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


  1. This is so sad to see what was once a beautifully cared for and crafted boat sitting with junk on her deck and a filthy water line. Shame on the new owner

  2. You want real photos of Snake Oil in her prime?