Too much sail, too little stability, ah…., good old IOR
On one side of the main pontoon in Cowes Yacht Haven the Swan European fleet provided an array of elegant of modern classics, on the other, a diverse collection of 25ish footers that looked like they had distorted in the heat. Humps, hollows, bumps and creases, despite plenty of post build corrective surgery, several in the 27 boat fleet were still showing clear signs of Botox abuse. Boats like Odd Job, Runaway Bus and Snoopy, just three good examples of how things were and how things have changed.
Given that this summer seems to have taken on a spirit of reflection for me, it seemed only right that I should race in a fleet of boats that provided my first entry into offshore racing back in the seventies. Having hitched a ride for a day aboard Rob Gray’s 1990 Rolf Vrolijk designed Aguila, I had surprised myself at just how excited I was at the prospect of sailing in this fleet.
I wasn’t to be disappointed. The windward leeward racing is as close as anything you’ll find in the SB3 fleet, plus you receive a sharp wake up call when it comes to spinning these twenty something footers around the marks. When compared to modern sports boats, Quarter tonners are complex little boats that behave like kids who’ve overdosed of E numbers and will trip up, spin out and runaway from you at every opportunity. And that’s without having runners, checks and a mast section that makes a fishing rod look overbuilt to worry about.
‘Slow’ boats on a short windward leeward course in 10-15 knots true provided a perfect playground for those looking for close competition. But as we got into the swing I was left wondering why we had made such a meal of things back in the ’70s. Why did racing around the Solent feel so physically demanding and stressful?
The answer came with the fourth race of the day, a conventional round the cans race. Small boats with dinghy sized sheets and cam jammers to match that had been easy to man handle on a windward leeward course, developed loads that appeared to treble in size on a tight reach across the tide. Rudders stalled out, booms scrapped the wave tops and mainsails ragged out like flags.
Surfing down a wave meant pumping your speed from 6 to 8 knots and when the boat came flat, your boots filled up with water as you trawled them from the low freeboard side decks. But there were smiles all round among our crew, many of whom had cut their teeth on such boats in the class’ heyday. All apart from that is, our bowman David Chapman who was young enough to be left bemused at why any boat of this size just wouldn’t get up and plane down the waves.
As a big fan of sportsboats and their sizzling performance I could see his point, but this was, ‘just like the old days’.
As continued to witter on about the ‘first time I’d seen that boat,’ and the thing that makes another stand out,’ he and the rest of the crew were polite enough not to roll their eyes back!