A perfect start - Endeavour leads Britannia and Vasheda over the start line at Cowes with Shamrock V following behind signed 'J. Steven Dews' (lower left) oil on canvas 61 x 91.4cm (24 x 36in).
In this dazzling work so typical of the artist, Steven Dews has portrayed four of the greatest racing yachts of their day as they leap away from the start line on a glorious summer's day at Cowes in the mid-1930s.
After cutting his teeth on Shamrock V, the last of Sir Thomas Lipton's boats bought after Lipton's death in 1931, Mr T.O.M. "Tommy" Sopwith then built two successive yachts named Endeavour with which to mount his own challenges for the elusive America's Cup. Both were J-class boats designed by Charles Nicholson and each was built in Camper & Nicholson's yard at Gosport. The first Endeavour, displacing 143 tons and measuring 129 feet in length with a 22 foot beam, carried 7,560 square feet of sail and was considered the best J-class boat of her day. During the America's Cup series in September 1934, Endeavour was not only skippered by Sopwith himself but she also featured a double-clewed jib designed by her owner. Defeated by the defender Rainbow by only the narrowest of margins, Endeavour returned home to rightful acclaim and thereafter enjoyed a successful racing career in home waters.
Britannia, arguably the most celebrated racing cutter of them all, was extremely successful throughout her long life and even though she was re-rigged seven times in all, her hull shape was so efficient that she remained competitive almost to the end. Starting with 33 wins in 39 races during her maiden season, she enjoyed two brilliant but quite separate careers under first, the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII (1893-97), and then his son, George V, after 1921. The latter grew so attached to her that, under the terms of his will, she was scuttled after his death in 1936 following the removal of all her salvageable gear.
Velsheda, another of the legendary J-boats designed by Charles Nicholson and dubbed "the steel-breasted beauty" due to her distinctive metal hull, was built in 1933 for Mr. W.L. Stephenson, the Chairman of Woolworth's (U.K.). An exceptionally handsome centre-board Bermudian cutter registered at 123 tons gross (113 net & 205 Thames), Velsheda measured 127 feet in length with a 21 foot beam and seemed assured of success upon completion in the early summer of 1933. Her first outing was at the Harwich Regatta where, disappointingly, she not only failed to make an impression but also broke her boom. Benefiting from a new boom and some radical alterations to her trim however, she was much improved and at the Clyde Regatta the same autumn she scored five 'firsts' to Britannia's and Shamrock's two each. Going on to Belfast Lough, where she broke her boom a second time, she achieved more success and ended her maiden season with a total of twenty 1st prize flags compared to her nearest rival Britannia which could only manage twelve. The next season, King George V's last, brought Velsheda further success and she enjoyed an exceptional career until 1939 when she was laid up at the outbreak of the Second World War. Surviving the War, unlike many of her great contemporaries which were destroyed when Camper & Nicholson's Gosport yard was bombed, she was not refitted for racing and, sadly, was eventually consigned to a mudbank on the Hamble River where she languished for a number of years until rescued for restoration in 1983.
Shamrock (V) was the last in a series of notable racing yachts, each an improvement upon her predecessor, built for the immensely wealthy tea magnate Sir Thomas Lipton. Between 1899 and 1930, Lipton mounted no less than five challenges for the elusive America's Cup or the "Auld Mug" as he preferred to call it and, even though all were unsuccessful, his efforts and tenacity rewarded him with an almost heroic status among the British public. The last of the celebrated 'Shamrocks' was designed by Charles Nicholson and built by Camper & Nicholson in their yards at Gosport in 1930. A centreboarded Bermudian-rigged cutter, she was registered at 104 tons gross (94 net & 163 Thames) and measured 120 feet in length with a 20 foot beam. Despite her failure to capture the America's Cup in 1930, she was still a magnificent boat and, when Lipton died late in 1931, she was bought by "Tommy" Sopwith, another of yachting's most colourful characters. When he tired of her, she was sold again and renamed Sea Song but is currently racing again under her original name.