The Yachting World Diamond is a Jack Holt design which continues to attract devotees 60 years after its conception. Nigel Sharp takes a look back at the class


During the post-World War II boom years of small-boat sailing, Yachting World promoted some 30 designs, most of which allowed for home construction in plywood. The largest was the Yachting World Keelboat, later renamed the Yachting World Diamond.

‘For years the editor dreamt of a planing keelboat,’ the Yachting World magazine later reported about the resulting Jack Holt design.

R&W Clark in East Cowes built the prototype Zest. It ‘was thoroughly tested in the hard winds and seas of the autumn and early winter of 1960 (and) surpassed the highest hopes of her.’

R&W Clark tested two rigs – a masthead and a three-quarter fractional rig – before the testers reached a compromise with a 7/8ths fractional.

Zest was exhibited at the London Boat Show the following January, after which it was reported that ‘boats are being built by several yards as well as by a number of amateurs’.

Around the same time, Bristol Aeroplane Plastics Ltd began to mould GRP yachts. The first of these, Bristol I, helmed by Jack Knights, was the overall winner in the Round the Island Race that July.

The following month, Knights recorded five wins in six races in a YW Keelboat class of seven yachts in Cowes Week.

Two sailing boats floating away on relatively calm seas. In the boat closest to the camera, are leaning over the side in a racing position. The Yachting World Diamond is streaming through the water.

Racing The Yachting World Diamond. Photo: Nigel Sharp

In 1962, Bristol Aeroplane Plastics introduced a GRP cruising version of the boat. This version had a ‘cabin-top to accommodate two berths, and the usual other arrangements, and two more berths under the raised aft deck.’

People thought the latter would be ‘the ideal boat for the man who wants a family cruiser but without those deadly dull qualities which usually go with a boat so described.’

But despite these promising early signs, the class never really took off in home waters.

It was a different story in Australia, however. Within a month of Bristol I’s victory, people were buying plans in order to build the Yachting World Diamond for themselves, all in plywood.

Racing Yachting World Diamond’s through the ’60s and ’70s

‘The enthusiasm for the design is unanimous,’ reported the secretary of the YW Keelboat Association of New South Wales in March 1963.

‘The boat is the most exhilarating I have ever sailed. They are being built in greater numbers than any new class… truly the yacht is being hailed here as the greatest single advance in yacht design in years.’

By November that year there were Diamonds racing in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Tasmania.

In the mid-1970s fleet numbers were regularly in the 30s, and occasionally up to 40 boats from different clubs raced together in Port Phillip Bay.

Similar numbers took part in national championships when boats would be trailed across the country from as far away as Perth.

“It was great racing,” said Peter Clark, who regularly sailed Diamonds in those days. “They were the right boat at the right time”.

Trapeze for breeze

In the mid-1970s, the Port Phillip yachts began experimenting with twin trapezes to help them cope with the typically windy conditions. They planned to use them at a forthcoming national championship hosted by the Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron.

However, when crews from other states objected, the Port Phillip yachts had to revert to toe straps for that event, but it wasn’t long before trapezes were officially adopted nationwide.

Two men hang onto the side of the Yachting World Diamond twin trapeze boat, steering it.

Twin trapezes were added in the 1970s to contend with the breezy conditions of Victoria, Australia. Photo: Nigel Sharp

In the early 1980s, GRP foam sandwich boats came onto the scene, though they generally only replaced ageing wooden yachts.

The golden years in terms of racing fleet sizes lasted barely more than a decade before the Diamond’s popularity started to decline. Clark recalls just 14 boats taking part in the Australian championships in Brisbane in 1986.

“The people that had been sailing them got married, or moved away, or went to sail a bigger boat,” he said. “Life happened.”

The gem today

Port Phillip Bay still provides the best Yachting World Diamond racing today. Five yachts are currently in commission at the RYCV, and two more are at the Royal Geelong YC, 30 miles down the coast.

In addition to Irish Logic, which he races regularly, Royal Yacht Club of Victoria member Doug Prosser owns two other boats. These are Belle, which he recently ‘rescued’, and a donor yacht.

One of the Geelong yachts is Eclipse, a 1963 plywood boat which Neil Cusworth bought for AUS$1 in 2017.

The central cockpit console on The Yachting World Diamond, surrounded by a sunny wooden deck.

Central cockpit console in Eclipse, with modern controls set up similar to an Etchells for racing. Photo: Nigel Sharp

She was restored by Jaime ‘Nudge’ Bennett who, among many other things, “tweaked the cockpit to be more like an Etchells”, fitted a spinnaker chute, and reduced the hull weight by 80kg.

Cusworth and Bennett occasionally sail her up to the RYCV at Williamstown to race in events there, including the 2019 and 2020 State Championships.

All of the racing yachts at both Williamstown and Geelong are dry sailed, and can easily be launched and recovered by member-operated cranes at each club.

The Yachting World Diamond is clearly a good yacht to race in a handicap fleet. When it’s windy, it can fly past bigger boats, which must give them time.

“And they’re very responsive boats in which you can feel what’s happening all the time, so they’re a good training boat,” said Cameron Mead, who crews on Irish Logic.

Home fleet

Among the Yachting World Diamonds known to have survived in the UK is Bristol I, the 1961 Round the Island Race winner. At some point she was converted into a cruising yacht with the addition of a cabin and diesel engine, and subsequently fell into a state of disrepair.

