Your first look at the Lionheart and you can tell she was built for racing. She is a fractional cutter rigged sloop with a 17meter overhand and a design straight from the America's Cup's history books. Mike Vanderbilt commissioned four designs each from two designers and two designs created jointly for a J-class yacht to defend the 1937 America's Cup challenge. The America's Cup defender, Ranger, was built from one of the combined plans. Decades later, the Lionheart was build from one of the alternate plans with a few modifications to fit the rules of the new J- Class Association.
J-Class Yachts- True Thoroughbreds
The J-Class yachts of the 1930s were the most advanced and most powerful thoroughbred sailing yachts of their day. They were also considered the most beautiful. If you are not currently aware of the J-Class, you will start to notice them mentioned more in the near future. The America's Cup challenge, starting in 2017, will also include a J-Class regatta. Other world class renown regattas are also inviting the J-Class yachts to participate.
In the late 1920s, yachts making challenges for the America's Cup were getting larger each year. A new set of rules, called the "Universal Rules", were drawn up. These rules used a formula of length and sail sizes to create competitive classes. "J" signified yachts with a waterline length of between 75 to 87 feet. The rules were approved in 1928 with an implementation date in 1930. In 1929, Royal Ulster Yacht Club member Sir Thomas Lipton, you may have heard of his tea, issued his fifth challenge for the America's Cup. He built the Shamrock V, the first yacht purpose built for the J-Class. The United States built four J-Class racers. The yacht Enterprise won the right to defend the cup and in a close competition won over the Shamrock. While the Enterprise may have won that race, in the long run Shamrock V can be said to have won as she is still racing today. In 1934 and again in 1937, Sir T.O.M. Sopwith of Aviation fame, made his challenges for the cup. In both cases he was meet and defeated by yachts owned by Mike Vanderbilt. The start of the war in Europe saw the end of the J-Class racers and a 21 years absence of America's Cup challenges. The J-Class was considered the most beautiful class of racers ever built, even though only ten were built. Of the ten, only three are still sailing.
The owners of the three remaining J-Class yachts met and formed an association. The J-Class Association objective is to protect the interests of the Class, and to provide a future for it. Class Rules were created for the construction of replica's from original plans. While certain modifications can be made to comply with modern safety requirements and some modern materials, the new replica's must use design plans from the original J-Class purpose built yachts.