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...
21. One Tonner Jade
Design: Rob Humphreys:
The Admiral’s Cup was the perfect testbed for design experimentation, typified by the One Tonner Jade, which won the 1985 One Ton Cup and came second in the Admirals’ Cup of the same year.
Designer Rob Humphreys remembers: “She was designed to compete in what, with hindsight, was one of the most competitive One Ton Cup world championships ever. If I remember correctly there was a fleet of about 40 boats, counting probably 30 brand new ones.
“She was a very committed racing yacht – no compromises, which I was sometimes prone to do in order to add some value – and won the event.”
Owned by Larry and Debbie Wooddell, Jade’s talented crew included David Howlett and Rodney Pattison.
“She was a particularly good reaching boat but could hold her own in an upwind/downwind context,” adds Humphreys.
“The former characteristic was important because the Ton Cups then retained a strong offshore element and often one would sail with cracked sheets, and in this respect we tended to romp away from the competition. We were also leading our class in the same year’s Fastnet Race as part of the British Admiral’s Cup team, but lost our mast in ironically benign conditions in the Irish Sea.”
“With Jade’s [design] I sacrificed some draught against stability, and although it hurt a little upwind, in terms of VMG the power we had on a tight fetch was pretty awesome. The keel was heavily elliptical with a very short root-chord, commonly referred to as ‘Mickey Mouse’s ear!”
22. IMOCA 60 Safran 2
The IMOCA 60 class has pushed innovation for 25 years, from halyard locks and kick-up rudders, to numerous ballast systems and safety features, and even Owen Clarke Design Group’s Acciona, the first boat intended to race around the world without fossil fuels (the attempt failed when Acciona capsized).
Its most spectacular development has been the dynamic foil system. The 2016 Vendée Globe was the first to see semi-foiling IMOCA 60s racing around the world, and the first boat to be equipped with the curved ‘Dali moustache’ was the VPLP-Verdier designed Safran 2.
“The new rules were putting the old boats kind of at a disadvantage because they had to have a one-design keel, one-design mast, restrictions on materials and so on. We knew that we couldn’t be as efficient in terms of sailing weight as we are with the old boats, so we moved onto the concept of how to use the dynamic system to lighten the boat,” explains designer Lauriot Prévost.
“Now, when they are sailing at say 10-12 tonnes they have something like half of the weight taken by the dynamic lift from the keel and foils, so it is as if the boat is sailing at 5 tonnes hydrodynamic weight.”
23. Damien II
Design: Michel Joubert
Jérôme Poncet commissioned Damien II in 1974, having already sailed below the Antarctic Circle and around the world. He, his wife Sally and family, lived aboard Damien II for 12 years, exploring everywhere from Europe to Brazil, Polynesia, Tasmania and New Zealand, as well as the sub-Antarctic islands, becoming the first yacht to winter in Antarctica in 1978-79.
“For me it is without doubt the Damien II, a 15-metre steel hulled, lifting keel schooner that has been the major influence for opening up high latitude sailing for generations that followed,” comments Skip Novak.
“Jérôme and Sally Poncet commissioned the Michel Joubert design and for the next 25 years routinely sailed in the far south on the Antarctic Peninsula, to the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia and around the Falkland Islands.
“A few boats had dipped in far south around the same time – David Lewis on Icebird comes to mind, as does Bill Tilman years before on his Bristol Channel Pilot Cutters – but they were very much one-off voyages by vessels ill suited to the region. It was the Damien II that created a design type that was found to be a useful tool for remote cruising in cold, sometimes ice bound, conditions.
“This meant a robust steel hull, a lifting ballast keel to beach or access shallow water to avoid ice, the unmistakable French camber on the otherwise flush deck and the plexiglass bubble with a 360-degree view for inside piloting. The interior was cozy enough to raise three children aboard: son Dion was born on the saloon table in winter, on South Georgia. Otherwise systems were basic for ultimate reliability.
“This design, and not least of all what the Poncet’s achieved in pioneering voyages which included science surveys and supporting some of the best known BBC wildlife extravaganzas like Life in the Freezer, encouraged others to follow in various fashions.
