26 August 2015

The International 50-Foot Class - Part 3

The 1990 World Cup for the International 50-Foot Yacht Association (IFYA) got underway with a one-off series in Japan, in November 1989 – a notable series for the fact that Mark Morita, the Japanese owner of Champosa V, underwrote the shipping costs of all the yachts, containers and crews to the tune of an estimated $5m - half of which was raised from seven major Japanese corporations under the aegis of the International 50-Foot Yacht Association of Japan, which Morita formed. 
Will sails upwind in fresh conditions during the second race of the Japanese World Cup event, November 1989 (photo Sail magazine)
This attracted to 18 boats for the actual regatta, from eight countries, and coincided with ongoing growth in the 50-foot class, with eight new boats having been launched since December 1988, and another six were expected to debut in early 1990. For Bengal V’s Japanese owner Masakazu Kobayashi, the 50-footers were seen as an excellent training ground for his new Bengal Bay Challenge America’s Cup crew.

While the event was notable for the impressive size of the fleet, the largest fleet to ever compete in an IFYA event, the conditions in Miura, a commercial fishing village in Sagami Bay south of Yokohama, were less so. Winds swung between very heavy and very light, and the race committee barely got in the minimum four (out of seven scheduled) races to constitute a series. The second race was in the very upper limit for the fragile racers, sailed in breezes that reached a steady 39 knots. Boats surfed at 18 knots. Some limped away early - the Judel-Vrolijk designed Container (helmed by Star sailor Achim Greise) was dismasted in dramatic style during a wayward gybe. The rig was cut away and later retrieved by scuba divers – the crew worked all day and night in watches of seven men to splice the mast together again, and they finished just in time to sail the next day’s races. The overall toll from the race was two broken masts and four broken booms, and a variety of other minor damage. 

Container prepares to gybe in the very fresh conditions in the second race - below, the aftermath

In the end it was Richard DeVos’s Farr-designed Windquest, skippered by John Bertrand, that won the abbreviated series, taking the series over another Farr design, the Japanese Will, by just 0.5 points. Windquest led round the course on the first race but sailed past the layline on the last beat and lost to Container. In the second race Windquest nipped the Danish yacht Andelstanken by half a boat-length on the last tack.
Bengal V, with the help of New Zealand sailors Peter Lester and Rod Davis aboard, won the re-sailed third race in light and very shifty airs – Windquest was as low as 14th at one stage but battled back to finish ninth. The last race was another light and shifty contest, which was won by Windquest with Will second, and Will also took second place overall. Third place overall went to Andelstanken, followed by the ever-present Champosa V and Bengal V
Andelstanken leads Will and Windquest in fresh conditions in the second race (photo Sail magazine)
Some of the Fifties on their way to Japan
A new change for the class was the introduction of a Silver Fleet for the 1990 World Cup, which got underway with the Japan regatta. The influx of new boats for the 1989 season had seen a marked speed difference between the new and older generation. So the IFYA addressed the problem by deciding that those boats that qualified for an old-age allowance under Mk IIIA of the IOR would have two ratings. They would then be given two scores, one against the overall fleet and a secondary set of results against other Mk IIIA boats in a Silver Fleet. Fuijimo beat Infinity, Springbok and American Eagle to win this 'classic division'. 

Sixteen 50-footers went on to compete at Key West in early 1990, where the wind blew harder than the previous year’s event, and well above 20 knots for the first two days. Kobayashki’s new Farr-designed Tiger was the early leader, but a premature start in the seventh race cost her the series. The new Farr designed Springbok ended up winning five races of the series, but remained behind Container in overall World Cup standings. 

