9 February 2014

Feltex Roperunner (Farr 40)

Feltex Roperunner (photo Farr Yacht Design)
Feltex Roperunner was designed by Bruce Farr for a syndicate headed by Don Lidgard to contest the New Zealand trials for the 1981 Admiral's Cup. Design #82 was, as noted by Farr, conceived as an all-out Admiral's Cup yacht with no concession to any other style of racing or unnecessary creature comforts. The minimum Admiral's Cup rating of 30.0ft IOR was decided on not only for minimum capital outlay, ease of handling and a size of boat where optimum performance can be gained very easily in a light-ish displacement yacht, but also because over the years minimum rating appeared to have offered the best chance of producing the top all-round performance in typical conditions experienced in the Admiral's Cup (the top individual yacht in the previous regatta was another minimum-rater, the Peterson designed Eclipse).

Feltex Roperunner came up against a range of new boats for the hotly contested trials, but notwithstanding the world championship victories of Farr's yachts in 1977, new rule penalties against light displacement designs had seen something of a change in designer preference amongst New Zealand skippers by 1980. Feltex Roperunner was the only Farr design in the trials, and Ron Holland designs had come to the fore, represented by the minimum raters Swuzzlebubble III, Epiglass New Zealand and Spritzer, and the larger Monique. These yachts came up against the S&S 46 footers Marac and Ngaruru, and the Davidson 50 footer Outward Bound (designed for the Whitbread round the world race).
Feltex Roperunner was built at the Marten Marine yard in a hi-tech Kevlar and Klegecell layup
Despite the changes to the IOR, Feltex Roperunner's hull form remained typically Farr with powerful stern sections (although more conservative than Farr's earlier efforts), moderate beam and a fine bow to handle a short chop to windward, and as light in displacement as the new displacement/length factor of the IOR Rule would allow, consistent with all-round performance objectives. Indeed, Feltex Roperunner was significantly lighter than the Holland designs (12,000lbs compared to 13-14,000lbs), but in broad terms appeared to have traded this for length, being about a foot shorter. The boat featured a large fractional rig, designed to enhance her light weather performance and to give more power out of crowded start-line situations.
Feltex Roperunner during the start of the 1981 Auckland Anniversary Regatta (photo Sea Spray magazine)
Feltex Roperunner sailing downwind in light airs during the 1981 Auckland Anniversary Day regatta (photo Sea Spray magazine)
In response to some initial observations that the hull of Feltex Roperunner looked more distorted than that of the Holland boats, Farr commented at the time that “Our boats look bumpier because they’re wider aft, but really they are fairer than the competition. In fact, the boat is quite sweet at the aft end, the only unfairness being in the topsides where we have rounds and hollows adjacent to each other."
Feltex Roperunner on the wind and approaching a windward mark and displaying reasonably undistorted stern buttock lines (photo Farr Facebook page)
Feltex Roperunner (right) leads Swuzzlebubble III into Auckland Harbour on a tight reach during the 1981 Admiral's Cup trials. Spritzer can be seen to leeward, and Marac ahead
Feltex Roperunner's initial performance looked promising, and she, along with Swuzzlebubble III and Epiglass New Zealand, proved the most consistent in the observation trials. However, in the subsequent selection trials she faltered, and her series results of 3/4=/7/1=/5/4, for fourth overall, were not as consistent as the trio of Swuzzlebubble III, Epiglass New Zealand and Marac that clinched selection. At times Roperunner went like a champion, as in the short offshore race when she tied for first place with Swuzzlebubble III, but on other occasions she didn't seem to handle the chop as well as the finer-sterned Holland yachts. Her campaign was not helped when she hit the rocks off Rangitoto in the second harbour race while she was leading the group of minimum raters.
Feltex Roperunner is set up well to windward of Spritzer and Swuzzlebubble III in a harbour race start off Westhaven (above), but Swuzzlebubble III has soon slipped ahead (below)

Gibbs’ faith in Holland was well rewarded with Swuzzlebubble III finishing as the top individual boat in the Admiral’s Cup, although the team itself finished a disappointing fifth overall. The overall demise in New Zealand’s offshore prowess was further underscored later that year in the Southern Cross Cup when the renamed The Roperunner, Ngaruru and a new Davidson yacht, the 38 foot Southern Raider, finished a lowly sixth, of eleven teams. 
The Roperunner to windward of the Davidson-designed Szechwan during the 1981 Southern Cross Cup series (photo Seahorse)
The team was selected following trials in Wellington and appeared sound enough, but in the light breezes and sloppy seas off Sydney it was a failure. The team were further handicapped when Southern Raider was forced to retire from the Sydney-Hobart race following structural problems after heavy squalls on the first night. The Roperunner salvaged what she could, finishing 13th in the Cup fleet (following placings of 12/7/20 in the earlier races), but Ngaruru could do no better than 28th, of 30 boats.

The Roperunner during the 1981 Southern Cross Cup series
The Roperunner did not return to New Zealand, and went on to race in Australian offshore regattas for some years. She displayed some longevity and perhaps improvement following further tuning, and The Roperunner finished a creditable 15th overall in the 1983 Sydney to Hobart race (of 158 finishers), the year that the new generation Farr 40's like Pacific Sundance came to the fore to win the Southern Cross Cup for New Zealand. This effort was no doubt a significant factor that led to The Roperunner being crowned the Blue Water Champion by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia for the 1983-84 season.

Update March 2016: The Roperunner is based at the Lake Macquarie Yacht Club.


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