30 September 2017

Hitchhiker (Frers 40)

Hitchhiker (photo Powerboat-world)
Hitchhiker was a 40.5 foot yacht, designed by German Frers in early 1980 for West Australian yachtsman Peter Briggs. Her lines derived from Frers' earlier SORC champion Acadia, and his previous Two Ton champion Gitana, but with a more modern and conventional approach, with moderate displacement, relatively clean lines, flat garboards and a deep keel (see profile drawing below). Favourable sail area to displacement and wetted surface ratios provided excellent acceleration. The boat was built from Kevlar and Klegecell by Bakercraft in Perth, and featured longitudinal bulkheads to provide immense fore and aft stiffness. Briggs underscored his seriousness with his Hitchhiker campaign by fitting the yacht with a German-made titanium-stocked rudder from Speedwave, and ordered a spare Stearn mast for the boat. All her sidestay turnbuckles were fitted below deck, and like most competitive IOR boats of the day, she carried a huge amount of internal ballast under the floorboards, with all possible weight centered amidships and down low. Hitchhiker measured in at 31.2ft IOR, a reasonably high rating for a 40 footer but reflected Frers' thinking at the time to not give up too much speed through excessive hull shape deviations in a quest for a lower rating.

So advanced was Hitchhiker’s design and construction, and her performance so competitive for the era, she was selected to represent Australia at two Admiral’s Cups (1981 and 1983). Briggs commented in 2013 (during preparations for that year's Hamilton Island Race Week) that the reason why Hitchhiker was a great boat in its early days was because it was an all-rounder and was quick in light, medium and heavy weather.

At the 2013 event, a bold battle flag donning a large red thumbs-up signal flew proudly on Hitchhiker’s forestay while the crew was immaculately dressed in matching red and white crew uniforms. The concept behind the boat’s moniker and flag dates back to 1980. Briggs explained that the concept behind the boat's moniker and flag came from the brainstorming of names in 1980 when they came up with ‘hitchhiker’. “Initially we thought ‘what a dumb name!’ but 'hitchhiker' means ‘free lift’ and that’s what you want in sailing, rather than when the wind knocks,” Briggs explained. “The thumb went with the hitchhiking and red is my favourite colour so we went with that". 
Hitchhiker during the 1981 Australian Admiral's Cup trials (photo Chris Furey)
One of her former crew recalls that Hitchhiker had all her halyards exiting the mast below decks. "Our 'platform' had all halyard winches mounted along the front edge. I did the bow and I would knock on the deck signals to the pit man down below. One knock hoist. Two knocks stop. And so on". 
Hitchhiker was the star of the 1981 Australian Admiral's Cup trials, counting five wins and line honours in two of the races to confirm her place in the team.
Hitchhiker amongst the fray during a general recall in the first race of the 1981 Admiral's Cup
Hitchhiker during the first race of the 1981 Admiral's Cup, with Pinta astern and to windward, and Britain's Victory to weather

Hitchhiker arrived at Cowes with a terrific reputation this was further bolstered when Harold Cudmore was brought on to join skipper Noel Robins for the inshore races. Unfortunately, however, Hitchhiker's reputation came undone right from this first race when she got tangled up with US yachts Scaramouche and Stars & Stripes, and Spain's Bribon III, and ended up over the startline early. More photos from that race can be seen here. Although Hitchhiker went on to finish the race, she was disqualified, presumably for the startline collisions.
Hitchhiker gets caught on East Bramble buoy in the second race of the 1981 Admiral's Cup (the full sequence can be seen here)
Hitchhiker suffered from another poor start, and needing to improve from her dismal first race effort she approached East Bramble buoy too low, and found both Canada's Pachena and Potitos blocking her ability to tack, and against a contrary tide Hitchhiker ended up on the buoy. Hitchhiker collected a two-point penalty for hitting the buoy, and a further ten points for fouling Bribon III, and took just six points from the race.
Another view of Hitchhiker's predicament at East Bramble buoy
Robins and his crew on Hitchhiker did their best to make amends in the next three races, but could only manage average placings in the Channel Race, the third inshore and the Fastnet race finale, to finish in 34th place overall, the lowest placed yacht in the eighth placed Australian team.
Hitchhiker (right) seen here in a downwind line-up during the 1981 Admiral's Cup with Canada's Amazing Grace alongside (centre)
Leeward mark action aboard Hitchhiker during the 1981 Admiral's Cup (photo World of Yachting 1981-82)

