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.


  1. Did Blizzard become Storm Bird in the mid 90s?

    1. Blizzard was sailed around the world by Andreas Hannekamp in the Hong Kong Challenge race as City of Wiener Neustadt. She is now sailing in the UK as Hope & Glory.

  2. The Stormbird you're thinkg of was originally Dump Truck, an Ed Dubois 54. As Dump Truck, she raced as Whilrlpool in the 1992 Round Ireland Race and set a race record and and won overall on CHS. In 1994 Ciaran Foley bought her and renamed her Stormbird after his original Stormbird, the 1981 Stephen Jones Oyster 43 ex 'Nadia', the Swiss 1981 Admirals cupper.

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