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.

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