Mistral Keeps 12 Metres In Port

September 11, 2007

Today should have seen the start of the Rolex Veteran Boat Rally 2007. Strong winds stopped that and, instead, journalists and spectators attending the event took advantage of the postponement to brush up on the history of one part of the fleet that has gathered so far.

In 1906 an International Conference on Yacht Measurement was held in London to try and devise an international rule of measurement for racing yachts that was acceptable to all European countries. The conference was attended by the various European yachting authorities and a set of measurement rules was agreed upon eventually in 1907. On 1st January 1908, a version of the International Measurement Rule was implemented and read as follows:

(L + B + 1/3G + 3d + 1/3SQR{S} - F) / 2 = 12 Metres

For those not versed in scientific formula and yacht design terminology, and wondering what relevance this piece of history and equation might have to the Rolex Veteran Boat Rally that should have started today (had the Mistral not arrived bringing 60 knot gusts to the Straits of Bonifacio cancelling any prospect of racing for the day), the critical bit is 12 Metres. This seemingly innocuous answer did, in fact, mark the spawning of an era in the yachting that was to be at the forefront of the racing world for some 80 years - albeit with some evolutionary changes to the formula that consequently led to developments in design style and construction techniques. Some of which set the world on fire and some of which were swiftly consigned to the dustbin of oddball ideas. The connection with this event is that 2007 marks the Centenary of the Metre Classes and as part of the celebrations a 12 Metre Division has been included at the Rolex Veteran Boat Rally 2007.

In the absence of any racing today and, in an effort to shed some light on the calculation to make it a bit more meaningful, the letters are explained thus:

L = waterline length
D = difference between girth and chain
B = beam
S = sail area
G = chain girth
F = freeboard

Further explanation of the terms could take months - a quick search on the Internet may help!

In order for a yacht to fit within the rule, the results of the formula could not exceed 12 metres. In practice, the Rule was much more complex and open to interpretation. The Rule Book contained around 20 pages of text. Included were parameters designed to control maximum and minimum mast height, draft, beam and headsail height thereby attempting to limit the diversity amongst the boats. Of course, yacht designers being yacht designers, they would take advantage of every loophole and omission to create the fastest design possible while still complying with the Rule. Methods included increasing or decreasing the length of the hull, the sail area and freeboard; all the while balancing these with the shape of hull, keel and rudder to create the least amount of resistance, the greatest amounts of stability and lift. So successful was the Class in its early years that it was selected for three Olympic Games - 1908, 1912 and 1920.

The really old 12 Metres remain as beautiful today as when they were first launched. Fine, classic looking craft adhering to the principle of overall look being as important as speed. There are three at the Rolex Veteran Boat Rally - Zinita (1927), built under the 2nd Version of the 12 Metre Rule; along with Vanity V (1936) and Trivia (1937), built under the 3rd and final version of the principal rule, which still stands today and reads:

(L + 2d - F +SQR{S}) / 2.37 = 12 Metres

In 1958, the history of the 12 Metre Class became intertwined with the then pinnacle competition in the sport of big-boat racing - the America 's Cup. These 60- to 70-foot sloops were deemed more manageable than the 135-foot J boats that had previously been involved. The 12 Metre formula-based design meant that irrespective of the smaller size there was still scope for yachts to vary in sail area, length, and other speed producing aspects. Their involvement in the Cup ended in 1987.

At the Rolex Veterans there are six 12 Metres from the Cup period: Challenge 12 (1983), Courageous (1974) and Freedom (1980) race as Modern; whilst Kiwi Magic (1986), Kookaburra II (1986) and Wright on White (1983) race as Grand Prix.

The histories of these yachts are inextricably linked to the Cup and the stories about their triumphs and despairs are limitless. And for those still racing these yachts, maintaining the legacy and legend is as important as the racing itself.