“Thirty Damien hulls have been built along the same lines. My own original Pelagic, built in 1987, was an evolution with a sloop rig but modelled on the same concept and can be considered a ‘Damien type’ – as are any 45-55ft steel hulled lifting keel boats. Quite a legacy.”
24. Extreme 40
Design: Yves Loday / Tornado Sport
The carbon fibre catamaran used in the Extreme Sailing Series (2007-2015) showcased the short-course, close to shore, ‘stadium’ style of racing which many events, including the America’s Cup, now seek to emulate.
It wasn’t the first class to capture the public imagination – in its 1990s heyday the Ultra 30 class, , with its multiple trapezing crew, attracted mainstream broadcast television rights and big cash sponsorship. However, with the Extreme 40, organiser OC Sport took the concept of sailing as a spectator sport and marketing vehicle, and expanded it into a global phenomenon.
Navigator Michael Broughton comments: “It seems longer, but when the Extreme 40s were being built only 15 years ago, the America’s Cup was still sailed in 24-tonne monohulls with 17 crew. These boats have helped to make the careers of many elite sailors of today.”
25. Mirabella V
Design: Ron Holland
Launched in 2003, and now refitted as M5, Mirabella V has the tallest single mast in the world.
With an air draught of 290ft she cannot pass under the Golden Gate Bridge, but flies the largest jib ever made at 1,830 square metres from a huge carbon spar. Such vast loads required special battens which compress under shock load.
Design: James Wharram
James Wharram sailed the self-built 23ft plywood catamaran Tangaroa from Las Palmas to Trinidad, arriving two days before Christmas in 1955.
“It is impossible to conceive of a vessel further removed from today’s high-tech racing multihulls or luxurious cruising catamarans which now sail the oceans of the world, yet without her it is arguable that many of them would never have been built,” comments Tom Cunliffe.
“A true pioneer of western multihull voyaging, Wharram designed and constructed the affordable, effective Tangaroa himself. His crew were two German girls and Pepe the dog. This remarkable boat followed the philosophies of the traditional Polynesian seafarers, with her tiny plywood hulls connected by flexibly mounted beams and an open slatted platform.
“His team made no claim to be ‘ocean heroes’. Rather, they reflected early settlers discovering new worlds for themselves. Sixty years on, James Wharram remains an independent spirit whose refusal to compromise with the increasing bureaucracy that blights our times has made many a modern sailor ponder on what really matters in life. His stream of subsequent designs has set three generations free.”
Design: Charles Nicholson
Nicholson was just 22 when he created this elegant 59ft gaff-rigged cutter with a plumb bow and distinctive stern.
She proved successful both on the racecourse and as a cruising yacht, and launched the precocious Nicholson’s career.
Design: German Frers
Launched 24 years ago, Stealth was intended to be avant garde in styling and still looks remarkably contemporary now, with her much emulated minimalist teak deck, black hull and sails, and brooding interior.
Designed by German Frers for Fiat boss Gianni Agnelli, the 93ft Stealth was one of the earliest high performance cruising designs to use water ballast to good effect, taking line honours in the 2001 Fastnet Race and America’s Cup Jubilee.
Design: W. Starling Burgess/Olin Stephens
Ranger, the 135ft ‘Super J’ which won 32 out of her 34 races in 1937, was the first to be designed using tow-tank tests, and the last time the J’s would contest the America’s Cup.
Designers Burgess and Stephens each presented four designs, which were built to a 1/24 scale and tank-tested.
Analysis showed that the curious-looking model ‘77-C’, with her snub-nosed barrel bow, was top performer. The yacht was built as Ranger.
30. Lagoon 55
Jimmy Cornell says: “One aspect that has influenced long distance cruising in my lifetime, is the increasing popularity of cruising catamarans.”
Designer Marc van Peteghem comments: “Catamarans, which were considered a real niche market 30 or 35 years ago, are now something really big.
“The Lagoon 55 which we designed was a big change in that field, the first to really mix performance and control.”