Enterprise is a 1977 S&S-designed 12 Metre, originally built to defend the America’s Cup, and fully restored in time for this year’s 12 Metre World Championships in Rhode Island. Dave Powlison reports


Among the 21 elegant Twelves lining the docks at Rhode Island’s Fort Adams for this summer’s 12 Metre World Championship, sat a yacht that for many was a huge disappointment. Enterprise, built for the 1977 America’s Cup, had everything going for her, but never got the invitation to the Cup she seemed destined to receive. Today, she’s arguably the best set-up 12 Metre in the world.

Designed by Olin Stephens and David Pedrick at Sparkman & Stephens, and built of aluminium at the Minneford Yacht Yard, Enterprise boasted a number of firsts. She was the first design to be tank-tested on a large scale, with a handful of models measuring roughly 7m each, in tanks designed for the aerospace and military industries.

Results from those tests suggested that over a typical 24-mile America’s Cup course in an average 10-knot wind, Enterprise would be a minute faster than her rivals. Enterprise was also the first yacht to pioneer laminate sails, using plastic films to stabilise the more conventional Dacron. Her sails included the ‘garbage bag’, a light airs genoa that (in colour, at least) suggested its moniker.


Enterprise posted two race wins in the 2019 12 Metre World Championships. Photo: Ian Roman

The 1977 Challenger matches were a rematch of the 1974 Courageous v Intrepid rivalry between upstart west coaster Lowell North and eastern establishment sailor Ted Hood.

At North’s right hand was sailmaking wunderkind John Marshall, who would be a dominant presence in Cup competitions for years to come. Many of Enterprise’s crew had cut their 12 Metre teeth on Intrepid’s successful 1970 Cup defence. In fact, Intrepid was brought out of retirement and trucked to San Diego to spar with the new design.

Yet it was Courageous, a 1974 design, that secured the spot to defend the Cup (Courageous successfully saw off Alan Bond’s Australia in the Cup match). So what went wrong for Enterprise? Anyone who knows the boat well won’t hesitate to respond. “Enterprise had a foretriangle dimension that was about three feet shorter than what was conventional,” Marshall explained to me recently.


Enterprise hull is now painted battleship grey – the original colour was white

Most 12s have a 24ft foretriangle, give or take a bit. Enterprise’s was 21ft. “Computer predictions that evaluated flow over surfaces suggested this would give us an edge,” Marshall recalled. But when it came to tacking, getting the stiff headsails quickly across was a challenge, as there was now 3ft more sail that had to pass around the front of the mast.

“The jib didn’t fill quite as quickly, and we didn’t accelerate quite as quickly coming out of tacks,” Marshall adds. In the early challenger races, Enterprise performed well. But as the summer progressed, Courageous got distinctly better. “Once the difference got down to being pretty small, and the boats were always close together, tacking performance became much more important.”

Consider that it wasn’t unheard of for 12 Metres to do over 50 tacks on a four-mile beat, and it’s clear why the writing was on the wall.

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Back to her best

Fast-forward to 2019 and Enterprise is back in fighting form. After stints in the Med she had been donated to the US Merchant Marine Academy Sailing Foundation.

With the impetus of the forthcoming 2019 Worlds in Newport, a major refit was begun in earnest. Tommy Rich, from New England Boatworks, which carried out the refit, recalls: “The boat had been bastardised. They had put a flush deck on it and a bogus interior, and it was basically in a state of disrepair.”

The refit was done over roughly two years, and in that time virtually everything on the boat was upgraded or replaced, except the hull and framework.


The hull structure is one of the few parts of the boat that remains original

Rich explains: “S&S, along with David Pedrick, designed a new keel. The boat got a more modern spade rudder to replace the old, barn-door type, and a more modern deck. That included new cockpits and a spinnaker pole trough – basically all the working deck – as well as a new chainplate structure.”

The boat received a new rig: an aluminium mast, as per the class rules, but with carbon used everywhere else, as well as all-new Harken hydraulics. And, of course, the ‘J’ foretriangle dimension is at 24ft once again.

