The history of early J-Class yachts – including the Whirlwind and Wettamoe — is well summarized by the J Class Association as follows:
In 1929 Sir Thomas Lipton, owner of Lipton’s famous for his import of Lipton Tea from India, issued his fifth challenge to the Americans for the America’s Cup. He commissioned the build of the first J Class Yacht which signified the start of a new era in design evolution and racing.
The Universal Rule came into effect in 1930. The size of a yacht was determined (by waterline length) and this was shown as an alphabetical list. “J” signified yachts with a waterline length of between 75 to 87 feet. The addition of the new design Bermuda mast allowed the yachts to carry a huge sail plan. Nothing so large and ‘awesome’ had been built previously. The Americans had a distinct advantage over Britain in the 1930 America’s Cup. They had the money to build four J’s over Britain’s one, yet the British yacht, Shamrock V was a hot contender.
In answer to Lipton’s challenge of 1929 the Americans designed four J-Class yachts as possible defenders. Enterprise, Whirlwind, Yankee and Weetamoe were launched within a month of each other; Weetamoe and Enterprise from the Herreshoff yard and Yankee and Whirlwind from Lawley & Son’s yard in Bristol.
Whirlwind, the second J, was the most revolutionary of the four. Francis L Herreshoff had moved away from conventional yachts and designed a boat, which took the new rule to its extreme. Whirlwind combined many new ideas and Herreshoff experimented with hull shape and rig. She was the longest of the early J’s at 86ft on the waterline and remained so until Ranger and Endeavour II were built in 1937.
She was built of semi-composite construction (the other three American Js were built out of the highly expensive Tobin bronze), was double-ended and had a permanent backstay. Uffa Fox described her profile as: “Very pleasing to the eye, the stem sweeping down to the keel in a very sweet line, and to a man who, like myself, believes that a pointed stern is a logical ending for all vessels, her stern is a joy to behold.” He predicted, “If the Yacht Racing Rules govern well and wisely, we shall see Whirlwind racing 50 years hence. If they do not she will probably be cruising then.” But Whirlwind met an early demise. Her building was delayed as she didn’t meet Lloyd’s A1 scantling rules and she wasn’t chosen to be the 1930s defender. She was often out-performed when close hauled, her steering gear making her difficult to steer. She was eventually scrapped along with Enterprise in 1935. However, her unusual double-headsail rig was later adopted by the rest of the Js.
The fourth of the American J’s was Weetamoe, which was designed by Clinton Crane and was the narrowest of the early four. Despite claims that Yankee was the best all-rounder, Weetamoe is said to have been the closest rival to Enterprise to be the Cup defender. Charles Nedwick, in Ian Dear’s book Enterprise to Endeavour, describes Weetamoe as having a profile “that is practically a triangle, with a straight line from the after end of the waterline to the bottom of the keel and thence a line which is slightly convex, and then slightly concave to the forward end of the waterline.” In an attempt to better performance and make her less tender, her profile below the water was radically altered in 1934 with a new contour and bulb keel. The alterations failed and not long afterwards were reversed. In common with the other J’s, she had about 43ft of overhang and her hull, Nicholson opined, “was the best of all the US Js”.
Edwin Levick (1869-1929) was the most renowned maritime photographer of the first half of the 20th century. He was born in England and immigrated to the United States in 1899. He started a photography business, supplying photographs to many of the leading newspapers of the day. Soon he developed the specialty of maritime photography, but continued to do so called spot news photography. He lived in New Rochelle, New York, for the last 15 years of his life. His obituary in the New York Times credited him as being “one of the first to take pictures of events and objects of news value and to supply them to newspapers and magazines. In this field of photography he was recognized as a leader throughout the United States.” Levick’s company continued with the same photography specialties for about a decade thereafter. The Mariner’s Museum, Newport News, Virginia, and the New-York Historical Society have substantial numbers of his photographs in their collections. The latter has over 200 of Levick’s large format film negatives.
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning, wear, handling
“1929-1937.” J Class Association. https://www.jclassyachts.com/history/1919-1937- (4 August 2020).
“Edwin Levick Dies at 61.” New York Times. 17 November 1929. p. 20. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1929/11/27/94212080.html?pageNumber=20 (4 August 2020).
“Edwin Levick studio photograph collection.” Archivegrid. https://researchworks.oclc.org/archivegrid/collection/data/773790216 (4 August 2020).