Big Class

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The generic name given to the largest racing yachts which raced together on handicap on the British regatta circuit between the two world wars. It included Britannia, which really brought the class into being when King George V announced he would race her in 1920, and later the J-class yachts, but there were also others, some of which were built to the International Metre Class Rule. In 1920 there were nine starters which took part in six races or more, but the public's interest only really took hold with the appearance of the J-class at the start of the next decade. In 1930 the ‘Big Class’ contained the products of three different classes: Britannia, Lulworth, White Heather II, and the Herreshoff-designed schooner Westward were handicap yachts; Astra, Cambria, and Candida were international metre class yachts; and, most significantly, Shamrock V, the 1930 challenger for the America's Cup, was built to the American Universal Rule. An earlier competitor had been Sir Thomas Lipton's 23-metre (75-ft) Shamrock (not to be confused with any of his five America's Cup challengers), but she was broken up in 1933.

Lulworth, Cambria, and White Heather II all dropped out after 1930 when it was decided that yachts over 14.5 metres (48 ft) should adopt the Universal Rule, though British yachts only had to comply with the rule's height of mast and draught. The class really reached its apogee in 1935 when the American J-class yacht Yankee crossed the Atlantic to join in the British regatta circuit to race against three British J-class yachts, Shamrock (as she was now called), Endeavour, and Velsheda, as well as Astra, Britannia, and Candida, all of which had adopted the Universal Rule; Westward occasionally joined in too. The stiff competition that year soon showed that Britannia, now in her 42nd season, was no longer competitive, and in August she was withdrawn from racing. The death of the King in January 1936, and the subsequent scuttling of Britannia, proved the final death knell for the Big Class.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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