Hitchhiker stayed in Europe after the Admiral's Cup to compete in the Two Ton Cup in Porto Cervo in September 1981. She was small for a Two Tonner, and having not been designed for the event, it was necessary to fit a larger mainsail to lift her rating closer to the 32.0ft Two Ton limit. In generally light airs, Hitchhiker was the best boat at the series and won the Cup from Smeralda Prima (Peterson design), an Italian yacht helmed by Australia's John Bertrand, and Aries (Holland design), a US yacht helmed by Harold Cudmore.
Hitchhiker chasing Italy's Yena during the 1981 Two Ton Cup in Porto Servo, Sardinia (photo World of Yachting 1981-82)

Hitchhiker was the first and only boat to represent Australia in the Admiral's Cup, Clipper Cup and Southern Cross Cup teams. The strong breezes and choppy waters of the 1982 Clipper Cup in particular suited the boat, and she was consistently fast.  Hitchhiker also benefited from an all star crew, with Robins (skipper), Jack Baxter, Skippy Lissman, Joe English, Peter Gilmore, Peter Cavill, "Chas from Tas", Phil Smidmore, Geoff Gale and Dave Forbes ("4 Bears"), an Olympic gold medalist and America's Cup sailor. 
Hitchhiker powers upwind during the 1982 Clipper Cup
One of her crew recalls that "Noel had a habit of doing a conservative (late) start and simply sailing through our division and into the bigger boat division (that started five minutes before us) by the windward mark. By the end of the race we often found ourselves two divisions ahead of our division.

"4 Bears was brought on board to add to our steering depth for the long races at Clipper Cup. Hitchhiker would death roll like a pig square running in strong breezes (see photo, left). Most IOR boats did. In one of our triangle races at Hawaii Noel steered for the first four legs in a fresh breeze. When we turned the top mark for the square run Noel turned the tiller over to 4 Bears. It was the first time he had touched the tiller. Three death rolls later (30 seconds) the spin pole tip went under and the mast got pushed sideways and went over the side. In hindsight not the best time to introduce a new helmsman. Still, we got back together for the next race (unlike her team-mate, Police Car).

"In the Molokai Race we blew apart our favourite Kevlar mainsail. We knew it was on the way out but it was still fast. We carried a spare. However, because of the earlier dismasting the headboard slug would not go past the join in the mast. We removed both headboards off both mainsails and bolted the headboard off the torn mainsail onto the spare main. The whole process took over an hour while bucking our way to windward with just a #3 jib up (see photo, right). Once we got going again (in last place) we sailed through many divisions to arrive at the windward mark (as usual) leading our division and amongst the division of bigger boats that started five minutes ahead of us.  
We ran out of water in the Round the State race and found stainless steel nuts in the toolbox to suck to promote salivating".

Later, in the 1982 Southern Cross Cup, Hitchhiker was first around the windward mark in the short ocean race before being passed by the much larger boats on the return leg, and taking the overall win for the race.

