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 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 (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 Vancouver, 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 its dark green colour, it was dubbed the "garbage bag."

Pendragon - sailing during the 1978 Three-Quarter Ton Cup and sporting her experimental mylar headsail


The further 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 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 airs first race, and throughout the series 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 Americans, 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 unrepeated 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 (on the US West Coast I believe) under her new name Violetta, her original purple colour scheme has now given way to vivid pink, but she retains the distinctive bowsprit.
Pendragon as she is today (photos Craig CRM)


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