18 December 2012

Gunboat Rangiriri (Farr Half Tonner)

Gunboat Rangiriri was the second of Farr's centreboard Half Ton design (Design 65) for the Half Ton Cup held in Sydney in December 1977. The yacht, commissioned by Dr Peter Willcox, was launched on 24 August 1977 following a rush build of just 90 days, and was joined by Ian Gibbs' sistership Swuzzlebubble in the strong NZ Half Ton fleet.

Design 65 was a big Half Tonner, with 380mm more length, 200mm more beam and a rig nearly a metre taller than Farr's previous Half Ton design, the Farr 920. This design was 110kg heavier, but benefitted from cleaner hull lines in the stern area, and these yachts still look fast even today. Although it was often beneficial to place the engine for'ard of the mast on light displacement yachts of this size for rating purposes, Farr opted to place the engine in the centre of the boat in order to optimise the design for better performance in the big waves expected in Sydney. 

Engine placement and driveshaft (Peter Morton photo)
Gunboat Rangiriri and Swuzzlebubble were stand-out performers in the Half Ton trials, but fought out an incredibly close series with the Laurie Davidson centreboard design Waverider. Gunboat Rangiriri, helmed by Peter Walker, finished the first race in third, but bounced back to win the second race. The third middle distance ocean race was a cliffhanger, the three yachts at the head of the fleet descended on the finish line at Orakei Wharf in a bunch, with Gunboat Rangiriri taking the gun two boat lengths ahead of Swuzzlebubble, with Waverider third, just two seconds adrift. 

Above and below - 1977 Half Ton Cup trials (J Malitte)

The finish of the fourth race was even closer, with Waverider winning by only 11 seconds from Gunboat Rangiriri and Swuzzlebubble, who dead-heated for second.  In the 260 mile final ocean race, Gunboat Rangiriri and Swuzzlebubble tussled between themselves for the lead after Waverider retired with a broken rudder. It was a long race, but incredibly Swuzzlebubble led Gunboat Rangiriri home by just 32 seconds, which gave her the overall series win. 

Gunboat Rangiriri being loaded aboard a ship to Sydney (J Malitte)
Gunboat Rangiriri went on to win the Australian trials series which was the ideal build up for the Half Ton Cup itself. For the Cup Gunboat Rangiriri and Swuzzlebubble were joined by their Australian sistership 2269, and this boat, along with Waverider and the Holland design Silver Shamrock III, were the ones to watch. Gunboat Rangiriri scored places of 5/1/2/2, demonstrating excellent consistency, and then it all came down to the 250 mile ocean race finale, with all five top yachts in with a chance. Although Silver Shamrock III won, Gunboat Rangiriri finished in second, which was enough to win the Half Ton title, by just one point.

Gunboat Rangiriri slides downwind in the 1977 Half Ton Cup

Interior photo, centrecase still evident (Peter Morton)
The yacht was sold to Swiss yachtsman Dr Peter Knoblock the following year and competed in the 1978 Half Ton Cup held in Poole, England. Without her original crew she was a shadow of her former self, finishing a lowly 17th overall. Although she demonstrated her potential on occasions, especially in the final ocean race, her crew were new to the boat and unused to the techniques involved in handling a light displacement centreboard yacht, and were unable to do her justice. Further changes to the IOR in 1979 led to a 4.7% increase in her rating, but additional displacement and a new keel meant that she was still able to compete in the class, although her 1980 measurement certificate shows that she carried a Displacement-Length Factor penalty of 1.0239.

The yacht is now located in Italy and is maintained in near original condition by her current owner Claudio Massucci. She races in the Italian Half Ton Cup series held each June, and has a recent IRC rating of 0.945. 

Gunboat Rangiriri - still sporting her original livery, seen here in Italy (Peter Morton photo)

 Competing in the Italian Half Ton series (courtesy Claudio Massucci)

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