The Int 5.5 Metre class is alive and well and racing on The Solent writes Malcolm McKeag. Nine nations from all around the world are participating in a 5.5 regatta just getting under way off Cowes.

The Royal Thames Yacht Club and Royal Corinthian Yacht Club are together running a 50th Anniversary regatta for the class. In the first week the RTYC are running the Scandinavian Gold Cup and the UK Open Championship. The RCYC are running the worlds in week 2.

The Scandinavian Gold Cup has an interesting format: one boat per nation, first to win three takes the Cup – and after three races if you haven’t won a race, you are out of the competition. Henrik Lunberg of Finland won the first race, the second and third races are today. The UK Open championship, which sweeps up competitors eliminated from the SGC, begins later today.

Fifty Years On The Story of a Thoroughbred

The Five-point-Five was conceived just fifty years ago this year when in 1948 the IYRU gave the go-ahead for a new rating-rule yacht to replace the Six Metre as the Olympic three-person keelboat.

For a long time that great British yacht designer Charles Nicholson had wanted to produce a boat to the Metre-class formula that was as elegant and pure-bred as the Twelves, the Eights and the Sixes, but not so full-bellied and heavy. Nicholson produced the formula – a variation of the International Rule that had been in use since the beginning of the century and which gave us all the beautiful Metre boats – and in 1949 launched and raced the first of the new 5.5 Metres. Appropriately, she was called The Deb – debutante of the new Olympic class. 1998 is thus not only the fiftieth anniversary of the inception of the class, it is also the fiftieth season in which 5.5s have raced.

A year after The Debs debut that great American writer and sailor Alf Loomis saw her for the first time racing at a regatta and in the magazine Yachting wrote of her “she was fresh, she was sleek, she was fast”. Fifty years on it remains a description that any writer might with accuracy use of a 5.5.

The 5.5 is rating-rule yacht, a restricted design as opposed to a one-design class wherein all yachts are the exactly the same. The 5.5 metres from which the class derives its name is the answer the designer has to get when he runs certain crucial dimensions of his new boat through Nicholson’s formula. Within a few other restrictions and regulations the designer can make the boat any shape he wants – as long as the answer to the equation remains 5.5m. It is, in the jargon of yachting, the yacht’s rating. The principle difference between Nicholson’s new formula and the classic International formula was that his rule placed much less benefit on displacement.

Nicholson’s 5.5 was indeed a fresher, sleeker version of the older-style boats, although the difference 50 years ago was not nearly so marked as it is now. The Deb looked very like a slim, pretty Six Metre. Indeed, an idea of the shape of early 5.5s may be had from Cowes local version of the class, the Daring. Still raced keenly and still as sleek and elegant as ever, the Daring is an Arthur Robb one-design based on his successful 5.5s for Stug Perry – Vision, the Silver-medal winner of the 1956 Games, and Vision II – a Fifties state-of-the-art 5.5 frozen in time.

The 5.5 herself has continued to advance. In the Seventies the rule was altered to allow the rudder to be separated from the keel (a modern idea first tried out on model and indeed full-size yachts at the end of the 19th century – nothing is truly new) and this allowed 5.5 designers to continue to develop the design of boats to the rule.

After Australia II’s famous winged-keel win of the Americas Cup in 1983, even cruising boats felt the need to try out some of this underwater exotica, so it is hardly surprising that by now the 5.5s, too, have tested nearly all forms of the craze that that great US 5.5 sailor Buddy Melges once dubbed, in another co