8 January 2013

Swuzzlebubble IV (Holland 41)

This post continues a tribute to Ian Gibbs and his fleet of Swuzzlebubble offshore racing yachts. Swuzzlebubble IV started life as Epiglass New Zealand, a Holland 41 and near-sistership to Swuzzlebubble III but was slightly longer, narrower and lighter and rating just 0.1ft higher at 30.2ft IOR (possibly combined with a smaller sail plan). Epiglass New Zealand was built by Alexander Boats utilising balsa core, S-glass and carbon fibre. She was campaigned by the Super Max Syndicate for the New Zealand 1981 Admiral's Cup trials, with Stu Brentnall on the helm and Peter Lester calling the shots.

Epiglass New Zealand competing in the New Zealand Admiral's Cup trials in 1981 (photo John Malitte/Sea Spray)
After emerging as an early favourite to make the New Zealand team after the initial observation trials, Epiglass New Zealand went on to have a consistent series in the Cup selection trials with placings of 1/3/5/3/2/2 to finish in second place overall, behind a fast-improving and dominant Swuzzlebubble III
Epiglass New Zealand slides downwind to Westhaven, skipper Brentnall checks the opposition behind
To avoid potential Rule 26 issues, which were waived for the trials themselves, the yacht was renamed Wee Willie Winkie for her Admiral's Cup campaign.


The New Zealand team put in an uneven and inconsistent performance to finish fifth overall, with the Cup going to the British team. While Swuzzlebubble III put in an impressive display to finish as top individual yacht in the series, Wee Willie Winkie had a disappointing regatta, finishing 25th overall.

Admiral's Cup 1981
After the 1981 Admiral's Cup she was sold to an Irish yachtsman, and competed for the British team in the 1981 Southern Cross Cup. The British had made a concerted effort to add the Southern Cross Cup to their Admiral's Cup win in the same year, but a small boat bonanza in a protracted Sydney-Hobart race gave the New South Wales team the overall win. Wee Willie Winkie was the top British yacht in the Sydney-Hobart, finishing seventh of the Southern Cross Cup entrants. The yacht went on to compete in the 1982 Sardinia Cup, where she was helmed by Rodney Patterson. 

With Neville Crichton looking for team-mates for his Frers 43 Shockwave for a New Zealand challenge for the 1983 Admiral's Cup, Wee Willie Winkie was chartered by Ian Gibbs and renamed Swuzzlebubble IV. The team was completed with the addition of the French yacht Lady Be, chartered by Peter Blake. Although under charter, hopes were high for a solid placing by Swuzzlebubble IV given her pedigree and because she was sailed by the same crew. 
Swuzzlebubble IV during the 1983 Admiral's Cup, reaching to weather of French yachts Ossian and Passion (photo NZ Yachting/Sail-world)
About to cross behind Pro-motion (NED) and Black Topic (GBR) during the Channel Race (photo J Eastland/Sea Spray)
The early signs were not good, however, with a 28th placing in the first race - after an excellent position soon after the start they found themselves on the wrong side of a big hole in the wind. In breezier conditions in race two Swuzzlebubble IV was less than happy, and finished 29th. The light air Channel Race was a disaster for the team, with its two bigger yachts Shockwave and Lady Be suffering from a long and slow race, with kedging required at various places on the course making it a small boat benefit. Swuzzlebubble IV's 10th place was not enough to offset a 33rd and 42nd (respectively) by her team-mates.
Swuzzlebubble IV sails downwind to 29th place in the second race of the 1983 Admiral's Cup (photo J Eastland/Sea Spray)

Swuzzlebubble IV crosses behind Locura (USA) and Bondi Tram (AUS) (photo Gibbs Family Collection)
In the fourth race Swuzzlebubble IV failed to support strong results by Shockwave and Lady Be, with another 29th placing. But she bounced back in the Fastnet race finale with a steady and assured ninth place after a tight duel with the Australian Hitchiker and the English Dragon. This effort was in turn undone by her bigger team-mates who took some long tacks into oblivion. Due to the points loading of the offshore races, Swuzzlebubble IV finished as the best placed yacht in the New Zealand team at 10th overall. It was another disappointing result for New Zealand, which finished in sixth place, and underlined the difficulty of mounting a competitive campaign at this international level using chartered yachts.


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