The X One Design may have had its centenary a few years ago, but it is still one of the mostly hotly contested and the biggest of the keelboat classes at Cowes. Elaine Bunting looks at its history

More politics than the Vatican

Like so many areas of sailing, the X seems to have its share of strong characters and steel-trap minds. Does it have more politics than the Vatican?, I ask Norris mischievously. He laughs and agrees that it can.

My impression is that debate and discourse is part of the lifeblood of the XOD class, one of its vital signs. Its capacity to excite and embroil is a reason why it has flourished for a century of adaptation.

For Ian Lallow, who once owned and raced three Xs that had been built at his yard, the appeal is: “Quite frankly it’s a reasonably priced boat that is easy to sail. You don’t have to be an Olympic helmsman or a millionaire.”

Setting up the mast is vital, believe the best in the class

Setting up the mast is vital, believe the best in the class

Maybe, but being an Olympic helmsman clearly helps. What is the secret to winning in the X? I ask Stuart Jardine. Setting up the mast, he divulges. “After that it is hours on the water. The boats are very even and getting a relatively slow hull over the tide you have to remember the rule ‘never stop an X: it takes a long time to get going again’.”

Not sportsboats

William Norris agrees: “They are not over-canvassed and are quite easy to sail, but they don’t behave like sportsboats. If you’re used to boats that can be powered up quickly you’ll have a very nasty shock. ”

This is problematic in a fleet the size of the XOD at Cowes Week. The class requires a huge start line and one part of the fleet can be all the way out in the tide while the inshore portion hits the beach moments after the start gun. “It takes quite a bit of skill and lots of luck,” Stuart Jardine declares, adding with relish: “It’s going to be fun.”

The huge size of the fleet can make the startline problematical

The huge size of the fleet can make the startline problematical

All who sail them agree the X is a tricky beauty that can take a lifetime to master, if ever. But let’s say you did and you were to start winning a few big races, I imagine that along with the plaudits you could soon expect a few detectives to come calling.

The oldest X – Madcap

One hundred and fourteen this year, Madcap (X5) is the oldest boat in the class. She was the fifth to be built at Woodnutts and the only survivor still racing.

During the war, when racing was banned, Madcap was abandoned and in 1950 she was rescued from a mud berth off Fawley by Stuart Jardine. He restored her and raced her successfully, winning the championships in 1956.

Madcap, the oldest XOD still racing

Madcap, the oldest XOD still racing

Madcap has passed through several hands, each owner carefully maintaining or restoring her. Richard Smith, who owned her in the 1980s, had a very successful run with her, winning numerous trophies and shields and taking the coveted Captain’s Cup at Cowes Week in 1988.

Today she belongs to Chris Torrens, who sails from Yarmouth. He bought Madcap in 2010 when he was completely new to the X. “I’ve jumped in at the deep end. The first time I’ve ever sailed one was last week,” he said when we spoke to him.

“There are some very good sailors so I’m just in for the fun and the parties and hopefully the boat will look stunning.”

See our video of sailing aboard an XOD at Cowes Week HERE

For more information go to

  1. 1. Start of the class
  2. 2. An acrimonious incident
  3. 3. More politics than the Vatican
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