Hitchhiker (left) on the start line just to windward of Di-Hard, with Once More Dear Friends (3000) during the 1983 Australian Admiral's Cup trials (photo Australia's Yearbook of Sail 1)
Briggs spent $100,000 refurbishing Hitchhiker for the 1983 Australian Admiral's Cup trials, including $40,000 worth of new sails from North, a new Zapspar mast to replace the one that was broken in the Clipper Cup, and alterations to the deck and interior layout by boatbuilder Ken Beashel. She retained a higher rating at 31.7ft (her key rating dimensions were 34.22 L, 12.26 B, 15,264 DSPL). While many new boats competed in the trials, including an updated version of Hitchhiker - Bondi Tram - she finished as unofficial top scorer of the series. Her race placings, 3/6/3/5/4/2/2/2/1/4 told the story of steady improvement through the trials as the crew,, comprised of sailors from Perth and Sydney, settled in. She joined the Australian 1983 Admiral's Cup team, alongside Bondi Tram and Once More Dear Friends, a Dubois 39 foot minimum rater.
Hitchhiker crosses Bondi Tram during the 1983 Australian Admiral's Cup trials (photo Australia's Yearbook of Sail 1)
Hitchhiker put in a more solid performance in the 1983 edition of the Admiral's Cup, opening with a very encouraging first in the opening race, but then dropping off with placings of 23/15/18/29 to finish as 16th yacht in the individual results, behind Bondi Tram (13th), with the Australian team finishing fourth overall.
An epic shot of Hitchhiker during the inaugural Hamilton Island Race Week (1984)
Hitchhiker was transported to the East Coast for the inaugural Hamilton Island Race Week in 1984. In fresh breezes Hitchhiker played the underdog role and won by a mere one point after entering the final race four points behind.
Hitchhiker hoists her spinnaker while Inch by Winch loses hers during the 1984 Hamilton Island Race Week
Later, the beautifully maintained Hitchhiker was again transported 5,000km from Perth, Western Australia, across the bare Nullarbor Plain to Hamilton Island on a semi-trailer, apparently the longest distance in the world to drive a yacht of its size.  With his three combined trips to Hamilton Island, in 1984, for the 25th anniversary, in 2008 and 2013 (where she formed part of the "First Fleet" division), Briggs has spent 30,000km on the road transporting Hitchhiker to the world famous regatta.
Hitchhiker during the 2014 Hamilton Island Race Week (photo Charterworld/Andrea Francoli)
“In the old days when we trucked over in ’84 we didn’t have to have a lead car and those sorts of things. Today, there’s a lot of rules and you have to have a car at the front saying ‘vehicle following’ which increases the cost considerably - it’s a big effort,” Briggs said in 2013.
Hitchhiker during the 2008 Hamilton Island Race Week (photo crosbielarimer.com/Sail-world)
Briggs still owns Hitchhiker and maintains her in original condition in Perth. The following video is of Hitchhiker sailing downwind, and giving her crew some white-knuckle moments, during the 2008 Hamilton Island Race Week:

17 September 2017

Coutts Quarter Ton Cup 2017

Winds ranging from 5 knots to 27 knots provided a thorough test of competitors at this year's Coutts Quarter Ton Cup, held in Cowes on 13-15 September. Few teams were able to maintain consistent performance across such a wide range of conditions and for most it was a very high scoring series.
Some of the 2017 Quarter Ton fleet assembled on the hard (above) and in the marina (below) at Cowes
However, Sam Laidlaw's Aguila dominated the front of the fleet throughout the championship and put up an impressively flawless performance on the last day, winning all three races. Laidlaw's team of Brett Aarons, Dan Gohl, Tom Forrester-Coles and Robbie Southwell, finished the series as overall winner, counting just nine points from seven races.

Speaking after racing Sam Laidlaw was delighted to have finally got his hands on the legendary Quarter Ton Cup, "I'm really excited, because we've had a number of attempts at this and been in the top three on several previous occasions. The crew have been fantastic. Brett has done a great job of looking after and preparing the boat and has been sailing with me for a long time now. With Dan on the bow, Tom on the jib and Robbie too we've got a very solid team.

Cote approaches the top mark during racing on the second day of the 2017 Coutts Quarter Ton Cup (photo Paul Wyeth)
"We couldn't have had two more different days. It's been a really well run regatta. It was a pity there was no racing on Wednesday, but I think it was the right call. The courses were very good and Rob Lamb did a great job, particularly in getting 4 races in on Thursday which was a real triumph.
The fleet gets underway during the second day of the 2017 Coutts Quarter Ton Cup (photo Paul Wyeth)
"We haven't really made any changes to the boat for this season. We lost our mast in Cowes last year so had to replace that, but otherwise we've just had a lot of time in the boat, working on our crew work and making small tweaks rather than anything major. It's the crew who do all the work, I just sit at the back and steer!"
Winner of the 2017 Coutts Quarter Ton Cup - Aguila (photo Paul Wyeth)
Apart from a shocker in the final race, Ian Southworth's Whiskers also sailed a consistent regatta, counting predominately first and second places to finish in second overall on 14 points. Third overall was taken by Mark Richmond's Cote on 29 points and fourth by Paul Gibbons' Anchor Challenge on 32 points.
Pinguin Playboy - the winning Corinthian entry (photo Paul Wyeth)
Pierre Paris's Pinguin Playboy is the winning Corinthian entry, ahead of Robbie Stewart's Hellaby and Jeff Dakin's Flashheart

As well as the main prize for the overall winner of the Quarter Ton Cup, the event also awards a raft of other prizes. The Roger Swinney trophy for boats other than the winners of the Open and Corinthian Divisions rating lower than 0.910 was won by Whiskers.

