8 November 2012

Swuzzlebubble (Farr Half Tonner)

This article is something of a tribute to a famous New Zealand offshore yachtsman, Ian Gibbs, who had become a well known offshore yachtsman in the 1970s, after overseas forays in the One Ton and Half Ton Cups. He had campaigned the first Bruce Farr Half Tonner Tohe Candu, placing 8th in the 1974 Half Ton Cup in La Rochelle, before moving to a Ron Holland design Measure for Measure for the 1975 series in Chicago (10th). In 1977 he commissioned one of the new Farr centreboard Half Tonners (Design 65) - and she was christened Swuzzlebubble, the first of many of Gibbs' yachts to wear the distinctive moniker.

NZ Half Ton Trials 1977

Like her bigger One Ton sisters The Red Lion and Jenny H, Swuzzlebubble was as sleek as they come. She enjoyed extremely close racing with sistership Gunboat Rangiriri and the Laurie Davidson-designed speedster Waverider in the New Zealand Half Ton Cup trials, and all three were a step ahead of their fixed keel competitors. She won the series by the narrowest of margins, and then went on to dominate the Southern Cross Cup trials against mostly bigger yachts - even the One Tonners were unable to break clear of Swuzzlebubble on corrected time.

Undergoing a pull-down test

The Half Ton Cup, held in Sydney in December 1977, was not as happy a regatta for Gibbs and his team, where they finished 5th overall - although in contention for the Cup in the final race, they missed a crucial windshift and, along with Waverider, found themselves well behind the other contenders.
NZ Half Ton Trials 1977 (photo Sea Spray)
Swuzzlebubble being loaded aboard a ship for her 1977 Australian campaigns (photo Gibbs Family Collection)
But the crew picked themselves up again to put in a strong effort as part of the crack New Zealand team in the Southern Cross Cup - alongside the Farr One Tonners Jenny H and Smir-Noff-Agen they amassed a huge points advantage before the final race, the Sydney-Hobart. The series mixed yachts from Half Ton to Maxi size - Swuzzlebubble was involved in an incident with Kialoa III and it is reported that afterwards one of the Kialoa crew remarked, while pointing to a large hole, "We had a collision with Swuzzlebubble and she's still in there somewhere". 

Swuzzlebubble during the 1977 Southern Cross Cup (photo NZ Yachting/Sail-world)

Swuzzlebubble during the 1977 Southern Cross Cup
As it turned out, their points advantage became an important buffer in the storm-affected race. The for'ard frames on Smir-Noff-Agen failed and they had to withdraw. Swuzzlebubble withdrew late on the second night, as Gibbs considered the conditions in Bass Strait were just too extreme for the 31 footer, although they had not broken any gear and the Kevlar-reinforced hull had withstood the pounding with no difficulties.

Gibbs sat out the 1978 Half Ton Cup, but re-entered the fray for the 1979 series, held in Scheveningen, Holland. By then the changes to the IOR, brought on as a reaction to the light displacement revolution spearheaded by designers Farr, Davidson and Paul Whiting, had taken effect, and like Waverider, Swuzzlebubble required urgent surgery to bring her into class for the series (later known as Swuzzlebubble II for the 1979 campaign). This involved much padding and filling out of the hull and more ballast to increase her displacement, and significant changes to her rear sections, including bringing the transom line for'ard. The centreboard was removed and replaced with a fixed keel. The advantage for the lightweights had been removed, but they were still some of the quickest yachts that year. Waverider won (following her victory in 1978) and Swuzzlebubble finished a close third.

Swuzzlebubble following her revamp in 1979 and before being shipped to Holland (photo Gibbs Family Collection)
Swuzzlebubble (KZ-3494) has a poor start during the 1979 Half Ton Cup (photo courtesy of Jonathan Eastland's archives)
Swuzzlebubble during the 1979 Half Ton Cup (photo courtesy of Jonathan Eastland's archives)
Gibbs moved on to a bigger 40 footer for the 1981 Admiral's Cup with Swuzzlebubble III. The history of the original Swuzzlebubble since then is something of an unknown, although she is understood to have been raced in Ireland for a while, and had enjoyed success in Cowes Week before being sold to a Swiss owner. She was found in 2012 by Peter Morton (of Anchor Challenge and Bullit fame) in a very sorry state in Rhodes, Greece. Her hull was largely intact, although the bow was damaged and her keel was in very bad shape and she had been stripped of all gear. Morton has gone about rescuing Swuzzlebubble from what might have otherwise been her final resting place, and is currently refurbishing her so that she can join the strong European Half Ton fleet. As a 'long' Half Tonner and with an impeccable racing pedigree and experienced new owner she is bound to be a serious campaigner on the Half Ton circuit. You can follow the transformation of Swuzzlebubble here.
Swuzzlebubble as found in November 2012 in Greece (photo Peter Morton)


  1. Swuzz. was owned by Gus Mehigan Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire and successfully raced in Dublin Bay. Crew included Des Cummins and Drewery Pearson.he

  2. Swuzzlebubble was owned by Bruce Lyster, Royal St. George Yacht Club, Dun Laoghaire Ireland. The boat was steered by Robert Dix, and crewed by Bruce, Des Cummins and Drewery Pearson. They won many ISORA races (Irish Sea Offshore Association) and dominated in Cowes week.