31 January 2013

Snake Oil (Farr 43)

Snake Oil was a 43ft development of the successful Farr One Tonners which had proven so dominant during 1984. Design 151 was initially commissioned for Australian sailor Peter Kurts of Australia. The design sought to maintain the outstanding upwind and reaching qualities of the One Tonners in moderate and strong wind conditions, and improve speed in light running conditions where the One Tonners had consciously traded off performance. Kurts' new yacht, Drake's Prayer proved the validity of the design by winning the Australian Admiral's Cup trials in 1985. 

The design features were considered ideal for the SORC, and so the same basic design was employed with some minor changes for David Williford's Snake Oil. A review by Yacht Racing and Cruising magazine of the 43 footers that lined up for the 1985 SORC noted that Snake Oil had a displacement of some 2,500lbs less than the average of her competitors, resulting in a DSPL/L (displacement to rated length) ratio of 135, compared to 165/178 for the others.
Snake Oil powers to windward during the 1985 SORC (photo Sail magazine)
At the time the design was conceived the changes to the IOR for November 1984 were not decided, but it was apparent that more stability would be encouraged. Thus, the boat was slightly narrower compared to length with a lower centre of gravity. A narrower stern reduced the yacht's rating, with a more balanced hull form with less wetted surface as a nod towards improved light air performance. On top of this the design featured a large fractional rig, giving a SHR (sail to hull ratio) of 16.1, the maximum allowed before penalties arose under the IOR, and allowed for a competitive rating of 34.1ft. 
Deck layout of Snake Oil - the runner tails were lead forward of the mainsheet to keep the trimmer's weight out of the stern. A tiller was used rather than the wheel that had been adopted for sistership Drake's Prayer
Construction was of Kevlar sandwich around a Nomex core and Kevlar/S Glass framing. Snake Oil was built by Annapolis Custom Yachts, but two hulls had to be built before Williford (as the builder) was satisfied that the exotic matrix with a custom epoxy resin would keep out the Gulf Stream.

She is seen in the photo to the left with Blade Runner off Miami. 
Snake Oil crosses tacks with a competitor during the 1985 SORC

Sailing out of the marina (photo Farr Yacht Design)
Snake Oil (photo Farr Yacht Design)
Snake Oil benefited from having Geoff Stagg (from the Farr office) aboard for the 1985 SORC, who also supervised the deck arrangement and onboard systems. Snake Oil asserted itself as the standout yacht of the series, and looked like taking out overall honours until a parking lot developed in the final race, the 190 mile Miami-Nassau, which  favoured the smaller yachts and turned her 24 point advantage into a 28 point deficit. She finished as the winner of Class 3, and fourth overall, behind a trio of minimum-raters. 

The yacht was new for the series, and improved with every race. Stagg commented "We knew we'd be fast on a reach, but we've surprised a lot of people by being fast upwind and down. No one thought we'd be competitive in the light stuff, and we have been. It just comes down to the fact that Bruce has come up with a fast little boat. Our office has done nine One Ton projects in the last two years, and that's where the action is in the IOR these days." Sail magazine enthused, "The secret ingredients in this cloud-gray rocket with the red-eye lettering on her flanks could well be good crew, maybe great sails, certainly a lighter, leaner fractionally rigged version of the Farr archetype, maybe even her puzzling combination of modified delta keel and elliptical rudder. At any rate, while Snake Oil may not be the last word in speed under the IOR, this winter in Florida waters she convinced a lot of people that she is the latest."
Rounding a mark during the 1985 SORC
Snake Oil (photo Farr Yacht Design)
Unfortunately Snake Oil could not represent the US in the Admiral's Cup as US management had determined a maximum 33.5ft rating for the 1985 team. She was chartered to Portugese sailors, but without success.

The result by Snake Oil in the SORC was seen as very encouraging for New Zealand, as a number of Farr 43s were being prepared at the time for the 1985 Southern Cross Cup and the 1986 Kenwood Cup.   

Drake's Prayer meanwhile went on to have a disappointing series in the 1985 Admiral's Cup, after having to return to port soon after the start of the Fastnet Race to fix a broken main halyard. She'd also been holed before the regatta after colliding with a buoy while training, and broke a shroud during the Channel Race - little wonder then that she was dubbed Drake's Repair

Snake Oil heads to the finish line off Cowes alongside Australia's Challenge III and behind Amazing Grace (Canada) during the 1985 Admiral's Cup
Advertisement for Snake Oil following the 1985 Admiral's Cup
Drake's Prayer during the 1985 Admiral's Cup (photo Farr Yacht Design)
Later (approximately 1998), the boat was donated to and raced by the marine academy in New York and was renamed Christopher Dragon. Sometime not long after that, the mast snapped clean at the deck and was put up for sale. She was bought by a Florida yachtsman and given back her original name. Farr was contacted to design a new mast compatible with her proposed use as a cruiser, but one that would not affect her original design integrity. The interior was rebuilt over three years, and the boat refurbished and painted red, and in 2003 she sailed from Florida to the South Pacific and back to the US in 2006.  
Snake Oil in impeccable condition during her South Pacific cruise, circa 2005
Snake Oil was seen more recently in Pittwater, Australia, and as at December 2013 was advertised for sale
Snake Oil, 2013