Terence Dinmore's Captain Moonlight won the prize for the oldest crew, with a combined age of 334 years, and Willie McNeill's Illegal the youngest (167 years). The oldest bowman, winning the walking stick, is 59-year old Led Pritchard of Whiskers. The concours d'elegance for the best-presented boat went to Lincoln Redding's Lacydon Protis.

The report by quartertonclass.org and full results are here.

A further review of the series and the differences in racing between the Quarter Ton and Half Ton fleets from the Irish Afloat website is here

9 September 2017

Phoenix (Beneteau One Tonner)

Phoenix was a Fauroux/Finot/Berret design from Beneteau (a development of Fair Lady and sistership of Coyote), and had a starring role in the 1985 Admiral's Cup. She was sailed by Graham Walker and Harold Cudmore, who had actually started their 1985 campaign with Walker's fourth Indulgence, a Daniel Andrieu-designed One Tonner. However, on Indulgence's first offshore race, the RORC's De Guingand Bowl, they sailed too close to Bembridge Ledge and in the early hours of the morning she hit an old shipwreck (the 1916 wreck of the Empress Queen) - while initially the boat seemed sufficiently intact to sail on, further inspection just half an hour later found that the boat was filling up fast.  The crew were taken off the boat by other competitors, and the boat was written off. 

Walker chartered Phoenix from the boat's owner, an American based in London, and sailed well through the British Admiral's Cup trials. Phoenix joined two other One Tonners, Jade and Panda, to make up the British team for the 1985 series. The boat's owner shared time on the boat with Walker, while Cudmore put together a strong crew, and signed up new British J-24 champion Eddie Warden-Owen to helm the boat. 
The sad sight of Indulgence being lifted from the water after her collision with a sunken wreck off Bembridge Ledge
Phoenix in fresh downwind conditions on the Solent

Hull profile of the Beneteau One Ton design of 1984/85 - the design was relatively short, light, beamy and well-canvassed, and with a high prismatic coefficient

Results in the 1985 One Ton Cup, held in Poole, were perhaps as expected for a crew that were still getting to know the boat, and she finished 13th in a hot 38-boat fleet, including many One Tonners that were using the event as a warm-up for the Admiral's Cup. Her team-mates Jade and Panda finished first and third. Experience from the One Ton Cup was used to tune Phoenix, with adjustments made to the ballast, deck gear and sails to trade some upwind speed for better reaching and running form.
Phoenix crosses behind Australia's Drakes Prayer in light upwind conditions during the 1985 Admiral's Cup
Phoenix in close company with the much higher rating Almagores (ITA, centre) and Jade (inshore) in the stampede to the finish of the first inshore past Cowes Green during the 1985 Admiral's Cup
Phoenix and Jade finished fourth and fifth in the first race of the 1985 Admiral's Cup, giving the British team the early overall lead in the series. That was short-lived, however, after Panda and Jade finished 29th and 35th in the second race, with only Phoenix able to post a decent place of fifth, and the team slumped to fourth, and Germany jumped into the lead. But they bounced back in the fast and fresh reaching conditions of the third race, the Channel Race - Jade, Panda and Phoenix finished first, second and eighth to bounce back into second overall.
Phoenix in fresh conditions during the 1985 Admiral's Cup (photo is possibly before the start of the Fastnet Race)
While the fourth race, inshore on Christchurch Bay, saw the bigger boats into the leading positions, Phoenix took the race win. While Panda was the winner of the Fastnet, Jade lost her rig and although Phoenix finished fourth to take out the top yacht of the series honours, the German team put in a consistent effort to win the series comfortably.  

