As I told you, my son Jan is a professional yachtsman and, evidently, spends a lot of time at sea. But such is the world today that he is obliged to spend a lot of time in the air also to get to the races where he has been invited. From sleepy Baltimore in Ireland he has just arrived in Newport, R.I. to sail in a yacht totally different from ultra modern ‘Rambler’ of a week ago. This time the vessel in which he will be sailing is a lot larger and very much older.

She is ‘Velsheda’ and she was built in 1933 as one of the famous J-class yachts. If you google ‘yacht Velsheda’ you’ll find out all about this splendid craft of 40m. long. A few of these old timers, J-classers have been restored at a hell of a cost to us non billionaires. At times I wonder whether it can be defended morally that some people can afford to spend countless millions on sailing vessels that are no good for fishing or cargo carrying. Alright, I know I repeat myself, so what, it’s my blog! It doesn’t take much of a think though to understand that without these rich blokes we would never have had the research that made possible those powerful sails, masts and hulls that Jan and his pals are sailing in today.

Around my Cape of Good Hope that I’m looking at now, the year around fabulous sailing craft, mono- and multihulls come racing along at speeds sometimes close to 40 knots, all trying to break some record and break them they do! These courageous men and women, yes, the ladies are getting very good at it, google Dee Caffari !, would not be able to perform these feats without carbon fibre and sailcloth developments and a great deal of money was needed to get there. (Amazingly the Cape town people are not aware of all this, least the Cape Times, a parochial rag, except of course when one of the chaps breaks and has to limp into port. Then the scribblers are soon slavering around the stricken boat and crapping drivel the next day in their badly printed sheets.)

To come back to a better scented subject, a tremendous amount of effort has been necessary to get from a superb Velsheda of seventy years ago to today’s great racing machines. ‘Rambler’ might be sent to New Zealand to be repaired because the owner wants to sail the Sidney Hobart Race. All that money, you might say, yes, but you can be sure that that bloody broken keel is going to be studied like no other and the next lump of steel used for keels will be far better.

Michel Angelo’s ‘David’ would never have seen the light of day if the rich Medici family had not bought for him such a great chunk of perfect marble. ‘Velsheda’s first owner was the boss of Woolworth, not a pauper either, he had one of the first aluminium masts made out of beaten and riveted sheets.

Aesthetically, I must admit that I have a far greater appreciation for designs such as Velsheda and similar craft of that epoch and once bought an expensive book with lots of plans of these kind of vessels. It is Dixon Kemp’s Manuel of Yacht And Boat Sailing and Yacht Architecture. I’m selling that book now and if it interests you, go into my rare books heading and I’ll show you all you’ll need to know about this amazing book. Watch it! its not cheap either.


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