Close up view of the action aboard Blizzard during the 1990 Key West regatta (photo Sailing World magazine)
Container leads Windquest around a leeward mark during the Tortola World Cup regatta (photo Craig Davis/Sail magazine)
Container went on to win the Tortola leg of the World Cup, held in May 1990, which was contested by a reduced fleet of eight boats, finishing ahead of Abracadabra and Springbok
Container was the early front-runner in the 1990 50-Foot season (photo Diamond Sails)
Abracadabra turned the tables by winning the next event in Miami, beating Container and Springbok. Abracadbra was a new Reichel/Pugh design, owned by Dr Jim Andrews and helmed by John Kolius, and she sailed a very consistent series in Miami, with only one finish below fourth. Container lost the regatta after being disqualified in one of the last races after a collision with Infinity 90 and Champosa V.
Abracadabra - standout performer during the 1990 World Cup series (photo McConaghy Boats)
Abracadabra makes her debut in the Miami World Cup regatta (photo Sailing World magazine)
The final event was held in fresh conditions in Newport, Rhode Island. Abracadabra won the first four races en-route to a resounding victory, her fourth regatta win in the 1990 season and more than enough to take the 1990 World Cup. Container and Springbok fought hard for second, with Container edging out Springbok in the final points. Windquest finished fourth and Carat VII fifth.
Springbok puts her bow in during a gybe in fresh conditions in Narragansett Bay, Newport (photo Sail magazine)
Abracadabra - 1990 World Cup winner (photo McConaghy Boats)
Carat VII - fifth in the 1990 50-Foot World Cup, and sporting her Sobstad Genesis mainsail

Mandrake was the overall winner in the 1990 Merit Sardinia Cup
In Part 4 of this series of articles we look at the Fifties in the 1991 Admiral's Cup, and the last 50 Foot World Cup events.
Mandrake (photo Carlo Borlenghi / Farr Yacht Design Facebook page)
Part 1 of this series can be seen here and Part 2 here

23 August 2015

Half Ton Classics Cup 2015

Nieuwpoort, Belgium - 21 August 2015 - After five days, ten races, multiple parties and some amazingly close yacht racing, the 1985 Humphreys MG HS30 Checkmate XV, helmed by Ireland's David Cullen and crewed by Mark Pettitt, John Murphy, James Hynes, Andy George, Aidan Beggan and Gary Cullen, was declared the Half Ton Classics Cup Champion 2015 with a race to spare. 
Checkmate XV on the final day of the Half Ton Classics Cup 2015 (photos by Fiona Brown)
Whilst David and his team returned ashore to savour their victory after the penultimate race, the battle for second place between the 1986 Andrieu designed Miss Whiplash and the 1992 Ceccarelli designed Per Elisa went down to the wire in the final race. Roddy Angus and Dan Challic's Trestada had won race nine with Per Elisa second, Tom Florizoone's Red Cloud third and Miss Whiplash fourth. Miss Whiplash still had the advantage, but with the tricky light conditions leaving the door open for the unexpected there was still a chance for Per Elisa to overtake. 

The two boats were locked in battle royal throughout the last race, but ultimately race victory by 19 seconds and second place on the podium went to Paul Pullen, Timmy Bailey, Brian Steptoe, Jonathan Kneale, Edward Bolitho, Oliver Berryman and Amy Sharp sailing Miss Whiplash, with Robbie Tregear, John and Chris Darbyshire, Andy Jenmin, Dave Miller, Adam Furneaux and James Richardson aboard Per Elisa taking second in the race and third on the podium.

Per Elisa secures a pin end start early in the series
A hugely enthusiastic supporter of the class, David Cullen was a popular winner and magnanimous in his victory, thanking his crew, his fellow competitors, the members and volunteers of the Koninklijke Yacht Club, Nieuwpoort, and Race Officer Paul Charlier for an outstanding regatta. Asked how it felt to finally have his hands on the trophy after so many years he replied:

"We had a fantastic week, it's a beautiful place to sail and the organisers are superb. We got a mixture of all kinds of weather, a bit of Irish weather with the rain, light breezes and windy, so we were very happy with our overall performance and obviously to win the event is very gratifying. 

"I actually started sailing the original Checkmate with Nigel Biggs when I was 19 - and I'm not going to tell you how long ago that was! I bought this boat from Nigel last year and we have spent all year upside down in it at very windy regattas, so to come over here and keep the boat upright is quite an achievement, never mind finishing and winning the regatta.

