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History of the J’s

As a child growing up in Maryland, where my summers were spent on the Chesapeake Bay, sailboats have always held a special allure for me. I got my first taste for sailing on my own Sunfish (it counts, right?), but I also had the privilege of being a passenger on and an onlooker to some truly stunning sailboats that set across the bay.

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When I set my mind to photographing my new Sail: Majesty at Sea collection, I knew I wanted to focus on a fleet of sailboats that were nothing short of exceptional. The boats photographed for this collection include some of the most storied sailboats in history, including the J-Class, a wooden racing yacht first pioneered by Britain’s Sir Thomas Lipton of Lipton tea fame in 1929.

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Lipton was a legendary America’s Cup competitor, but had lost the Cup by a small margin in 1920. Determined toward victory for 1930’s race, he, with the help of boat builder Charles Ernest Nicholson, set about designing the J-class, the largest sailboat of its time but one that incorporated novelties seen only in smaller boats.

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Lipton’s Shamrock V did not succeed in the win, but it inspired many J-class yachts that followed, including four built by Americans, all revered for their craftsmanship and ingenuity. Sadly, the majority of J-Class yachts were scrapped during World War II, when steel and lead had become scarce. By the 1980s, only three J-class boats had survived. Thanks to the booming economy of the 80s and 90s, these boats were meticulously restored by dedicated sailing enthusiasts. I am so grateful to them for giving me the opportunity to capture the beauty of Lipton’s boat Shamrock V, as well as 1930s era boats Rainbow and Velsheda in this series.

Click here for more information on the enduring J-class, or here to learn about the history of America’s Cup.

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