She was purchased in 2012 by Dartmouth sailors Peter Boote and Kit Noble, who restored her to her original configuration. They added two trapezes after Noble had visited Australia and sailed a Diamond there.

She, too, has since enjoyed successful handicap racing in windy weather.

There are still some other Yachting World Diamonds in the UK. Nineteen years ago, Greg Dunn found a yacht called Black Diamond on eBay, which Coombes of Bosham built in 1962 out of plywood.

Previous owners slightly modified her with the addition of a metre to the rig height and an outboard motor well, and had been epoxy sheathed, but otherwise had the original deck configuration with an open cockpit.

Article continues below…

Renovating, racing, and recovering

Dunn has raced Black Diamond in Mersea Week, the Round the Island Race, and various classic regattas, including the Brest Maritime Festival. Keen to get there again “on my own keel” he trailed Black Diamond from Essex to Plymouth and sailed her across the Channel from there.

“It was a fantastic voyage, although it was a little bit lively,” he said of the 23-hour crossing.

Coming back was a different matter. For most of the way they sailed in pouring rain with a double reefed mainsail and no headsail, and the log showed a burst of speed of 15.9 knots. “It was truly terrifying,” said Dunn.

“When we arrived in Plymouth at four in the morning, I was starting to hallucinate after 16 hours on the helm.”

Then, as they were mooring up, he slipped on the coaming and fell onto a winch, fracturing two ribs in the process. “It was the end of the voyage from hell!”

The white rudder in Dianna, a Yachting World Diamond, mostly surrounded by wooden decking.

Dianna has a 20mm steel keel plate, with lead ballast on the bottom, lifted by electric winch. Photo: Nigel Sharp

Adapting the Yachting World Diamond

Back in the southern hemisphere, restorers adapted numerous Diamonds for a second life. They include Geelong boat Dianna, another Diamond bought by Neil Cusworth and restored by Nudge Bennett.

Interior of the Yachting World Diamond cabin, with to benches either side and small windows.

Dianna’s cosy four-berth cabin; the original design called for two berths forward, padded by roll-mats. Photo: Nigel Sharp

Dianna was built of plywood in Tasmania in 1961. People previously converted it for cruising with a four-berth cabin, an outboard well, a centreboard and a transom-hung rudder.

These modifications allowed her previous owner to cruise Victoria’s Gippsland Lakes. It also let them trail her to Queensland and cruise around the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef.

Bennett’s work included extending the cabin, laying a teak deck, and painting the spars a gold anodised colour for a more traditional look. They also added an electric winch for the centreboard and fitted a new rudder (in a cassette for easy removal) further forward.

Cusworth now cruises her at Port Phillip, but also races in handicap fleets (and finds that she can get the better of Eclipse upwind).

Offshore racers

Other Australian Diamonds have been converted for offshore racing. Perhaps the best known of these – and certainly the most accomplished – is Saltash II, a 1966 plywood boat.

Close-up of the halyards and control lines in partial sunlight.

Halyards and control lines led back to the cockpit. Photo: Nigel Sharp

Saltash’s first owner, Harold Vaughan, sailed the yacht in its original configuration from Sydney to Melbourne and back. Then, from Sydney to Brisbane and back, to compete in the Australian Diamond Championships each time.

In 1981 Saltash II was purchased by Ian and Bill Wright, third generation boatbuilders from the Brisbane company Norman R Wright & Sons.

Their initial intention was to use her for ‘bay cruising’.

But, in 1985, they decided to convert her to ocean racing. The company gave her more robust frames in the bow sections, a cabin, a self-draining cockpit, and an inboard engine. They also added various safety features to comply with the appropriate regulations.

Since then, they have raced her no less than 20 times in the 300-mile Australia’s second most prestigious offshore race, Brisbane to Gladstone. They won the race on handicap eight times.

During this period, three different rating systems (IOR, IMS and IRC) have been used for the race and the Wrights have modified Saltash to optimise her for each of them.

Ian Wright described the first race in 1985 as “agonisingly slow”. However, eight years later, Saltash finished the race in slightly more than 30 hours, just behind a 60-footer. “It was a pretty hairy trip at times.”

A black and white drawing of the original Yachting World Diamond boat parts, with instructions.

Build it yourself: part of the original instructions for home builds. Photo: Yachting World

With the 1960s plywood starting to delaminate, the Wrights are currently restoring Saltash in a major way. They’re replacing all the hull skins with new plywood and incorporating epoxy coatings and a lightweight carbon weave.

All this work is being carried out at the family boatyard, often in the shadow of the 100ft super-maxi Andoo Comanche.

Yachting World Diamond specifications

LOA: 9.14m 30ft 0in
LWL: 7.31m 24ft 0in
Beam: 2.10m 6ft 10in
Displacement: 1.016 tonnes
Draught: 1.31m 4ft 4in
Sail area: 24.24m2 261ft2

If you enjoyed this….

Yachting World is the world’s leading magazine for bluewater cruisers and offshore sailors. Every month we have inspirational adventures and practical features to help you realise your sailing dreams.
Build your knowledge with a subscription delivered to your door. See our latest offers and save at least 30% off the cover price.