"It's a very tricky boat, the new boats are very very powerful and we're still trying to figure it out. But we've learnt a lot this week thanks to my ace tactician Mark Pettitt, and we look forward to moving forward and maybe being a little bit faster for Falmouth next year."
The Corinthian Half Ton Classics Cup Trophy was awarded to local boat Skippy's Ton helmed by Nicolas Lejeune and crewed by Jean-Marie Gilles, Ann Lippens, Jean-Benoit Boels, Jan Vyvey and Philippe Piron, who finished in 12th place overall.

An early casualty - General Tapioca loses her mast on the second day
The prize for the leading Production Boat was won by Crakajax, an X95 built in 1985. After the prize giving co-owner Ursula Bagnall noted, "The navigation in Nieuwpoort is really difficult because of the sandbanks and how they effect the tidal flow. It makes racing in the Solent look like a doddle. We are one of the few boats that still sails to every HTCC and we have a full interior including a toilet and cooker and bunks for eight. It's a great event and we hope to see more Production boats in Falmouth next year, perhaps even enough to have a division of our own."

In addition to the main racing trophies there is a very special award presented at each Half Ton Classics Cup. The Half Ton True Spirit Trophy is awarded to the boat that, in the opinion of the judging committee, truly personifies the spirit of the class in that season. For their never ending enthusiasm, their commitment to their beautiful boat and their determination to throw themselves into every Half Ton event wholeheartedly, this year's recipients of the True Spirit Trophy are Jean-Luc Courbon, Jean Marty, Richard Carlie, Pierre-Yves Danet, Helen Frouin, Paul de la Renardiere and Louison Le Scouarnec of the 1988 Andrieu designed Half Capone - named after the famous American gangster who also inspires the crews crew uniform. The ladies of the KYCN shore team helped to decide the winner and came armed with water pistols and handcuffs to round up their man!

Alongside the serious prizes there were a number of humorous awards, which caused much mirth amongst the sailors, and every boat in the fleet was called to the stage to receive special prizes including a copy of the Half Ton Classics Cup 2015 poster, a bottle of scotch whisky presented by Roddy Angus of Trastada and, most importantly, a special invitation to the 2016 Half Ton Classics Cup which will be held in Falmouth, UK during the third week of August.

And so the sun sets on another amazing Half Ton Classics Cup and the boats are heading home to start dreaming about and preparing for next time. For next year's event the Class is also keen to encourage participation by Production Half Tonners and boats still being raced in "as original" condition. So if you have a Half Tonner of any type and fancy joining in the fun in Falmouth please contact Paul Pullen on paul@mylorchandlery.co.uk.

Review all the news, results and photographs from the event via the Half Ton Classics Cup Blog and the Half Ton Class Facebook page.  Further information about the Half Ton Classic class is available from the Class Website.



12 August 2015

Quarter Ton Cup 1975

A short film from the 1975 Quarter Ton Cup, held in Deauville, France, has recently surfaced. The Cup was won that year by the Bruce Farr-designed 45 South, the first international victory for New Zealand in a home-grown design, and an early breakthrough effort for Farr. 45 South features at 0:10 (at the dock) and 1.00 (sailing downwind) in this clip.

More about 45 South and the 1975 Quarter Ton Cup can be seen here.

8 August 2015

Howzat - 2015 SSANZ Race 2

Howzat, the modified Whiting Half Tonner, is presently competing in the SSANZ (Short-handed Sailing Association of New Zealand) Two-handed regatta, made up of three races of various lengths around the Hauraki Gulf. Howzat finished second in the "Shorthaul" division in lighter conditions in the first race in July, and this sequence was taken soon after the start of the second race (Saturday 8 August) - conditions were pretty moderate to start with, but a classic wintery squall soon ripped through the fleet and I was able to catch Howzat on the burst in this sequence below. They avoided putting the boat completely down the mine, and after recovering from their broach she went on to finish the race in tenth place on corrected time.


