After a long refit, the legendary and once groundbreaking Uffa Fox-designed ocean racer has returned to the water. Elaine Bunting reports
In September, Huff of Arklow slipped back into the water on the River Tamar near Plymouth ready to go sailing again after a remarkable restoration. One of the most groundbreaking yachts of her era and a milestone in the history of yacht design, the 44ft sloop was designed by Uffa Fox and built in Arklow in Ireland in 1951. She was one of a class known as the Flying 30 – eight were designed by Fox, but only this boat was ever built – and was the first offshore yacht to feature a fin and skeg, the first ever masthead rig sloop and the first oceangoing yacht designed to plane.
With her odd, stepped sheerline, she still looks remarkable. At the time, Huff of Arklow was greeted with surprise and some scepticism, but she proved exceptionally speedy, recording speeds on passage of more than 20 knots. In recent years she had been based in Cowes and used for sail training. She is built of two cold-moulded skins of mahogany running diagonally and horizontally, but water had seeped into the canvas between these, the hull had sagged, and she was in need of restoration.
Eyemouth International Sailing Craft Association (EISCA), an educational charity that preserves and maintains a collection of boats exhibited in Cardiff and Eyemouth in Scotland, stepped in to fund the work using apprentice boatbuilders. She has been restored at Mashfords Boatyard in Cremyll to be as close as possible to her original condition yet comply with modern charter coding rules.
Huff of Arklow was built for Douglas Heard, an ex-RAF pilot, keen racer and friend of Uffa Fox. He wanted a yacht that was similar to a scaled-up Flying Fifteen, but with sufficient space to accommodate a crew of six. The yacht was built at John Tyrrell & Son in Arklow and Heard raced and cruised her extensively, sailing to the Azores, Bermuda, Iceland and the Faeroes.
In the late 1970s Huff was the victim of an arson attack and when experts said she would never sail again a new owner, Chris Allen, bought her for £500. Following an extensive restoration in Southampton, she was used for chartering and made available for sail training voyages with underprivileged children.
She was bought by EISCA in 1999 and has been restored over the winters since 2009 with the help of a £40,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. She has been completely resplined and glued, refastened with 8,000 copper nails and has regained her original waterline length and shape.
“It’s wonderful to see her sitting on her waterline again and she sails like she means it now,” says Barbara Bridgman who, with her husband, Dominic, has been involved with the restoration from the beginning. “She is odd to look at and extremely interesting to sail, very responsive and a handful downwind, though she always flew,” she claims.
Also restored is Dinky, the tender Uffa Fox designed to fit at the stern of Huff of Arklow, where she can protect the helmsman from wind and spray.
This winter work will be done to complete the furniture and electrical systems before Huff of Arklow goes racing and cruising in earnest. Next season, she will sail to Ireland to some of the important places in her history, will race at Dun Laoghaire and sail to Belfast, and she will be used for sail training and charter.
For more info, see huffofarklow.org
This is an extract from a feature in the November 2014 issue of Yachting World