By John Hanks III
The AMYA J Class began life in 1974 around a 1/20th (5/8 in. equals ft.) semi-scale
fiberglass model of the J Class yacht Whirlwind produced by Vanguard Products in
Pewaukee, Wisconsin. As near as I can find out from the material that I have, the driving
force behind the Whirlwind model was Chuck Millican. By early 1975 there was enough
interest in the J models that a provisional class was formed, with Rod Carr as the first
Class Secretary. When the class was officially recognized in mid-year 1975, John Nobel
had become the Class Secretary. The first Association Class Championship Regatta
(ACCR, now called a National Championship Regatta), was held on September 13-14,
1975, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Nine boats, all Whirlwinds, competed in the regatta with
Chuck Millican winning the event.
The Whirlwinds were big by model boat standards. The hulls were 7 ½ feet long, with 8
foot masts. The boats carried about 2,500 sq. in. of sail with a main boom 3 ft. long and
they weighed about 65 lb. ready to go in the water. Their size limited their appeal to
modelers but there was enough interest for the class to grow.
The class did grow, with 49 boat owners on the roles by the end of 1976. That same year
Chuck left Vanguard and moved to New Hampshire. The model manufacturing business
went with him and he began producing models under the Whirlwind Model Yachts
banner. By the end of 1976 there had been more than 180 Whirlwind models sold by both
Most of the sailing activity at that time was in the Midwest, with some growth occurring
in the Northeast. Class activity had begun to decline by the beginning of 1977 so that
class registrations had dwindled to just 14 that year. John Nobel decided to leave as the
Class Secretary and Whirlwind Model Yacht ads were no longer appearing in the AMYA
Quarterly Newsletter. The class was then dormant until 1978.
John Garbarino took over as the J Class Secretary and rejuvenated the class. By this time
most of the sailing activity was taking place in the Northeast, with some interest
beginning to develop in the West. John held the first ACCR in several years at Mystic,
Connecticut where five boats participated. At about the same time a new model appeared,
a fiberglass model of Enterprise.
John also completed and published the first class specifications. At this point things are a
bit fuzzy concerning the class rules. The class was originally formed around a 1/20 th
semi-scale model but the class rules specified the scale to be 1/16 th . I have never been
able to find out why the scale was changed in the final rules draft, although I have heard
rumors that it was due to a typo in the draft. This is what produced the difference in size
between the original Whirlwind and the later J hulls. The Whirlwinds are grandfathered
into the class because they were the boats that the class was originally formed around and
a lot of them are still actively sailed.
The newly developed class specifications were for a 1/16 th (3/4 in. equals 1 ft.) scale
model based on any of the ten J Class yachts that raced for the America’s Cup in the
1930s. The rules allowed a 2 in. extension of the keel depth and the rudder to improve the
sailing quality of the models and restricted the mast height to 8 ft. With the advent of a
final set of class rules and the availability of a second hull the class began to grow again.
The class progressed nicely with the ACCRs being held at various locations around the
Northeast until the mid-1980s when again the class began to decline. Interest in the
northeast had dissipated and the center of activity had moved to the West. New boats had
had been built in the Reno, San Jose, and San Diego areas. Most of these were scratch
built and based on yachts other than Whirlwind and Enterprise and were based on
Ranger, Yankee, Rainbow, and Shamrock V designs.
In 1988, under new class secretary Dohn Bronson, the class rules were changed to allow
a mast not to exceed 10 ft. above the deck. The main booms also took on a closer-to-scale
size, growing to about 4 ft. in length. Several of the models used a mast and boom that
allowed the model to carry about 4,200 sq. in. of sail, the most that is allowed in the class
rules. The decks of the models also began to take on a more scale appearance with
wheels, deck houses, winches, and spinnaker poles being added.
The class grew slowly through the mid 1980s into the early 1990s, maintaining an
ownership level of 25 to 30 registered boat owners. The ACCRs during this time were
rotated among Reno, San Jose, and San Diego. During this period the J activity inspired
two other model manufacturers to produce fiberglass hulls; Shamrock V by George
Riberio products in San Jose, CA and Ranger by Jim Terry in Florida.
By the end of 1995 Dohn was unable to continue as the Class Secretary. The class again
began to decline under two caretaker Class Secretaries until John Hanks became the
Class secretary in 1998. The AMYA membership began to respond when articles about
the Js began to once again appear in Model Yachting. The class was again growing with
centers of interest located along the East and West coasts. The new interest inspired
manufacturers to introduce several new fiberglass hulls; Ranger, Endeavour, and
Whirlwind. While only in production for a few years these hulls inspired new grow in the
class with the registered ownership reaching a peak of just under 70 about 2008. The
additional activity also brought a supplier of masts aboard. Larry Ludwig of Ludwig
manufacturing in San Antonio, TX is making extrude aluminum masts in 10 ft. lengths
for the J models.
In 2000 the J Class NCR was held in Mystic Seaport, Connecticut with 12 boats
participating. This NCR was the largest gathering of J models since the ACCR held in
1984 with 11 boats. The class continues to see activity with NCRs and RCRs held in the
Northeast, on the West Coast and in the Chicago area in the Midwest. This has allowed J
skippers from all over the nation to participate in championship quality regattas.
What is the future of the J Class? At this time I would say that it is good. Recent class
rule changes have allowed a greater number of designs to be recognized in the class and
include yacht designs that were not built as well as many yachts that were converted to
the J class in the 1930s. The class is unique in the AMYA because it is the only class
based on full size yachts. At the same time the class is not a one-design but rather a
developmental class. This allows the builders a great deal of latitude when building their
models. The only tight restrictions are that the hull must be a 1/16th scale model of a full
size J and that the waterline is a specified length. The sail plan and rig design are pretty
much left to the builder, within the limits of the maximum sail area allowed in the class
rules. Two fairly distinct groups have emerged within the class in the past several years.
One group has opted for a purely racing machine, with no scale detail on the deck. The
other group likes to dress up their models with scale deck houses, winches, and the like to
make their models look as much like the full-size yachts as possible. The added detail
does not appear to have any effect on the sailing quality of the models. The difference
comes down to how much time you want to spend on finishing out your model. Just like
any other model sailboat, the fastest boat will be the one with the best tuned rig and sailed
the most efficiently by the skipper.
While the J Class will never be the largest in the AMYA, owing to the size of the models
and the difficulties that generates, it fills a unique niche. With proper stewardship the
class should continue to remain viable and active.
For additional information about the AMYA, membership, quarterly magazines and RC
sailing visit the AMYA at www.theamya.org