5 August 2015

The International 50-Foot Class - Part 2

Infinity, the Nelson/Marek 50-foot 1988 World Cup champion, started the 1989 World Cup strongly, with the narrowest of wins in the opening regatta in Miami. The result looked unlikely halfway into the first day of racing when Infinity received a pair of battle wounds in the opening race – a sizeable gash in her transom, after tacking too close to Fujimo at a top mark, and a gaping hole amidships below the waterline after Windquest tried to take an inside track between her and a leeward mark. Overnight repairs saw her back in the fray on the second day, and took victory after a down-to-the-wire victory in the final race. 
Showing the battle wound on her transom inflicted by Fujimo's bow, Infinity sets her spinnaker off Miami Beach, early 1989 (photo Sail)
Ten yachts had turned out for the Miami regatta, including Wictor Forss’s brand new Farr-designed Carat VII (Design #203), who won the first race, Windquest (Design #206), a wheel-steered sistership to Carat VII, and the new Gem (ex-Royal Blue). The series was held in strong north-westerlies and huge seas that rolled in from the Gulf Stream. This caused some havoc amongst the fleet, with Fujimo suffering a splintered carbon spinnaker pole, Gem blowing out her mainsail track, while Carat VII performed a spectacular pole-burying death roll. Windquest took second place, followed by Champosa V and Abracadabra
50-Footers starting off Miami Beach, early 1989 - left to right: Nitissima 25180, Gem US95, Blizzard K641, Windquest 42450 and Champosa V 43786 (photo Sail)
Infinity held on to an overall World Cup lead after the first three events of the season, with consistent top three results. But Carat VII, which had a modest fifth placing in Miami, soon found her form, wining the second event in Key West Race Week. In the third event, in Tortola, Abracadabra pulled off a one second victory on corrected time over Carat VII in the last race of the series to win in a tiebreaker for first overall. Windquest had finished second in Miami and fourth in Tortola, but sat behind the Nelson/Marek designs Abracadabra and Champosa V in the overall standings. 
Infinity crosses behind Abracadabra off Miami Beach (photo Sail)
These regattas all followed the new format desired by the International 50-Foot Yachting Association, with all races being 12-mile windward-leeward courses, and racing in the ten-boat fleet was extremely close. 
Ernest Juer's Humphreys-designed Blizzard tuning up before the 1987 British Admiral's Cup trials (photo Rick Tomlinson/Seahorse)
Carat VII moved into the lead in the World Cup series after winning the fourth regatta, the Block Island 50-Foot Championship, with ten boats again competing. Carat VII held out Windquest and Champosa V, and by this stage the top group, which could be considered to include Infinity, Abracadabra, the Humphreys-designed Blizzard and Gem were clearly a step ahead of their earlier generation competition, which included the masthead types Fujimo, Renegade, Springbok and Nitissima
The Fifties approach a top mark off Tortola, with Abracadabra just to weather of Infinity (photo Roger Kennedy/Sailing World)
Although their own World Cup event was decided on the basis of short-course inshore racing, the Fifties still had an offshore purpose, and their fortunes in mixed fleet ocean racing received a boost for the 1989 Admiral's Cup when the Royal Ocean Racing Club resolved to reduce the previous dominance of the One Tonners. This was done by changing the time multiplication factor (TMF) curve in favour of the Fifties, and to reduce the points loading for the offshore regattas. The small-boat dominance of previous regattas had been further curbed by the addition of a fourth (and long) inshore race, and a reduction in the points loading for the Channel and Fastnet races, and significantly this coincided with the increasing development in the class through its World Cup circuit. The change to the TMF for the Admiral's Cup, and concurrent performance gains by the new Fifties, was considered to represent something like a 20-30% improvement in the performance of these boats relative to the 1987 Admiral’s Cup fleet. 
Alan Grey's Farr 50 Jamarella - top individual yacht in the 1989 Admiral's Cup (photo Yachting NZ)
The 1989 Admiral's Cup thus became the year of the Fifties, with the new breed of these Admiral's Cup 'maxis' having line and handicap wins in five of the six races, and taking four of the top five places overall. Jamarella, owned by Alan Gray (Farr design #213), led the charge for the British team with a superbly consistent 1/3/2/3/2/4 series that made her top individual performer in the 42-boat fleet (from 14 nations), and spearheaded Britain's first Cup win since 1981. She was led by helmsmen Gordon Maguire and Lawrie Smith. Will, another Farr 50, owned by Ryouji Oda of Japan, was second (with placings of 8/1/4/6/4/5). 
Japan's Will (above and below) finished second yacht overall in the 1989 Admiral's Cup