Port Barcelona comes back into the marina during the 1986 One Ton Cup in Palma de Majorque
Phoenix later became Port Barcelona and finished third in the 1986 One Ton Cup, held in Palma de Majorque (with placings of 4/12/6/5/16/3), and 10th in the 1986 Sardinia Cup (13/15/16/9/11).
Port Barcelona soon after a start during the 1986 Sardinia Cup, with Germany's Diva G ahead and to leeward

Port Barcelona during the 1986 Sardinia Cup

18 August 2017

Half Ton Classics Cup 2017

Swuzzlebubble (GBR) - winner of the 2017 Half Ton Classics Cup (all photos by David Branigan)
With the overall regatta decided on the penultimate day, the Euro Car Parks Half Ton Classics Cup was presented to Phil Plumtree and the crew of Swuzzlebubble at Kinsale Yacht Club, Ireland on Friday night.

A single ‘round the cans’ final race earlier in the day also delivered a full eleven race programme despite losing a day to strong winds. Swuzzlebubble’s series ended on Thursday after ten races of mostly first and second places confirmed their pre-event favourite status and this year’s win is the third victory in the 40-year old boat’s modern record adding to previous wins with Peter Morton and Greg Peck. On the water, Swuzzlebubble’s impressive upwind performance is hard to miss, but with the highest IRC rating in the fleet (0.975). she typically needed to finish by more than a minute and a half over her nearest rival in the inshore races to win on handicap.

Plumtree’s ten race series saw him dominate the 21-strong fleet from the opening race on Monday in spite of an eighth place in race three. However, four races on Tuesday left little room for doubt with all first and second places for the day while the event discard took care of the high score from the opening day.
Checkmate XVIII (GBR) - second overall

Checkmate XV (IRL) - third overall
Another first and second place on Thursday saw Swuzzlebubble start the coastal course with a commanding nine-point advantage. However, the race around the scenic approaches to Kinsale and the finish off the historic Charles Fort carried a 1.5x multiplication factor and several wipe-outs in the heavy conditions at sea saw Plumtree's team place fifth.

Swuzzlebubble approaches a windward mark during the 2017 Half Ton Classics Cup
Their nearest challengers were second placed David Cullen on Checkmate XV and Nigel Biggs on Checkmate XVIII, but both had sixth and fifth places earlier in the day that effectively decided the regatta in Swuzzlebubble’s favour as the former Kiwi classic ended with a three point advantage. A worst race discard of second allowed Plumtree to sit out the final race due to an unexpected crew personal commitment.
The Big Picture (IRL) in trouble on one of the downwind legs of the 2017 Half Ton Classics Cup (she finished fourth overall)
The regatta turned to what had been suspected all week given Swuzzlebubble’s pre-event favourite status after two previous titles: that the series is a battle for second place. This battle went down to the wire and the outcome of the eleventh race which was won by Nigel Biggs on Checkmate XVIII and he succeeded in beating David Cullen on Checkmate XV by a half point margin to take the first runner-up place.
Swuzzlebubble shows her form and speed upwind
The Half Ton True Spirit trophy, the other major award for the week was presented to Paul Wayte and the crew of Headhunter in recognition of their camaraderie within the fleet both afloat and ashore but especially for their sportsmanship. Wayte loaned a spare mast to Superhero after their own rig was badly damaged en route to Ireland that enabled the Finnish entry to start the regatta last weekend.
King One (IRL), Paul Elvstrom's Half Ton Cup winner in 1981, finished 11th overall
Tributes were paid to Principal Race Officer Anthony O’Leary and Regatta Director John Stallard of Kinsale YC with their team of volunteers who delivered a memorable series.

Per Elisa (GBR) - the last Half Tonner ever built, finished 12th overall
Class President Philippe Pilate on General Tapioca was best of the continental entries in fifth overall in the 21-strong turnout. At the prize-giving ceremony, he confirmed that the 2018 championship will be held at the Royale Koninklijke Yacht Club (KYCN), Nieuwpoort in Belgium from the 20th to 24th August, where a team of volunteers are already planning a week of great racing and hospitality.

The 2017 event was sponsored by Euro Car Parks together with AGK Displays, MF Services, Windward Hotels, Provincial Floor Coverings, Martin Reilly Motors and Harken UK. 

