more respect for money and success than for a person’s worth as a human being. This sums it up for me:

    I console myself with the thought that we all go the same way in the end not matter how comfortably rich and down right disagreeable we’ve been on the the journey there.

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    1. I’m sure you realise that the unedited version of that post was a right old rant !. The actual moment i suddenly became very uncomfortable with the whole high-end sailing scene did actually happen and it was during a classic yacht regatta at Cowes IOW. The funny thing is that we had a yachting journalist on board our boat (Adrian Morgan) and he wrote a piece in one of the sailing magazines at the time expressing similar sentiments. Not long after that i packed my sea-bag and literally walked away from the boat i was working on. To go with the post i was trying to find a video interview of professional skipper Ken Read talking about his job of running a super-maxi. Those are the kind of boats, rather than the J class, that i would logically have moved on to…….he made a very telling statement about the role of young crew coming into that side of sailing and it was along the lines that the job is all about serving the owner’s needs/wishes and nothing to do with the crew also enjoying the racing. There is a lot of fantasy talk about what boat people would own as an ultimate boat….of course J class and superyachts feature highly…….i totally disagree and simply because of 2 things : those kind of boats can’t do what mine can and secondly i actually enjoy the fun and challenge of tinkering and running the boat on an absolute shoestring. Yes, i also fantasise about an ultimate boat and it would probably be finding a designer like Nigel Irens and having the ultimate canoe-yawl built.

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