Paradise Found by Captain John Borden
San Remo, Italy and a Riviera Rendezvous with The Darling Jade
There is something rather curious in the main salon of the British J-Class vessel Endeavour that doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the décor. It’s not the collection of six original J-Class champion hull models displayed over the port settee in the library next to the fireplace. Nor is it the entire transom of America’s Cup winner Ranger on exhibit over the starboard settee. The curiosity is just to the left, mounted on the forward bulkhead; an odd oil painting of a smiling pig flying through space. No, the painting is not inspired by the Pink Floyd song, “Pigs on Wing”. Rather, it is there to serve as a clever reminder to the great many doubting Thomases of the yachting world. The artwork targets those nay-sayers who, since the 1940s, proclaimed the once-magnificent Endeavour would never sail again!
In her day she was indeed magnificent! Built in 1934 by British airplane magnate Sir T.O.M. Sopwith, Endeavour was to be the yacht to finally reclaim ‘The Cup’ from those cunning Yanks who had won and defended it since 1851. Applying revolutionary new aviation technology to her hull and rig, Endeavour dominated England’s racing circuit and earned the nickname ‘The Darling Jade’. She swept the first two cup races against her American counterpart before finally letting the prize slip away, largely due to tactical mistakes. She went on to dominate all other British challengers until World War II when the nation’s priorities, particularly those of Sopwith, took a drastic turn.
Endeavour was sold several times by 1947, when she fell into the clutches of an indifferent scrap merchant. Hours before she was to be utterly demolished, a sympathetic buyer seized possession of the hull, saving the once-proud vessel from the breaker’s mall. She was, however, still poorly neglected and, in the early ‘70s, sank off Cowes, England. Sitting at the bottom of the Medina River, Endeavor was bartered yet again, this time to a couple of enterprising carpenters, for the grand sum of ten pounds. Using plastic bags to patch the holes, the old gal was resurrected from her watery grave and placed in an abandoned seaplane hangar where she sat until 1984.
With no rigging, interior, keel, rudder or even ballast, she was purchased for the last time by American yachtswoman Elizabeth Meyer. Five years and ten million dollars later, Endeavor metamorphosed into a spectacular craft surpassing even her former glory. Today she retains the same sleek 130-foot long 22-foot beam hull design yet with much improved state-of-the-art rigging, including a four-foot-wide boom and a mast that towers over 165 feet above her deck. Elizabeth fondly recalls a charter in the Leeward Islands when Endeavour guests, including singer Jimmy Buffet, held a two-day cocktail party on the boom. Set on a broad reach, the boom extended out over the water. Their destination was of no concern as long as it was down wind with stars above and the Caribbean sea below! As a charter sailing yacht, Endeavour has no equal.
Endeavor shares the spotlight when she joins a gathering of the most beautiful power and sailing yachts once a year in San Remo, Italy, to be inspected by modest brokers like myself at the beginning of the Mediterranean spring season. San Remo, located thirty miles east of Monaco, has an Italian flavor all its own. The marina is bordered by Nobel’s famous estate and subtropical gardens, home of the namesake pioneer of modern arts and sciences and founder of the Nobel Prize. It was here in San Remo I was introduced to Ms. Meyer and her historic yacht.
Walking barefoot along the teak deck of Endeavour, I could feel the powerful, graceful strength that lies captive in her temporary berth. Just a few days earlier, she was on the mighty Atlantic, crossing the span between the northeast American coast in less than a fortnight! In San Remo, her nylon mooring bonds would not hold her for long as there was already talk amongst the crew of a challenge from two of the other charter sailing yachts. Berdy and Aspiration are both beauties in their own right: brand-new 86-foot Swan designs, notorious leaders of the sailing industry as the epitome of modern racing yachts. I asked Elizabeth if Endeavour would have any problem with the two Swans. She said to meet her back on the yacht the following day at noon and find out for myself. It was difficult for me to sleep that night.
I felt incredibly lucky, if not blessed, to be one of only a handful of passengers to set out over the enchanted waters of the Mediterranean aboard The Darling Jade! That glorious morning commands were barked from the helm as we headed up into the wind to set the mainsail. The sheer enormity of the main was absolutely mind-wrenching as it gradually unfurled like a fast-forming cloud. Finally the headsails were set and the silent beast quickly came to speed just off the wind, under her 6000 square feet of Dacron. Glancing around at the other passengers, I noticed no one could begin to contain their smiles. At the helm, Elizabeth directed my attention to the anemometer which read 10 knots. She then pointed to the speed/distance log indicating the yacht was maintaining a hull speed of over 12 nautical miles per hour. We were sailing faster than the wind! As the crew engaged in several warm-up tacks, I retreated to a safe observation post all the way astern, out over Endeavour’s bubbly wake. There were no stanchions, lifelines or even a toe rail, yet Endeavour was so steady, so at one with her environment, not once did I feel uneasy at my narrow perch.
It wasn’t long before we were joined by the two Swans. Neither Berdy nor Aspiration dared wait for Endeavour, starting off on their tacks a hundred yards or so ahead. Within minutes it was obvious that the modern hand-crafted Finnish racers were no match for The Darling Jade. Elizabeth Meyer demonstrated her canny wit as she passed them both, yelling a sarcastic but good natured, “Yacht designs sure have come a long way.”
The revitalized Endeavour is the fastest of the remaining four J-Class yachts to race in the America’s Cup. It still amuses me to think Berdy and Aspiration actually believed they could match this spectacular beauty. To them I say, never give up hope, for indeed, pigs can fly!