8 December 2013

The New Zealand Farr 43s

Switchblade - Southern Cross Cup trials (A Sefton)
This article is about the three Farr 43s that formed the basis of New Zealand offshore campaigns during 1985-87. They were an evolution of Farr's Design #151 that first showed its form through the US yacht Snake Oil at the 1985 SORC, and later that year with Australia's Admiral's Cup yacht Drake's Prayer

The 43 footer was conceived in the wake of Farr's very successful One Tonners which had dominated the 1983 Southern Cross Cup in Australia, the 1984 Clipper Cup and European contests throughout the year. According to the Farr design notes, the goal was to produce a larger boat that had the same outstanding upwind and reaching qualities of the Farr's One Tonners in moderate and strong wind conditions, and dramatically strengthen the performance in light running conditions where the One Tonners were consciously trading off in their performance. Tom McCall was quick to see the potential of the design, as he had been with this earlier Farr 40 Exador, and was the first New Zealand yachtsman to commission a new 43 footer, Switchblade.
Switchblade during the 1985 Southern Cross Cup trials (above and below, left)
Switchblade was soon joined by Don St Clair Brown's sistership Thunderbird (below right) as part of an impressive line up to contest the 1985 Southern Cross Cup trials. McCall brought Ray Haslar on to skipper the boat, and stacked the boat with crew from his earlier Exador days, while St Clair Brown's crew included some familiar faces from his older yacht Anticipation. Both yachts used the Feltex Regatta as an initial opportunity for tuning, although Switchblade didn't have an IOR rating until the final race. This was later confirmed at 33.8ft, slightly lower than her predecessor Snake Oil, but half a foot higher than Thunderbird. McCall and Haslar didn't want to do anything drastic to reach parity, McCall opting instead "to work away to get down to 33.6 or 33.5 and then concentrate on sailing to it."

Switchblade made it into the New Zealand 'A' team to spearhead the defence of the Southern Cross Cup, while Thunderbird made it into the 'B' team - this second team made possible by sponsors Fay Richwhite who saw value in exposing three more crews to international competition. Switchblade joined Exador, the two obvious form boats, with Switchblade never finishing out of the top three. Switchblade opened her campaign strongly by taking line and handicap honours in the invitation race, helped by a rating that had been trimmed down to 33.4ft. She went on to enjoy a series-long match race against Thunderbird and Australia's Drakes Prayer. 

In a reversal from the trials series, Thunderbird had the measure of Switchblade, and finished in sixth place overall (2/9/12/2/17) against Switchblade's 13th (3/12/13/7/22). 
Thunderbird (left) and Switchblade arrive at a windward mark during the 1985 Southern Cross Cup

Thunderbird prepares to gybe during the 1985 Southern Cross Cup (photo Alan Sefton)
Switchblade tacks just ahead of New Zealand One Tonner Fair Share at a windward mark
Unfortunately, however, the selectors had chosen Swuzzlebubble V over Mad Max for the A team, and this proved to be a huge error as Mad Max was the star boat of the series and took out the top individual yacht honours, while Swuzzlebubble V was a disappointing 20th. Thunderbird's performance over Switchblade also contributed to the New Zealand B team finishing second, ahead of the New Zealand A team (fourth).
Thunderbird surges down a wave off Sydney during the 1985 Southern Cross Cup (photo Alan Sefton/NZ Yachting)
The unveiling of the modified keel design on Equity
Following the disappointment of New Zealand's Southern Cross Cup effort, attention turned to the 1986 Kenwood Cup. Del Hogg, who had campaigned Pacific Sundance, the fastest of the New Zealand Farr 40's in the 1983 Southern Cross Cup, and the top individual yacht of the series, also commissioned a new Farr 43, named Dollar Equity, for this series. Dollar Equity came off the same Cookson mould as Switchblade and Thunderbird but featured a completely different keel. After feedback from key crew members Peter Lester, Fraser Beer and Richard Macalister, following the 1985 Admiral's Cup, Hogg had Farr review the keel situation. The outcome was a keel that was slightly elliptical in its leading and trailing edges and sported a refined bulb effect at the tip. Dollar Equity was based in Wellington, but moved up to Auckland in February 1986 to begin her build-up again the top IOR yachts of the country, Mad Max, Exador and Thunderbird. McCall meanwhile had elected to put Switchblade up for sale before the Kenwood Cup trials.

Thunderbird during the Southern Cross Cup 1985
The ever consistent Exador was able to shut out Mad Max and the Farr 43s in light airs and flat water during the trials, but Dollar Equity, helmed by Peter Lester, and Thunderbird improved significantly in rougher water and more breeze. Their dominance of the final two evaluation races was a measure of that improvement, and in the end both Farr 43s were selected, along with Exador, for the Hawaiian series. 

After a number of efforts since 1978 to win the regatta, formerly known as the Clipper Cup, this New Zealand team were finally victorious, holding onto its points lead through the last and longest race. It was a close result, and their pre-race lead of 82 points was whittled down to just 12 points, after Exador just managed to wriggle home after joining other smaller yachts in running out of wind before the finish.
Dollar Equity during the 1986 Kenwood Cup
Thunderbird and Dollar Equity are thought to have been sold overseas following the Kenwood Cup, as they did not appear to feature in any New Zealand regatta after this time. Switchblade remained unsold by the time of the New Zealand 1987 Admiral's Cup trials, and McCall contemplated contesting the series with Switchblade. In late 1986 she was revamped to boost her rating by a foot to try to make the 34.2ft minimum for the 'big boat' slot in the team. However, following disappointing results with the new set-up it was decided not to carry on with the campaign, as it was felt that a lot more time and money was needed to make the boat competitive at that rating, and even then it could only hope to compete in a narrow range of conditions.  In the end, the big-boat slot was taken by a new generation Farr 43, Kiwi.
Thunderbird during the 1986 Kenwood Cup
Switchblade was eventually sold to Hong Kong yachtsman Peter Whyte. She formed part of Hong Kong's team for the 1987 Southern Cross Cup series and was changed back to a more competitive rating of 33.84ft, and fitted with a modified keel, new rudder and a new sail wardrobe. Despite these changes she did not have the speed to save her time on the top One Tonners, even in the two inshore races which favoured the bigger yachts. Her series was not helped when officials boarded yachts after the second race and cited Switchblade and US yacht Sidewinder for incorrect measurement figures. Switchblade accepted a 10 percent-of-placings penalty, and went on to finish with a respectable ninth place overall following placings of 14/10/19/9 and a sixth in the Sydney-Hobart finale, helping the Hong Kong team to fourth place overall in the eleven team regatta.
Switchblade comes ashore in a storm in Phuket, November 2013
It is believed that Switchblade stayed in her new home of Hong Kong, going on to contest regattas in Phuket and the like. Unfortunately, she was washed ashore from her mooring on the south coast of Phuket in a storm in late November 2013, and just before the Kings Cup Regatta, and from the photos it would appear that she is likely to be a write-off.   

A sad end for Switchblade - November 2013

1 comment:

  1. How do I purchase Switchblade? That is a beautiful boat!