By the designer of the Solent Sunbeam and X One Design, the Victory Class celebrated its 80th birthday last year and so keen are the fleets – amateur and Royal Navy – that David Henshall predicts another 80 years to come
One of the most prolific designers of the first third of the 20th Century was Isle of Wight-based Alfred Westmacott, whose portfolio included such popular classics as the Solent Sunbeam and the X One Design. In some ways, the Victory, launched 80 years ago last year (just two before Westmacott’s death), can almost be thought of as the last of his designs because the hull shape was heavily influenced by his earlier Bembridge One Design.
In the early 1930s, small dayboat racing was popular within the Portsmouth Harbour area, but as in other sailing locations there was a hunger for a local one-design. The Bembridge One Design was the preferred choice because there was already a number racing at Portsmouth.
Yet this created its own problems, not least that all the frames and plans for the hull had been destroyed in a boatyard fire. A local naval architect, Sidney Graham, was commissioned to lift a set of lines of an existing boat, then make a number of changes. He was paid the princely sum of ten guineas for the work.
The LOA was modestly increased and the draught reduced. Importantly, the centreboard was replaced with a fixed keel. Factor in a reduction in the weight of ballast and the boat was certain to require some lively handling.
At the same time, Charles Nicholson developed a new rig for the boat – Bermudan, with a small jib and large main set on a boom that overhung the transom. With the sail letter V already having been assigned to the Sunbeams, the new boat was given a Z as its sail insignia.
Owing to the Portsmouth location, the Royal Navy was closely involved in the development, so there was little surprise when the design was labelled the Victory Class after Nelson’s flagship. The first boats launched in 1934, a move that coincided with the 70th anniversary of the prestigious Royal Albert Yacht Club in Portsmouth.
With the sail letter V already having been assigned to the Sunbeams, the new boat was given a Z as its sail insignia
From the outset the class was a popular addition to the Solent scene and its association with the Navy was strengthened further when a small fleet was shipped to Gibraltar. It remains active there today.
The early boats were laid up with mahogany planks on American elm frames, but as these materials became scarce and expensive the construction changed to iroko on rock elm timbers. This change highlights a key factor of the Victory Class – the rules governing the construction and running of the boat are strict and well maintained.
The changes that have been made, such as the adoption of a spinnaker, have been aimed at maintaining the ethos of the one-design fleet and the close racing it offers. The class allowed another rig change at the end of the 1960s, when the lengthy boom was shortened, which entailed having the mainsail recut with a shorter foot.
The sail area that had been lost in this exercise was regained by the adoption of a larger foresail. This rig, still with wooden spars, but now with a centre mainsheet and ratchet blocks, remains in use today.
With three class starts each week from their Portsmouth base and a class start at Cowes Week, the Victory Class has carved out a well-supported niche in the Solent. Its busy programme also includes an annual team racing event between the Portsmouth and Gibraltar fleets, each hosting the event in turn.
The biggest event in the Victory Class calendar is Cowes Week. In this, Janet Dee and helm Shaun Hopkin in Z57 Variety are always ones to watch. However, the chasing pack of boats includes Russell Mead, Hugh Pringle and ex-Laser sailor Clive Cokayne – all very much on the pace.
- To control costs, the Victory Class has a single designated sailmaker. Owners are allowed to change their sails after 90 races or three years, whichever is sooner.
- The rake of the mast can be adjusted at the mast heel, though not during sailing.
- Class rules stipulate a wooden mast and boom, which necessitates forward facing diamonds as well as athwartships rigging.
- Although the rules let crews move the jib car fore and aft, they do not let them move the sheeting position inboard or outboard. Instead the jib car must be located inside of the toerail.
- The raised cockpit coaming does a very good job of keeping water out of the hull in more boisterous conditions. Toestraps are allowed for hiking, but crews’ knees must be no further outboard than the coaming.
- The boat is normally sailed with either two or three crew. However, the class rules only allow three people up on the windward side deck at any one time.
- To retain a sense of the class and club, the colour of the boot topping varies from club to club.
- A redesign of the rig in the late 1960s saw the boom shortened, which allowed the complex twin running backstays to be replaced with a single adjustable stay. That made the boat more pleasant to sail.
Unlike many local one-designs in the UK, the demand for new Victory Class boats was such that it was viable to make a set of moulds, thereby allowing the construction of GRP boats. So, the class has managed to avoid the usual issues of cost when a fleet cannot replenish its numbers.
Last year saw the construction of another new boat, Z79, costing little more than £25,000 (including tax and sails). Even with the availability of the new boats, there remains pressure on the second-hand market, with the few boats that do come up for sale often priced under £5,000. For that sort of money, the Victory offers a lot of boat.
LOA 20ft 9in/6.3m
LWL 16ft 9in/5.1m
Beam 5ft 10in/1.8m
Max draught 2ft 6in/0.75m
Sail area (main and jib) 223ft2/20.7m2