28 January 2013

Pendragon (Davidson 34)

Pendragon was another legendary Laurie Davidson IOR yacht, that made a name for herself by winning the Three-Quarter Ton cup in 1978, and then went on to win the One Ton Cup in 1979, a feat not achieved by any other yacht in level rating competition.

After the success of Waverider, and despite penalties being introduced to the IOR rule to slow the light displacement type of yacht, Davidson remained in demand. US dinghy sailor John MacLaurin wanted a flat hulled New Zealand-style centreboard yacht and asked Davidson for a Three-Quarter Tonner. The result was Pendragon, a development of and big sister to Waverider, and also built lightly in wood by Tim Gurr of Ocean Racing Yachts in Auckland. 
Builders plaque (photo Craig CRM)

Pendragon achieved the designers brief and the distinctive purple yacht put in a dominant performance in the 1978 North American One Ton championship held in San Diego, but lost the title to the Graham & Schlageter designed Chocolate Chips after a poor final race that counted for 150% points (with a final regatta result of 2/1/1/1/9). She went on however to win the 1978 Three-Quarter Ton Cup held in light airs in Victoria, British Columbia, and in so doing beat new designs from Britton Chance, Ron Holland and others in conditions in which the light yacht was not expected to excel. A notable addition to her sail wardrobe was an early and experimental mylar genoa, and because of the dark green colour of this early prototype, it was dubbed the "garbage bag."
Pendragon - sailing during the 1978 Three-Quarter Ton Cup (above and below) and sporting her experimental mylar headsail

The changes to the IOR in 1979 had a serious effect on Pendragon, with her rating moving up a full two feet (from 24.5ft to 26.5ft). It became apparent at a very early stage that Pendragon could not remain competitive in a Three-Quarter Ton configuration. Davidson resolved however that his champion yacht could still be competitive, by audaciously turning the formerly full-size 34ft Three-Quarter Tonner into a small One Tonner, a yacht that would normally be at least 36ft long. Davidson advised owner MacLaurin that the next One Ton Cup was to be held in Newport, Rhode Island, a venue noted for generally light winds, and so a small, light yacht with a large sail plan could be a potent combination.

The alterations required to bring the yacht up to a One Ton rating (27.5ft) were, however, extensive.  Further displacement was required to achieve the increased minimum centre of gravity factor, and for this Gurr travelled to the US to oversee the addition of 15mm of lead around the midships area, which was then glassed over and faired in. The sail plan was increased by approximately 20%, through the addition of a longer boom and a small bowsprit for larger headsails. A bigger centreboard was also fitted, although this proved to be slightly too thin in section. The yacht sailed with the centreboard pinned down to avoid the new moveable appendage factor penalty, and Pendragon was the only centreboard boat in Newport in 1979.

Other changes were also needed to meet the different regulations for the normally bigger One Tonners, with more headroom needed and accommodation for an extra crewmember. During the North American One Ton series, held a month before the Cup, Pendragon showed that she had the pace against the top boats, but was making too much leeway upwind and finished in fifth place, with results of 2/5/4/8 in the fifteen boat fleet (won by the Cook design Firewater). Additional width was added to the centreboard before the One Ton Cup series.
Pendragon during the 1979 One Ton Cup (photo Sail magazine)
Continuing changes to the IOR possibly accounted for the fact that only 12 yachts from four countries attended the 1979 One Ton Cup, although a non-European venue was probably also to blame. The regatta was also affected by the influence of nearby Hurricane David, with one race waved off in high winds, and another was scrubbed after the hurricane had caused one of the marks to come adrift causing some navigational issues for many boats. 
Pendragon during racing (above) and afterwards (below) - photos by Paul Mello

Pendragon proved to be fast in the light air of the first race, and throughout the series she proved to be untouchable downwind, while able to hold her own on the upwind legs. The result of the regatta remained close, however, with the Holland design Indulgence, which had proved to be very fast in the preceding North American championship, challenging strongly for the title by winning the final 245 mile ocean race and taking the coveted White Horse Trophy. Pendragon stayed close and finished a close second, which was enough to win the Cup (with a series result of 1/3/2), an unprecedented and un-repeated result for a yacht designed for a different, and lower, level rating class.
Pendragon's increased sail plan is clearly evident in this photograph taken during the 1979 One Ton Cup
Some great photographs from the 1979 One Ton Cup, and the preceding North American One Ton series, taken by photographer Paul Mello, and I am grateful for his permission to reproduce some of these here.
Pre-regatta preparation by crewmember Kimo Worthington on Pendragon's centreboard
Startline action in the 1979 North American One Ton series, Indulgence to weather of Pendragon