Jamarella in power-reaching conditions during the 1989 Admiral's Cup (photo Sail)
Gray had built Jamarella expressly to try out the new World Cup circuit, and because he felt that the TMF changes could produce a 50-footer that was not just a useful Admiral's Cup team yacht, but a potential series top scorer. The design for Jamarella was slightly altered from her circuit-racing sisterships Carat VII and Windquest, with rig and keel modifications to orient the boat for ocean racing courses and to suit the slightly lower maximum rating limit of the Admiral's Cup. 
The lines of Jamarella (Farr design #213)
Denmark also benefitted from the new-found dominance of the 50-footers, picking up Germany's discarded Container (renamed Stockbroker's Container) which joined the Jeppeson designed 50-footer Andelsbanken IV. The team had to settle for second to Britain after Andelsbanken IV's forestay parted and the yacht had to retire from one of the races. 
Andelsbanken IV during the 1989 Admiral's Cup, with Jamarella tucked away to leeward
Andelsbanken during a 50-Foot event circa 1989

Startline action in the final 1989 World Cup event in Rhode Island - Champosa V has won the pin end of the start line, and Windquest (42450) the windward end
After the 1989 Admiral’s Cup the Fifties gathered again in Newport Rhode Island for the sixth and final event in the 1989 World Cup. By this stage Windquest had well and truly found her straps, winning four of the seven races in a predominantly light air series in Rhode Island Sound. This moved her ahead of Infinity in a tie-breaker for second place in the overall World Cup standings, behind winner Carat VII which had clinched the title in the fifth regatta in Muskegon, Michigan a month earlier. Second and third place in Rhode Island went to the newcomers Will and Jamarella, which had both been shipped over from England after the Admiral’s Cup. 
The Fifties head downwind in Rhode Island (Champosa V closest to camera, Windquest US42450 to the right)
Some spectacular 50-foot action can also be seen in the video clip below (which includes the One Tonner Challenge 88), that features a wipeout by Carat VII. The boat in the last sequence is the Soverel-designed 50-footer Diane, which loses her rig and the swinging boom then knocks a crewman overboard. 

In Part 3 we look at the 50-foot regatta held in Japan in November 1989, and the results of the 1990 World Cup.

Part 1 can be seen here.

2 August 2015

The International 50-Foot Class - Part 1

The International 50-Foot Class saw some of the most competitive racing ever in the IOR era, through the class association's own "World Cup" circuit raced in several venues each season. The development of the International 50-Foot Yacht Association ("IFYA") arose as a result of those owners who wanted to race their yachts on a near level-rating basis, similar to that enjoyed in the smaller Ton classes, and the larger Maxis. The IFYA established a rating band of 39.0 to 41.0 feet IOR, for boats known as 50-footers for their approximate overall length. 
Sweden's Royal Blue rounds a leeward mark during a 50-foot regatta in 1988 (photo Guy Gurney/Sail)
The IFYA demanded (and received) a separate class at grand prix events and began holding its own regattas, all the while attracting world class sailors and producing extremely close action. The Fifties didn’t reach their pre-eminence in the grand prix scene overnight, although there had been some interest in IOR yachts of this size in preceding year.  The first of the type, primarily German Frers designs such as Bravura, Morning Star and Retaliation, appeared at the SORC in the early 1980s. By 1984 there were seven 39.0-41.0ft raters in the dozen boats that made up Class B. But it took three more years for the Fifties to achieve their own class at the SORC (with 11 boats in 1987). 
The Frers 50-footer Morningstar - winner of Class B in the 1984 SORC (photo Larry Moran)
Elsewhere, the 50-footers were a mainstay of US efforts in events such as the Clipper Cup in the early 1980s (with success by the crack Peterson-design Checkmate and the Frers Tomahawk), and enjoyed competitive racing in Class B in the SORC. 
US 50-footer Checkmate charges along to leeward of the Soverel 55-footer The Shadow during the 1984 Clipper Cup series (photo Charles P LeMiuex III/Yacht Racing & Cruising)
The first apparent effort to scale up from some of the successful One Ton yachts of the mid-1980s was the Farr design Great Expectations (#155), which was also oriented towards the Clipper Cup as well as the Southern Cross Cup, but incorporated some cruising amenities (Great Expectations later became Yeoman XXVII, and was an unsuccessful contender for the British Admiral's Cup team in 1989). 

