|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 SORC class (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.
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), also oriented towards the Clipper Cup as well as the Southern Cross Cup, but incorporating some
cruising amenities (Great Expectations later became Yeoman XXVII,
and was an unsuccessful contender for the British Admiral's Cup team in 1989).
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.
|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)|
|An early forerunner of the 'modern IOR 50-footer, the Australian yacht Great Expectations (photo McConaghy Boats)|
|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 Fifty, they were typically struggled to save their time against their smaller rivals, and this was particularly apparent in the 1985 and 1987 series 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 St Petersburg, Florida, in January 1987, was followed by its first North American Championship (at the same location). This set the precedent for 50-foot 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.
|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)|
|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)|
|The crew of Fujimo prepare to set the spinnaker during a 50-foot regatta (photo Jon Eisberg/Sail)|
In design, the early Fifties were conservative - slower than the smaller IOR classes to shed the high-freeboard, moderate displacement hull and three (or sometimes four)-spreader masthead rig of their early years, 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 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)|
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 – but with 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)|
|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.
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.
Although the record is not definitive, it appears that Infinity went
on to take World Cup honours for the 1988 season.
|The Briand-designed Royal Blue enjoyed a successful season through 1988|
|The Farr-designed Great News during the 1988 Big Boat Series|
In Part 2 we look at the 1989 season, including the rise and dominance of the Fifties in that year’s Admiral’s Cup.