11 December 2012

Smackwater Jack (Whiting One Tonner)

Smackwater Jack was another joint Paul Whiting and Murray Ross effort, following the Quarter Tonner Magic Bus and Half Tonner Newspaper Taxi. While Newspaper Taxi had been designed with the 1977 Half Ton Cup in mind, Whiting and Ross elected to enter the larger higher profile One Ton class with a new boat. 

As a development of the Newspaper Taxi concept, Smackwater Jack featured a broad stern with a long sloping transom and pronounced beam amidships. As with Whiting's earlier designs, volume forward that was lost through an aggressively concave waterline was replaced through a deeper forefoot, with a steep profile abaft the bow knuckle. A further topside concavity occurred near the transom in order to reduce volume and thereby minimise the after girth penalty. She had a longer rated length than her Farr-designed competitors (9.95m), and this was offset by a higher measured displacement (4,519kg), but also allowed more sail area, set on a relatively simple but bendy single-spreader rig.
Smackwater Jack on launching day - Okahu Bay, Auckland (above and below)

Smackwater Jack during the One Ton Cup trials (photo Jenny Green/Sea Spray)
Smackwater Jack sailing upwind
Smackwater Jack cockpit detail
Whereas the Farr boats carried ballast within their centreboard fin, the centreboard on Smackwater Jack was only weighted sufficiently to ensure that it would sink (90kg), and the yacht thereby relied entirely on internal ballast to achieve the required minimum level of stability. The yacht was found to have insufficient headroom, and a new boxy cabin top was hastily constructed to meet regulations. The cockpit lockers shown in the above photograph were also deemed to be non-compliant and had to be filled in just before the One Ton Cup series.
Sailing to windward in the Hauraki Gulf, the new boxy cabin evident
One Ton Cup trials, 1977
Smackwater Jack started her racing career with wins in local coastal races, then went on to win the New Zealand One Ton Cup trials, held in September 1977. This did not look likely after the first race, when the yacht was forced to retire after breaking her forestay. This was followed by an indifferent fifth in the second race, but she went on to win the intermediate offshore race after holding out Jenny H. A third in the fourth race was followed by another win in the final offshore, for a clear win overall.
Smackwater Jack was the feature yacht on the cover of the 1977 One Ton Cup programme
However, alterations to the yacht before the Cup series proper seemed to have a detrimental effect on her performance, and a lack of on the water preparation seemed to affect her reliability. Some of her competitors sailed in the Southern Cross Cup trials which allowed them to develop their charges and overtake the Whiting design. The Cup regatta started disastrously for the crew, with the yacht again having to retire from the opening race, this time with a propeller that refused to close. She also had to retire from the gale-afflicted long ocean race finale, suffering from a host of gear damage after the second leg bash to windward where she began taking on large amounts of water. In the three races that she finished, Smackwater Jack failed to fire, scoring places of 6/4/6.
Smackwater Jack sails upwind with The Red Lion in close company to weather during the 1977 One Ton Cup
Smackwater Jack was later modified with a new rig, cabin and conventional companionway, and slightly more subdued gunmetal grey colour scheme, and joined Anticipation and the Farr 1104 Chick Chack in the New Zealand 'North' team for the 1979 Southern Cross Cup series. The team finished a disappointing fifth overall, but Smackwater Jack finished in second place in a light-air Sydney to Hobart race to finish as fourth yacht overall.
Above and below - Smackwater Jack during the 1979 Southern Cross Cup series

A satellite photo of Cyclone Paul - 9 January 1980
Whiting and his crew then started in the 1980 Hobart to Auckland race, getting underway in calm conditions on 4 January. However, a storm developed in the Gulf of Carpentaria which crossed the north Australian mainland and entered the Tasman Sea as a full-blown cyclone, and tracked directly into the path of the Hobart-Auckland fleet. The Smackwater Jack crew managed to complete their scheduled radio call on 9 January, reporting that they were in difficult and heavy seas approximately 580 miles from Cape Reinga. That was, however, the last word ever heard from the boat, and a full scale search and rescue operation failed to find any trace of the yacht or crew. The NZ Herald reported in January 2008 that wreckage of part of the cockpit had been found on Ripiro Beach, on the west coast of the North Island, but this has not been subsequently verified.


  1. I was a crew member on Penando (Jack Allen's boat) in this race. The conditions were horrific with massive steep seas and every wave had a 10-15 ft breaking top.
    as the wind changed around 6.00pm we found ourselves side on to the waves and were quickly pushed sideways down one of these 50+ft waves. The keel kicked out of the water and we ended upside down in the trough and walking on the cabin roof. Penando slowly righted herself but our motor had seized and we were at the mercy of the waves.
    I've never been so scared in all my life and we were all lucky to be alive. Paul, his wife and crew were not so lucky and all the sailors in that race remember Smackwater Jack and the brave crew.

  2. I attended the 1989 quarter ton cup with a Norlin design Butterfly. We sailed against the Whiting design Captain Moonlight. We were equally slow in the choppy seas of San Remo. To this day the tragedy of Whiting and his crew is still talked about in Sweden.

  3. It should be 1979 not 1989.