An early forerunner of the 'modern IOR 50-footer, the Australian yacht Great Expectations (photo McConaghy Boats)
The Davidson 50 Great Fun also signaled the potential of the big fractional rig approach, with an impressive performance in the 1982 Clipper Cup where she finished first in Class B, and formed part of the winning US "Blue" team.
The Davidson 50 Great Fun enjoys the very fresh conditions encountered during the 1982 Clipper Cup (photo John Malitte/Sea Spray)
In Europe, the Fifties were the "big boat" of any Admiral's Cup event, being at the maximum limit of the 30.0-40.0ft rating band for this series. Although teams had occasionally included a 50-footer, they usually struggled to save their time against their smaller rivals. This was particularly apparent in the 1985 and 1987 Admiral's Cup, when teams that were comprised of at least two One Tonners were almost essential to be competitive. The Fifties were also a more expensive option for most teams.
Wictor Forss' Carat (a Frers masthead rigged design and development of Blizzard - she was the ex-Retaliation and competed in the 1983 and 1985 Admiral's Cup)
The IFYA was formed in early 1986, co-founded by Swedish yachtsman Wictor Forss (of Carat fame) and by 1988 had 20 members. Its first annual meeting in January 1987, in St Petersburg, Florida, was followed by its first North American Championship (at the same location). This set the precedent for future events, with tight round-the-buoys racing. Regattas-within-races and a Fifties Great Lakes Championship followed. A World Cup series was established, based on the results of six regattas during each season.
Windquest - a Frers 50, built in aluminium, competed in the 1986 SORC, finishing 4th in class and 18th in fleet (photo Roger Smith/Seahorse). The top 50s in the '86 SORC were Fujimo, Nitissima and Carat, all Frers designs
The Frers 50-footer Nitissima (rating 40.0ft IOR) - note the traveller located behind the helmsman, with primaries well forward - the runner station was considered at the time to be "particularly efficient" (photo John A Glynn/Sailing World)
When the officials for the 1988 SORC refused to change the format and length of that series at the request of the Fifties owners and others, the IFYA and the Maxi yacht association announced a boycott. So influential had their respective associations become, that this boycott decimated the IOR entry list, diminished the world class status of the SORC, and forced the organisers to open the regatta to yachts racing under PHRF handicaps. 
Cockpit detail of the Joubert/Nivelt 50 Leading Edge - rated 40.0ft, featured twin wheels well forward for better weight distribution (photo John A Glynn/Sailing World)
Like any grand prix racing of that era (and as remains the case), Fifties racing was not for the faint hearted, nor for the slim of wallet. To design, build and equip a custom Fifty would typically cost US$500-700,000 in 1988 dollars, but the attraction was obvious for those that could afford it, and filled a gap for those owners too old for an uncomfortable One Tonner, but not rich enough for the Maxi scene.
The crew of Fujimo prepare to set the spinnaker during a 50-foot regatta (photo Jon Eisberg/Sail)
Eleven Fifties assembled for the 1988 Key West Race Week, and although four of those were from Europe, the Fifties were initially an American phenomenon. The Fifties had tended to mirror US conservatism toward IOR racing and design. In practice, owners eschewed sponsors’ names on their boats, yet packed their crews with professionals, continuing the US contradiction of being anti-commercial but "pro the pros". 