Kookaburra II was designed by John Swarbrick and Iain Murray and built in 1986 as part of the Taskforce 87 syndicate that competed in the Defender trials for 1987 America 's Cup held in Perth , Australia . Her sistership, Kookaburra III, won those trials and went on to lose to Dennis Connor and Stars&Stripes in the final. The yacht is now in Italian ownership and has been chartered for this event by Patrizio Bertelli, head of the Luna Rossa and Prada campaigns at the last three Cups. Antonio Marrai, the owners' representative, described how the new owners came to bring the yacht to Italy , "we found her in Sydney Harbour together with her twin sister, Kookaburra III, being used for corporate races. We thought she would have good characteristics for sailing in the Mediterranean so we bought her in 2000. We invested five months in returning her to being a 'boat'. She is now back to her best shape as she was during the Cup." Kookaburra II has an aluminium hull, which brings with it maintenance and care issues and she is not left for too long in the water. In refitting her, Marrai also explained why they chose an old boat and how, as much as possible, they tried to avoid interfering with her original specification, "during the work we reused the same materials and we decided not to equip her with modern winches or other such equipment. we did replace the mast and adopted new sails, but she basically remains pretty much the same she was during the Cup. She requires care, competence and passion to look after her. With no passion there is no point to choose an old boat instead of new technological one!"

Also here from the '87 Cup is Kiwi Magic. She was designed by three scions of the New Zealand yachting community - Ron Holland, Laurie Davidson and Bruce Farr. Back then she was campaigned by Chris Dickson and was defeated in the Challenger series final by Stars&Stripes. She has a special place in the pantheon of 12 Metre design since she was the first fibreglass yacht to sail in the Cup. Peter Grubb manages the boat for one Bill Koch - head of the America3 syndicate that won back the Cup for America in San Diego in 1992. Grubb describes how her new owner has adopted a slightly different approach to Bertelli, "Mr Koch purchased the boat four years ago. He has kept her really up-to-date and tried to modernize the boat as much as he could within the rule. The boat has gone through a few changes and mostly involving the mast and the keel, but the hull is basically the same." Since bringing her to the Med this year, there have been more changes, "right now we have configured the boat a little bit differently from how she was originally built. She was built to sail in quite heavy wind, but we have tried to mode the boat a little bit down for the lighter wind here in the Mediterranean ."

Both boats have a clutch of sailing 'rock stars' - past and present - in their rosters. Aside from Koch, in the Kiwi Magic crew are helmsman Alexis (Lexi) Gahagan ( USA ) a Cup sailor from both the 12s and IACC era; Ian Baker (NZL), Stu Argo (USA) and Eric Doyle (USA) are other Cup alumni, whilst Bob Billingham is an Olympic Silver medalist from 1988 in the Soling. Amongst Kookaburra II's claims to fame are helmsman Philippe Presti (FRA), part of the Luna Rossa Cup programme, and Steve Erickson USA ), an Olympic Gold medalist in the Star.

The weather outlook for tomorrow suggests that racing will take place. The wind will rotate to the east overnight. In the morning the fleet may expect 13-18 knots from the northeast, decreasing in the afternoon to 9-14 knots as it moves further east.

Yesterday (10th September) did see some racing as elements of the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup and Rolex Veteran Boat Rally fleets joined with other invited boats to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the foundation of the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda. It's not often one gets the chance to see Neville Crichton's ultra-modern 98-foot Alfa Romeo (NZL on a start line alongside Tuiga (MON) 30-metre Fife sloop launched 1909. But they, along with some 40 other yachts of various sizes and age raced over the same 22-mile course, that saw Luigi Arturo Carpaneda and Bottadritta 5, a Ron Holland designed sloop, emerge as overall victor from the eclectic mix. The evening prizegiving and party on the Piazza Azzurra, supported by Rolex, formed a fitting end to a day of celebration and an appropriate forerunner to the racing and social programme that lay ahead at the Rolex Veteran Boat Rally.

The Rolex Veteran Boat Rally 2007 is organized by the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda and will run from September 11th to September 15th. 12 Metre racing tales place from 11th-13th inclusive and Veteran boat racing from the 13th-15th inclusive.