Pendragon rounds a windward mark during the 1979 One Ton Cup
Pendragon designer Laurie Davidson in interviewed after the One Ton Cup victory by David Phillips of the Providence Journal 

 Meanwhile the crew celebrate, skipper Rod Davis on the left, John MacLaurin holding the now-empty bottle. Other crew are Dave McCulley, Bryon Pratt, Curt Oetking, Kimo Worthington and Paul Murphy
A delighted John MacLaurin (centre) receives the One Ton Cup, September 1979
The yacht continues to sail and race in Newport on the US West Coast under her new name Violetta. Her original purple colour scheme has now given way to vivid pink, but she retains the distinctive bowsprit. Violetta is presently for sale (August 2017), see here for details.
Pendragon as she is today (photos Craig CRM)

Recent photographs of Violetta (Yachtworld)

27 January 2013

Bay of Islands Race Week 2013

The 2013 Bay of Islands Race Week just finished on Friday - the regatta has well and truly established itself on the New Zealand race calendar, and was sailed in great conditions this year, with lighter conditions on the first day giving way to 20-25 knots on the final day. Wired showed how badly things can go at the bottom mark (for full photo sequence see http://www.bayofislandssailingweek.org.nz/index.php/photo-video/photos-wed-2015), but held things together through the rest of the series to finish in third place overall on PHRF. The Elliott 35 Crusader won A Division on general handicap, while the new MC38 Menace made her first appearance, although failed to feature in the overall results.

Wired broaches at the bottom mark

A Division start, with (from left), Crusader, Menace and V5

Menace on the first day

21 January 2013

Swuzzlebubble V (Farr 39)

Design 138 (Farr Yacht Design)
Continuing the series on Ian Gibbs' fleet of Swuzzlebubble offshore IOR yachts brings us to Swuzzlebubble V. This yacht was a development of Bruce Farr's dominant One Ton design, Design #136, which formed the basis of New Zealand's outstanding 1983 Southern Cross Cup team (see earlier post - Geronimo). Swuzzlebubble V, and her sistership Epic Lass, were designed and built with a view to competing for New Zealand in the 1985 Admiral's Cup series, and were versions of Design 138, optimised for the lighter airs expected in Europe being slightly shorter in length (approx 7in), lighter (approx 190lb), with a fractionally lower ballast ratio, and carrying more sail.

Swuzzlebubble V and Epic Lass, the latter commissioned by Healing Industries, were both launched together amongst much fanfare outside the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in December 1984. Swuzzlebubble V was rushed to the startline of the Auckland-Gisborne race, finishing in fifth place in the IOR division.
Building the mould for Swuzzlebubble V and Epic Lass, the IOR 'crease' clearly visible, along with the bump at maximum beam

Launching day, Westhaven 20 December 1984 (photo Gibbs Family Collection)
The functional and stripped-out interior (photo Gibbs Family Collection)

In the five-boat Admiral's Cup trial series held in early 1985, Swuzzlebubble V lined up against sistership Epic Lass, veteran performer Exador, the Davidson 40 Canterbury Export, and the Peterson 43, Barnstorm. The trials series was closely fought, but Exador and Canterbury Export selected themselves while two more races had to be added to the evaluation schedule to determine whether Epic Lass or Swuzzlebubble V would make the team. Being slightly smaller than their predecessor Exador and optimised for European conditions, both yachts gave no real indication of being an improvement on the Farr 40. However, neither boat demonstrated that they were fully optimised either - changing gears was a problem common to both boats - and the selectors wondered how much performance was untapped.
Also in the selector's mind was Gibbs' track record at the Admiral's Cup itself, with Gibbs having taken Swuzzlebubble III to the top of the fleet in the 1981 series. In the end, both final races went Epic Lass' way, with skipper Peter Walker winning the first race and finishing third in the second. Swuzzlebubble V looked out of sorts twice on the windward legs, and looked a fraction off the pace just when Gibbs' charge needed to convince.

