Launched in Scotland in 1939, and rebuilt from a wreck recovered in Canada, the 12-metre international class Jenetta is getting ready to compete in the next sailing season
by Bruno Cianci – photo by Ulf Sommerwerck & Ina Steinhusen
IN 1938, THE BOAT OWNER AND YACHTING EXECUTIVE SIR WILLIAM P. BURTON TURNED TO THE SCOTS DESIGNER ALFRED MYLNE(1872-1951) to design a new 12-metre international class yacht, since Marina, his boat of the time, already had four racing seasons behind her – and that was too much for a competitive sailor like Burton. That was the story behind Jenetta (design number 395), a boat that at water level measured 80 centimetres more than the previous one, and was 160 centimetres longer overall: it was the longest-ever 12-metre international class boat.
As far as its construction was concerned, it was similar to Marina: the hull and deck were in wood, while the structure was composite, and was made more solid by steel planking alternating with wood. The mast, even though duralumin was already known at the time, was also of a traditional type, and was made from hollow spruce.
Commissioned by Sir William Burton, the helmsman of Sir Thomas Lipton’s Shamrock IV in the America’s Cup, Jenetta was the longest-ever international standard 12-metre boat.
Built at the end of 1938 and during the first five months of 1939 by the Bute Slip Dock Co. of Port Bannatyne (Glasgow), Jenetta fared well in the first races held at Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, which were attended by a delegation of American boat owners; but it had to submit to the highly dominant Vim, which was owned by Harold S. Vanderbilt (1884-1970), the man who had defended the America’s Cup three times with his J Class Enterprise, Rainbow and Ranger. Then came the war, which broke out on 1st September 1939 and buried any chance of revenge the following year.
A tragic fate
One of the many things that war does is effectively wipe out competitions. Since wars also lead to the destruction of thousands of boats, the owners became primarily concerned with saving theirs from the fury of the conflict. The death of Burton in 1942, and then that of the third owner A.W. Steven, left Jenetta in a bad position. In 1953 she was bought by the Urry family of Vancouver, where she progressively declined. In 1957 she was converted into a ketch, and in 1976 she was removed from Lloyd’s Register, after which she sank into Pitt Lake, in British Columbia, and became a wreck.
But fortunately, some businessmen-patrons don’t feel they can abandon a sailing monument to its fate; on the contrary, they roll up their sleeves and put their hands in their pockets. It was the German silversmith and yacht owner Oliver Berking (born in 1962), the owner of a yard that specialises in restoration and rebuilding historic wooden boats, who saved Jenetta. After recovering the 12-metre international class Sphinx, between 2006 and 2008, Berking decided to do more of the same. The outcome, just over a decade later, is surprising, since Robbe & Berking Classics – which is the name of the yard based in Flensburg, very close to Denmark – became the centre of a real yachting hub in the Baltic Sea, with a museum, documentation centre and a cup competed for every year in the local fjord.
Getting down to work
The restoration of the Jenetta theoretically began when the hull was hauled out of Pitt Lake in 2009, but a further eight years were required for it to get to the top of the carpenters’ list of priorities. Work began at the end of 2017 and ended last summer, eighty years after she was launched, and a few hours before the start of the Robbe & Berking Sterling Cup. Various original parts were saved, including the lead keel, some planks, the two ends of the hull and sections of the deck.
To rebuild the parts that were irretrievably lost, the original designs were used, which had been bought by Berking through David Gray, chief naval architect of Mylne Yacht Design and curator of the archive that bears the firm’s name. Thanks to these precious documents even the most obscure details were recreated. Berking’s staff allowed themselves a bit of licence, especially in terms of the materials used, but there was full respect for the final look. The clearest instance of taking licence involved the choice of hull colours. They opted for the tartan of the University of Glasgow, where Mylne studied. The result was very well received; Oliver Berking and the consortium of four people who own Jenetta certainly liked it.
The return to racing, at the Robbe & Berking Sterling Cup in July 2019, was a very positive experience, to such an extent that after five of the ten races Jenetta was one of the favourites for overall victory. In the end, she got a creditable third place. Jenetta will try to win both at the Sterling Cup and in the world championship for international standard 12-metres, which is scheduled to take place in Helsinki from 14th to 22nd August 2021.
For the record, Vim, her one-time rival, will also take part in the competition. No one can say how the race will finish, but the idea of seeing two rivals fighting it out again more than eighty years after their first race can only excite the interest of all those who like this kind of thing. As David Gray said: «Jenetta is a clear example of how historic boats can re-emerge from the past and recover, thanks to the contribution of the historic boat circuit and other races, what neglect and misfortune have taken away from them for a long time, for too long». As far as the boat’s performance is concerned, Gray says he is optimistic and is sure that taking part in the forthcoming races will show the pedigree of a Mylne project that, because of the war, didn’t have the opportunity to show its potential.
Type: 12-metre (3rd rule)
Rig: Bermudian Sloop
Launch: May 1939
Shipyard: Bute Slip Dock Co., Ltd (Scozia)
Yard number: #395
Designer: Alfred Mylne
Waterline length: 14.17m
Maximum beam: 3.66m
Sailing surface: 159 m2
Made of composite materials (wood and steel)
Refitting date: 2017-2019
Refitting yard: Robbe & Berking Classics, Flensburg (Germany)
(Jenetta, a magnificent return – Barchemagazine.com – June 2020)