For this level of investment in time and money, there was just one goal: to win the World Championship. Enterprise was chartered by Clay Deutsch for the summer, but the race started even before she had hit the water. “The challenge for us has been the calendar,” says Deutsch. “We didn’t have the boat in a position to go sailing until the end of May. And it’s pretty humbling how long it takes to get these boats dialed in.”


Double wheels: outer one for steering; inner one for trim tab control

Nevertheless, her pedigree showed quickly. In her first competition in Newport this summer, Enterprise posted a pair of 1sts in the two final races. In the 2019 World Championship in Newport she finished a solid 2nd overall in the Modern Division to the more seasoned Challenge XII.

For Deutsch, the 12 Metre seed was planted long ago. “When I was a kid, while other kids had baseball and football cards, I had an Intrepid scrapbook, and I have always fantasised about 12 Metres. Then, out of the blue this past winter, North Sails’ Mike Toppa came to me with, ‘What about Enterprise?’ It was the furthest thing from my mind, and I just figured we wouldn’t be there.”

But Deutsch was persuaded, and work shifted into a frenzied pitch at New England Boatworks. “I remember when I first looked at it, and it was in a million pieces, and I said: ‘I’m not a professional, but my amateur opinion is that this boat has no chance of being ready.’


Asymmetric foredeck hatches – the port hatch has a roller on the aft side for spinnaker take downs

“But Ben Quatromoni, the project manager, and his team jumped on it, working around the clock, and we made it to the starting line.” Today Enterprise’s decks today are remarkably spartan for a 12 Metre: it’s 1977 meets 2019 technology, with lots of carbon. “The boat setup is complicated,” says Quatromoni, “but it’s very user-friendly.”

The port foredeck hatch has a roller on the aft side, TP52-style, for the string take down spinnaker system. Once around the roller, the chute is pulled through a Dacron tube that runs to the stern. With the grinders working in unison, the sail disappears in five seconds.

Control lines run through custom-made carbon ‘trumpets’, allowing them move effortlessly out of sight. Carbon reels take up the halyards. These are ratchet system reels, where one control line spins the reel, bringing the halyard in, and another control line releases it. Unlike those reels, the spinnaker take-down reel is powered off the pedestals.


The spinnaker take down bag; the spinnaker comes down through the forward deck hatch and is pulled through this long Dacron bag

The aluminium cockpit has been lowered to get the grinders down and allow the boom to just avoid grazing the deck when fully sheeted in. But the boom is low. “Man, is it crowded,” says Deutsch. “I can barely fit under the boom – when we’re tacking, I’m literally down on all fours.”

The port and starboard jib trimmer pits have hydraulic controls for the jib tack and jib leads, which is standard for the Twelves. As on most 12 Metres, below decks is anything but simple.

The 150ft of mainsheet runs from the traveller car up into the boom, forward to the gooseneck, below deck, then aft to a turning block where it goes up into the mainsheet pod. Rather than using a winch for the traveller, the car is controlled by a Harken magic wheel below decks, with a 17:1 purchase.

With so many hydraulic systems, continual pumping is required to keep them pressurised, and the aft cockpit pedestal is set up to run a rotary pump, mounted below, for that purpose. For trimmers, there’s no downtime. Once they’ve finished trimming, it’s back to pumping to keep the hydraulics powered up.

The workmanship on many of the systems is truly extraordinary. The turning blocks for the spinnaker sheet and guy are so inconspicuous as to be barely noticeable. The traveller control line looks as if it has been simply laid on deck. Enterprise’s original white hull is now battleship grey. Coupled with black spars, the effect is stunning.


LOA: 20.15m (66ft 1in)
LWL: 13.41m (44ft 0in)
Beam: 3.78m  (12ft 5in)
Draught: 3.78m  (12ft 5in)
Displacement: 25.7 tonnes
Sail area: 168m2 (1,808ft2)
Design: Sparkman & Stephens
Year: 1977
Builder: Minneford Yacht Yard, Inc.

Dave-Powlinson-bw-headshot-400px-squareAbout the author

Dave Powlison has been writing about sailing since the late 1970s and is currently an editor-at-large for Sailing World magazine. When not writing, he races Etchells and an RS Aeros in Vermont, USA.

First published in the November 2019 edition of Yachting World.