We asked historians, round the world race winners and legendary sailors to name the yachts that changed the sport for good. In no particular order, these are the 50 yachts that shifted how we sail...
Design: Bill Lee
Weight saving is the holy grail of yacht design today, but it wasn’t until the late ’70s that the first Ultra Light Displacement designs, or ULDBs, were launched.
Among them was Bill Lee’s 67ft Merlin, at 12.5 tonnes and just 12ft wide. Merlin smashed the 1977 Transpac course record, setting a time which stood for 20 years.
Officials, concerned that ULDBs were not robust enough for ocean racing, changed the Transpac rule in an attempt to limit it to slower IOR designs.
Merlin was heavily modified, but still managed to win the ‘Barn Door’ trophy for the fastest crossing twice more. The record was finally broken by the sled Pyewacket, also designed by Lee, two decades on.
Design: Gordon Baker
Legendary offshore sailor Loick Peyron nominates this futuristic design from the ’50s: “I think Gordon Baker’s Monitor is the one, which in the 1950s did a lot for the present and future of sailing.”
The 26ft Monitor is quite unlike anything else, made of glued mahogany with hollow, stainless steel hydrofoils which look more like windmill vanes than yacht foils – unsurprisingly, as that is what Baker Manufacturing had previously focused on. The early hydrofoiling yacht was reported to have a top speed of around 30 knots, using battened cotton sails.
13. Infiniti 46
Design: Hugh Welbourn/Gordon Kay
The DSS-enabled Infiniti 46 is the first yacht to be designed around the twin retractable foil system (rather than have them retrofitted) to increase lift, reducing drag and heeling angle.
Since 2016 she’s been campaigned hard, winning class in the Middle Sea Race and RORC Transatlantic Race.
14. Vestas Sail Rocket II
Design: Malcolm Barnsley
For two decades speed sailing was dominated by the race to top the 50-knot barrier. Yellow Pages Endeavour got to 46.52 knots over 500m in 1993, then ten years later windsurfers and kitesurfers upped the ante, finally pushing over 50 knots in 2008.
Macquarie Innovation became the first sailing vessel to nudge over 50 knots in 2009. Then in 2014 Paul Larsen on Vestas SailRocket II knocked all previous attempts out of the park with an incredible 65.45 knots in Namibia. Nobody has even got remotely close since.
15. Maltese Falcon
Design: Dykstra/Perini Navi
At the time the most grandiose yacht ever to be built, the 289ft Maltese Falcon was a technical triumph. Her three-masted ‘Dynarig’ system was created by Perini Navi at the behest of technology investor Tom Perkins, and is a modern day development of a 1960s concept created by Wilhelm Prølss.
Her gold and granite styling is not to everyone’s tastes, but the 2,400sq m sail area saw Maltese Falcon sail across the Atlantic in ten days. The systems proved so successful she was spotted sailing off her mooring in some venues – quite a feat for a 1,200-tonne vessel.
Design: Juan Kouyoumdjian
Launched as Speedboat in 2008, this 100-footer was initially designed with the express intention of setting records, specifically the transatlantic record. Following on from Juan K’s successful Volvo 70 designs, she was exceptionally wide at the transom with a deep canting keel and water ballast, but record successes were few and far between.
Re-optimised for IRC as Rambler 100 she had some race victories before losing her keel and capsizing in the 2011 Rolex Fastnet Race, with five crew swept away from the boat.
All were rescued safely, but the incident intensified the focus on reliability in canting keel designs.
When owner George David commissioned the replacement Rambler 88, his new yacht includes fibreoptic patches on the keel fin and load sensors on the pin, with data continuously fed to the navigation station
17. Pen Duick IV
Design: André Allègre
“Built by Eric Tabarly, this was the first large ocean-racing multihull, which led the trend towards large multihulls in ocean races,” Robin Knox-Johnston nominates Pen Duick IV.
“For example, it encouraged us to ask Rod Macalpine Downie to design the 70-foot catamaran British Oxygen in 1973.”
Pen Duick IV took victory in the 1972 OSTAR with Alain Colas, who went on to sail her solo around the world – the first solo multihull circumnavigation.
18. Class 40
The Class 40s have provided a first step into ocean racing for many skippers. Less than a year after the class was formed, 25 lined up for the 2006 Route du Rhum.
Pro navigator Campbell Field explains: “It would be easy to nominate ‘Swiss Army knife’ foilers, or the super high tech IMOCAs. However, the Class 40s are complete in many ways. Affordable, bulletproof, ultra high performance, safe, and sexy [they can be sailed] one, two or four-up. They are simple, dynamic, rewarding, and guaranteed to thrill.
“A shortfall is their inshore capabilities, however what other class of yacht brings accessibility to top level ocean racing to a broad audience? They outstrip the performance of many much larger yachts offshore.”
19. Pierre 1er
Design: Van Peteghem & Lauriot Prévost
Beautiful and radical, the golden Pierre 1er was the first ORMA 60 and won the 1990 Route du Rhum with Florence Arthaud.
Vincent Lauriot Prévost recalls: “I think in ocean racing the first big change was to fly the hull with a trimaran as if with a catamaran.” Pierre 1er was swiftly followed by Primagaz, the first big tri to sail on one float.
Design: James Rich Steers & George Steers
The yacht which famously won around the Isle of Wight one August day some 169 years ago, America was also radical. Marc van Peteghem comments: “The schooner America brought something new. She was the first really wide beamed racing yacht to win against really narrow boats. It was a first really big step.”