In design, the early Fifties were conservative - slower to shed the high-freeboard, moderate displacement hull types and masthead rigs than the smaller IOR classes, with something of a “mini-Maxi” appearance (see Infinity profile to the left).
The Nelson/Marek Abracadabra - rated 40.4ft, featured a non-hydraulic solid vang, recessed cabintop for the spinnaker pole and a German mainsheet system (photo John A Glynn/Sailing World)

The first generation of yachts included an evolution of these conservative designs, such as the Frers 1982-vintage Tomahawk (ex-Margaret Rintoul), owned by Californian John Arens, through to the 1983-84 Frers designs Nitissima (George Uznis from Detroit), Morning Star, and Springbok (John Ambrose and David Rosow, both from Long Island Sound), to two Great Lakes boats, Rich DeVos’s Windquest and Jerome Schostak’s Fujimo.
Infinity - the early champion of the 50-foot fleet, designed by Nelson/Marek and rated 40.1ft, seen here at the start of the Ocean Triangle in the 1987 SORC (photo John A Glynn/Sailing World)
A second generation emerged in late 1986 and early 1987 as more designers entered the Fifties fray, and four-spreader and fractional rigs became more common, and hull shapes were varied and displacements lightened. The Nelson/Marek design duo began the new generation, with Lemak’s Abracadabra and John Thomson’s Infinity, both launched in 1987. Abracadabra was 5,000 pounds lighter than the average Frers 50 (at 25,000 pounds versus 30,000). Within months of her launching, Infinity was lightened further, with a new thinner, lighter keel, the removal of 1,000 pounds of ballast, and the addition of more mainsail area.
The Soverel design Locura, rated 40.6ft and made her debut at the 50-foot Class Championships in St Petersburg in 1987 where she was the only boat to win more than one race, but had a less successful outing at the 1987 SORC. Leading Edge is visible to the right (photo John A Glynn/Sailing World)
Other variations included the Joubert/Nivelt Leading Edge (Eugene Mondry), a narrow Fifty with a plumb bow and lighter displacement of 23,000 pounds. She carried an unusual masthead rig – which featured unusual fractional proportions with a small J measurement and a large, low-aspect mainsail. George de Guardiola commissioned a new Locura by designer Mark Soverel (replacing his earlier 43 footer), with a relatively small hull and large 15/16th rig. Swedish yacht Royal Blue was the lightest of all the newcomers, designed by Philippe Briand and owned by eight Swedes who had formerly campaigned a Frers 51 Bla Carat (which sailed for Sweden in the 1983 Admiral's Cup alongside Forss' Carat, with disappointing results).
The Vallicelli design Springbok, rated 40.3ft - competed in the Kenwood Cup in 1986 with Dennis Conner at the helm but lost her rig (photo John A Glynn/Sailing World)
The Farr designed Great Expectations was unsuccessful in her campaign for selection in the British 1987 Admiral's Cup team (photo Seahorse)
Unsurprisingly, the increasing attention from top designers led to the beginning of an arms race. There was hardly a pre-1987 boat that didn’t receive a keel or rudder replacement or other modification. The record was held by Windquest, which had three keels by early 1988. Many, such as the “mini-Fifty” Gem (ex-Brooke Ann, a Nelson/Marek 49) had been given lighter four-spreader rigs. 
The Fifties in action at the start of the heavy air race in the Miami 50s Regatta in 1988 - from left to right, Yeoman 27, Gem, Fujimo, Blizzard, Windquest, Locura and Infinity (photo Sheila Hill/Sailing World)

The early pace-setters in the emerging class were Fujimo and Infinity, seen as transitional boats that fell somewhere between the two design generations. Fujimo won her class in the 1986 SORC, finished third in the 1987 SORC, and won the Great Lakes Championship. Infinity was second at the 1987 North Americans, won the 1987 SORC, and was third in the Great Lakes series. 
The Briand-designed Royal Blue enjoyed a successful season through 1988
At the 1988 Key West series, Infinity showed the benefit of her new, lighter configuration and won the Fifties class, while Fujimo faltered, suffering from mistakes – she withdrew from one race after clipping Infinity’s stern aerials, and was over the line in the last race. She tied for third place overall with Locura, both finishing behind Royal Blue, which was also the winner of that year's Big Boat Series
The Farr-designed Great News during the 1988 Big Boat Series
Although the record is not definitive, it appears that Infinity went on to take World Cup honours for the 1988 season.  

In Part 2 we look at the 1989 season, including the rise and dominance of the Fifties in that year’s Admiral’s Cup.