Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Elizabeth spins jeans into J's

In this recent post about the 1885 schooner Coronet I mentioned Elizabeth Meyer. I've never met her but she was pointed out to me at a Newport cocktail party the summer I worked as mate on the charter yacht Eliza. Meyer is an heiress to the Levi-Strauss fortune, a woman of means who has contributed significantly to the culture of sailing. Meyer founded the Yacht Restoration School (IYRS) in 1993 - as mentioned the IYRS is restoring Coronet. But she's best known for the stunning restoration of two J-Class yachts Shamrock V and Endeavour.

Shamrock V was built in 1930 for Sir Thomas Lipton's fifth and last America's Cup challenge. Lipton, a Scotsman, first challenged for the America's cup in 1899, with Shamrock I. He made five attempts to win the cup but never won. In 1930 Enterprise defeated the Nicholson-designed Shamrock V by as much as nine minutes. Sir T.O.M. Sopwith (a famous airplane designer in the First World War) purchased Shamrock V from Lipton in 1932 to gain experience in J Class racing. He challenged in 1933 and using his experience from Shamrock V, went on to build his challenger Endeavour - a 130-foot J Class sloop built by Camper & Nicholson at Gosport, England. In the 1934 cup race Endeavour was defeated by the NYYC's Rainbow in the best-of-seven match - a decisive victory for the Americans.

J-Class racing is a linchpin of America's Cup history and considerably richer than this brief synopsis. But what I find so amazing is that Elizabeth Meyer and her team brought these beauties of a bygone era into the modern world, an invaluable contribution. If you ever see a J-Class yacht under sail I guarantee that you will never forget the sight.

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