8 April 2013

Ceramco New Zealand (Farr 68)

Ceramco New Zealand, Peter Blake's famous Whitbread race contender from 1981-82, has popped up on the radar again recently after her current owner, US yachtswomen Dianne Masters, announced the possibility that the yacht may return to New Zealand as part of a campaign to contest the 2013 Sydney-Hobart, a race that Ceramco won, both on line and handicap, in 1980.

The fast and clean stern sections of Ceramco
The design parameters for Ceramco were conceived by Blake as a result of his experience in earlier Whitbread races and in the Southern Ocean on heavy displacement yachts. Blake wanted a yacht that was fast downwind and paid little regard to the IOR rule. These parameters allowed Bruce Farr to design a very fair, shallow bodied yacht without the distortions inherent in IOR boats of the time. The Farr Yacht Design notes for Ceramco (Design #90) comment that "we opted for a boat designed primarily for speed, but with removal of any obvious rating penalty features where the effect on performance would be virtually unmeasurable but the effect on rating considerable."  Still, a fair hull had to be paid for somewhere, and Ceramco carried a rating of 62.9ft IOR, high for a 68 footer, but it was expected that the ability to maintain high average speeds through much of the Whitbread race course would offset such a high rating. 
The Ceramco half-model published on www.demi-coques.fr
Ceramco during initial sailing trials (photo Auckland Star/Sea Spray)
Ceramco makes a foray into the Southern Ocean on her way back to New Zealand after the Sydney-Hobart Race (photo Lidgard Sails)
Ceramco enters the Marlborough Sounds in the South Island as part of her New Zealand tour following her victory in the Sydney-Hobart race

Ceramco's initial shake down was the 1980 Sydney-Hobart race, which she won. As further preparation for the 1981-82 Whitbread, she contested the Seahorse Maxi series sailed on the English Solent. While off the pace in the light, she gave a good account of herself on reaching legs and in any breeze.
Ceramco New Zealand during the 1981 Seahorse Maxi series in the English Channel (photo Seahorse magazine)

Although a strong favourite for the Whitbread itself, her dismasting on the first leg to Cape Town put paid to any chance of overall victory. But her finish of the first leg under jury rig was a feat of seamanship and perseverance in itself, and the design philosophy of the yacht was vindicated when she went on to win the next leg to Auckland, with a sixth in the second leg and another win on the leg to Portsmouth. Ceramco finished the Whitbread in 11th place overall.
Ceramco nears Cape Town towards the end of her epic 4,000 mile journey under jury rig
Ceramco sails triumphantly into Auckland Harbour in the next leg, second on line and first on corrected time
The following is a short video highlighting the epic battle between Ceramco and Flyer in the 1981-82 race:

The official film of the 1981-82 race is here:

Ceramco was sold to a Californian surgeon after the Whitbread race, and was based for a decade at Marina del Rey in Los Angeles. Its sparse racing interior was refitted by the owner for cruising, who renamed her Winterhawk and raced her with a professional crew for 20 years, first out of California and later from Newport, Rhode Island. 
Winterhawk during the 1984 Clipper Cup (photo John Malitte/Sea Spray)
Masters bought Ceramco in 2005, by which time she had reverted to her original name (giving life to a company name that disappeared from the New Zealand business scene in about 1989). Ceramco recently competed in the 2013 Rolex Big Boat series (held in the US Virgin Islands), where she featured as one of the fleet's most historic entries. The crew paid homage to Blake when sporting red socks during a day of competition, as a nod to the Blake's famous lucky charm from the 1995 America's Cup.
Ceramco sailing in the 2013 Rolex Big Boat Series (photo Ingrid Abery)
Masters commented during the regatta about her famous yacht - “This was the first boat built with a favourable design to surf the big waves in the Southern Ocean. We need at least 20 to 25 knots of wind and then we’re untouchable. In light winds like this, we don’t have a chance of winning, but we’re all having a great time.” Indeed, in the relatively moderate breezes, she had to settle for eighth place.
Another photo of Ceramco during the 2013 Rolex series
Unfortunately Ceramco did not make it downunder for the 2013 season, nor in 2014. But it would be fantastic if one day she is able to make the trip as it would be a great sight to see her lined up with Blake's later Whitbread yachts Lion New Zealand and Steinlager 2 that are both now based in Auckland.
Ceramco in Florida awaiting sale to a new owner, 2015 (GSA Auctions website)
Update (October 2015): Unfortunately Ceramco is now looking much worse for wear, and has recently been put up for sale via the GSA Auctions website, which comments that: "In 2005, Dianne Masters purchased her and she was last campaigned in the US Virgin Islands-2013 Rolex Big Boat series. At that time a fund raising was in place to sail her back to New Zealand. Reportedly the vessel was last hauled in Trinidad and then sailed back to Florida, where the undersigned performed the first survey whilst fully rigged at Miami Marine Bay Sideon 5.9.15 and then afloat with her mast down at Mirage Yachts, Miami on 5.14.15".

Update (March 2018): Information received in late March 2018 is that Ceramco appears to have been saved, and is on her way downunder, with a stop in Tahiti before sailing onwards to Bundaberg, Australia.


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