27 September 2013

Imp (Holland 40)

The US yacht Imp was one of the most famous Admiral's Cup racing yachts of the late 1970s. Commissioned by David Allen, a San Francisco property developer, the boat was something of a breakthrough for her designer, Ron Holland. She was built by Kiwi Boats, a company headed by Gary Carlin, Holland's then brother-in-law, and based in Plant City, Florida. 
The framing of the mould for Imp
The space frame prior to being added into the completed hull of Imp, at Kiwi Boats, Florida (photo courtesy Tad Belknap)
Imp as she was about to leave the Kiwi Boats yard (photo courtesy Tad Belknap)
Holland and Carlin had been involved in Allen's previous and bigger offshore yacht, Improbable, designed by Gary Mull. Improbable was a good boat, but too light, long and narrow to be a true all rounder under the IOR, and Imp incorporated some lessons learnt from experiences with Improbable
Imp being launched at Snead Island Boat Works in Florida (photo courtesy Tad Belknap)

The concept of the design for Imp was not to worry greatly over the yacht's eventual IOR rating but to concentrate on a high-speed hull form with greater than usual stability and powerful stern sections, as a move away from the then-popular 'pintails' symmetrical hull forms which Holland and Doug Peterson had been producing at that time, to give the boat good performance when reaching in fresh winds. 
The lines of Imp
Notwithstanding the emphasis on a fast hull-shape, Imp still managed to measure in with a modest and competitive IOR rating of 30.9ft, and the performance of the boat was such that she could race alongside Two Tonners (32.0ft IOR), while rating more than a foot less.

One of the main features of Imp was her construction, which utilised a tubular aluminium geodesic structure that took all the loads and stresses of the keel and rig, with the hull itself being a lightweight layup of glass fibre with a balsa core and some carbon fibre reinforcement. This approach dispensed with the usual requirement for bulkheads and allowed plenty of space for sail stowage, pipe cots, the galley and the chart table, although in some ways it was an impractical set-up for anything other than an all-out racing boat. The space-frame was based on concepts tried on Holland and Carlin's earlier Quarter Tonner, Business Machine, which had finished second in the 1976 Quarter Ton Cup (behind New Zealand's Magic Bus). Imp carried a Stearn twin spreader masthead rig, adjusted with four hydraulic pumps (forestay, babystay, vang and backstay), and flew North sails, some of which incorporated experimental concepts, such as a tight leeched 'frisbee' shape for her mainsail. 
Imp demonstrating her downwind form during the 1977 Nassau Cup race with spinnaker and two staysails set (photo Eric Schweikardt)
Imp was launched just before the start of the 1977 SORC series - the optimisation of Imp for reaching and running meant that it was not a surprise to her designer to see her leading her class out of Tampa Bay at the start of the regatta. What was a surprise was seeing her still leading the fleet at the end of the race at the end of a 50 mile beat. The apparent compromises made to windward speed were not noticeable and so Imp went on to win five of the six races of the SORC, and the series overall, which ensured her selection for the US team for the 1977 Admiral's Cup, joining the larger Bay Bea and Scaramouche.
Imp during the 1977 Admiral's Cup
In Cowes Imp put on a dominant display, finishing third in the Channel Race, and going on for a decisive win in the third inshore race - Imp was one of the smallest boats in the 57 boat fleet, but only three others crossed the finish line ahead of her that day, and the smallest of those rated a massive 4.6ft higher. Imp made another impressive showing in the final race, the Fastnet classic, keeping up with bigger yachts and even managing to finish ahead of her team-mate Scaramouche, 6ft longer, to take a memorable victory from the English yacht Moonshine by six minutes, to complete the series as top scoring yacht overall (with results of 4/3/10/1/1), although the US team finished second.
Imp powers upwind during the 1979 Admiral's Cup (photo courtesy Jonathan Eastland archives)
Imp went on to win the Big Boat Series in San Francisco later in 1977 and two years later she again qualified for the US team for the 1979 Admiral's Cup. Although she did not quite repeat her earlier standout performance from 1977 she still managed to finish as third placed yacht overall, including fifth in the storm-tosssed Fastnet (series results of 11/13/3/17/5)
Imp in more recent times
Imp at the end of the 1987 Fastnet race (photo Shockwave40 blogspot)
Imp is understood to now be owned by an Irish enthusiast, and is located in Kinsale. She participated in the 1987 Fastnet race.

The Imp story has been immortalised in the Bill Barton's book The Legend of Imp (2010), above, which is available here, and a promotional image film can be seen below.  Ron Holland's new book All the Oceans also includes some of Ron's own recollections of this famous boat.


  1. First time to site! Very cool and I just printed another 100 books with added photos and corrections. I have only sold a handful to New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong sailors so hope to tap into that. Mailing costs are expensive but that's the reality. I am happy to dedicate. Payment now is only thru PayPal and website is Http://www.implegend.com Thanks, Bill Barton

  2. Just purchased the book, highly recommend

  3. Thanks Grande the best way for people to buy the book is imp legend . com all with no spaces! Today i had to jack the price of the book on Amazon as they won't help me with increasing the charge for shipping which has sky rocketed. Have about 50 books left from 4th printing. Best Bill Barton

  4. I sailed on Imp for many years when the Sisk brothers (Dun Laoghaire/Ireland) bought her in the late 70's/early 80's. After that she went to Kinsale in Ireland.

  5. Thanks Kevin, any good stories from those days?

  6. I was one of the crew that built this boat in Plant City, Fl. I fiber-glassed the transom and batten sanded the hull.

  7. Thanks for the info Wiley Widner, i will add your name if i do a 5th printing, i have about 25 books left of printing # 4...