Results here.

Videos here: Day 1 Day 2 Day 4

All photos by David Branigan/Oceansport / Halfton Class Europe FB page)

11 August 2017

30th Anniversary of New Zealand's Admiral's Cup Win

In the early hours of 12 August 1987 (UK time), and 30 years ago today, New Zealand's team of Propaganda, Goldcorp and Kiwi finished in fourth, 11th and 20th in the Fastnet Race to win the coveted Admiral's Cup for New Zealand for the first (and only) time. The New Zealand team had amassed 1,365 points to hold out the British team of Jamarella, Juno and Indulgence by some 84 points. They had gone into the Fastnet Race, the final race of the five-race series, with a lead of 109 points, and just needed to stay close to their British rivals to secure their win. They did this to near perfection, with Propaganda just one place behind Jamarella, and Kiwi pushing Indulgence into 25th. Juno had an impressive 2nd place, but this was not enough to overcome the overall Kiwi dominance.

From the RORC History page:

1987 was the year when the New Zealanders achieved what they had long threatened since their first challenge in 1971; the double - the Cup and the top-boat slot with Propaganda (below) sailed by 'Billy' Butterworth and his boys.'
Their effort was uncommonly like the German bids of 1983 and 1985 - a home grown-effort based around a small group who had all the right skills. New Zealand yachting was, and remains, an illusion. Although in the 1980s the Kiwis won virtually everything worth winning, this giant in sailing is actually a country of only three million people. And while the Kiwis are boat-crazy, having one of the highest per capita ownership rates in the world, there is scarcely any grand-prix IOR sailing at home to speak of.
Goldcorp (finished sixth yacht overall)
On a roller-coaster of success, the Kiwis had won the World Youth Championships, five medals at the Los Angeles Olympics, had made the Whitbread Round the World Race their own, won the Kenwood Cup and made an indecently impressive debut at the America's Cup. In 1987 at Cowes, they beat the Germans and twelve other nations at their own game. They came with the best-prepared team; their boats had excellent speed and the sailors were good enough to sail a textbook series which minimised risk and maximised points. Only Propaganda seemed to have an extra cutting edge with her phenomenal upwind form. Don Booke, the team manager from the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, was not exaggerating when he said: 'We believe we won the cup twenty-four months ago. We sat down and got contributions from everyone who had been involved in the Champagne Mumm Admiral's Cup and had monthly meetings at the Squadron. Our big job was to change the triallists from enemies into friends.'
Kiwi, the "big boat" of the New Zealand team, finished seventh overall
So the Kiwis put in a full twenty days practice in Auckland's Waitemata Harbour before coming to the UK, and then had another twelve days sailing in British waters, with video analysis to bring crew technique and sail shapes to race-readiness. They even sailed a practice overnight race in the Channel, something few teams had contemplated before. The squad were coached by Californian Rod Davis, who by then had put his roots down in New Zealand through marrying the sister of ace sail designer Tom Schnackenberg. He prepared their programme, advised on sails, suggested new gear and moved crew around. John Clinton, the sail designer for the KZ-7 12-metre, came over to England to re-cut the sails, though Rick Dodson thought the Kiwis had anticipated British conditions pretty well. Dodson, who had been Swuzzlebubble III's mainsheet trimmer when she'd been top Admiral's Cup boat in 1981, was now skippering Mal Canning's Laurie Davidson-designed One Tonner Goldcorp (ex Mad Max).
Propaganda - the fastest One Tonner at the 1987 Admiral's Cup, and the top individual yacht overall

No mean sailor himself, with five America's Cups and an Olympic gold and silver medal to his name, Davis was worth listening to. 'I am the catalyst to help them figure out how to do things. You win the Admiral's Cup by putting three boats in the top ten or twelve places in every race. You do that by not breaking anything, by not doing anything stupid and by staying outside the protest room - no bogies, no double bogies, no sand traps!' Admittedly, Davis had good ingredients with which to work. Goldcorp had been re-vamped stripped out by Dodson and Davidson, to be turned into the winner of the New Zealand trials.

The video of the 1987 series can be seen here, and more photos from the series can be seen here.