Swuzzlebubble V went on to campaign for a place in the New Zealand team for the country's defence of the Southern Cross Cup in 1985. The Fay Richwhite-sponsored trials, which commenced in November 1985, saw a sudden influx of new yachts, with eight boats entered and including five new boats. Gibbs had made a number of changes to the boat and crew, including a new white paint-job. The boat started off the 1985-86 season with a win in the IOR division of the Feltex Regatta, and went on to qualify for the New Zealand A team, alongside the evergreen Exador and the new Farr 43 Switchblade. With the number of boats available, a decision was made to send a second 'B' team, made up of the Davidson 40 Mad Max, Thunderbird (a sistership to Switchblade) and Barnstorm. Mad Max didn't make the A team as she missed the first race, but was clearly one of the fastest boats in the series. 
Swuzzlebubble V during the 1985 Admiral's Cup trials
The helmsman struggles to keep Swuzzlebubble Six on her feet on a fresh reach down the Rangitoto Channel, thought to be during the 1985 Southern Cross Cup trials (photo Gibbs Family Collection)
The composition of the two teams undermined an otherwise promising New Zealand effort, as Mad Max was top individual performer but let down by the lacklustre performance of Barnstorm, while Swuzzlebubble V proved to be the weak link in the A team, finishing the series in 20th place overall, following placings of 14/14/17/14 and 26th in the Sydney-Hobart race finale. 
Swuzzlebubble Six racing during the New Zealand 1987 Admiral's Cup trials
Swuzzlebubble Six and Mad Max on a ship to Sydney
Swuzzlebubble V came back to New Zealand and later contested the 1987 Admiral's Cup trials, but despite further modifications, including a new keel and upgraded rig, she was off the pace against the new generation Farr designs Propaganda and Fair Share, and Mad Max (Goldcorp). She did make selection for the New Zealand team for the 1987 Southern Cross Cup, sailing in the same trim and equipped with a new Norths wardrobe, and renamed Swuzzlebubble Six for the campaign (to differentiate the boat from her earlier configuration). However, her experienced crew had to struggle manfully to keep Swuzzlebubble Six up with the pace, and had to settle for 18th on individual points, after a 12/22/17/8/17 series. Her team-mates Fair Share and Mad Max worked hard to overcome Swuzzlebubble's lack of form, but made a costly tactical error in the middle distance offshore race resulting in second place overall for New Zealand in the series, 74 points behind Australia. 
Swuzzlebubble Six on one of the reaching legs during the 1987 Southern Cross Cup series
Swuzzlebubble Six in a gybing manouevre while racing in the 1987 Southern Cross Cup
Swuzzlebubble Six was later sold in Australia, probably after the 1987 Southern Cross Cup. She was raced actively out of the CYCA, competing in long races such as the Sydney-Southport and Sydney-Mooloolabla, and raced in the Sydney-Hobart again in 1987. She was bought by Bruce Guy in 1994 and renamed Naiad. Guy campaigned her extensively out of Launcestown, competing successfully in various offshore races out of Melbourne. Naiad became Business Post Naiad in 1998 - she went on to win the Three Peaks race that year and then lined up for the 1998 Sydney-Hobart race. The 1998 edition of this ocean racing classic turned out to be one of the most harrowing, when the fleet encountered huge waves of up to 30m and 80 knot winds. Only 44 of the 115 yachts reached Hobart. Business Post Naiad became a central figure in the rescue efforts that were mounted on the second night. Two crewmembers died, including owner Guy, after the yacht was rolled in the mountainous seas. After the remaining seven crew were safely winched off, the yacht was left floating off the southern NSW coast, with the two dead crew members still aboard. Another four yachtsmen died on two other yachts. It was the worst tragedy in the history of the race and a harsh reminder of the severe conditions that can affect Bass Strait.

Video footage showing BPN being located by Search and Rescue can be seen here, from Part 2 of the 1999 Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) documentary "Into the Eye of the Storm" (from about 17:50): 1998 Sydney Hobart race documentary Part 2 (Part 1 is also well worth watching for some of the incredible footage of the maxis crashing through the seas and the heroic actions of the search and rescue crews).
The broken rig and bent stauntions visible in this photo taken post-capsize - note the missing cabin hatch
In the post-race inquiry it was revealed that BPN may not have had sufficient righting moment to be eligible for the Sydney-Hobart race. Under the IMS rules under which the race was sailed at that time, yachts were required to have a positive righting movement when capsized of an angle of 115 degrees from vertical, although this was reduced to 110 degrees for yachts that had completed previous Sydney-Hobart races. BPN had originally had a righting moment of 117 degrees, but is understood that the yacht, which had modifications carried out below decks sometime in 1997, including removal of some 300kg of internal ballast, had been remeasured by an independent surveyor just before the race, and had been assessed as having a righting movement of just 105 degrees. Full documentation was sent to race organisers at the CYCA in Sydney. However it is understood that Mr Guy's entry application for the event was then accepted and confirmed in writing, and the failure to meet the stability requirements was not detected.

The post-race technical analysis of the changes to the yacht indicated that the ballast changes would have had a significant decrease to its knock-down or capsize resistance, although it could not be ruled out that even with the original ballast configuration the yacht may still have rolled given the severity of the conditions during the race.
A broken and battered yacht at Eden after the ill-fated 1998 Sydney-Hobart race
BPN had been dismasted in the race, and it is not known what other structural damage the yacht had suffered, or what became of her afterwards.