1975: Fastnet Race 50th Anniversary

Excerpt from "The Admiral's Cup" by Bob Fisher

1975 marked a big anniversary for the RORC. It was 50 years earlier that the first Fastnet Race had been run. It also witnessed the beginning of a big change in design; the success of Doug Peterson's Ganbare in the 1973 One Ton Cup and of Ron Holland's Eyghtene in the Quarter Ton Cup of the same year had begun a radical change although Admiral's Cup owners were still showing signs of conservatism. The aftermath of the success of these two boats was to lead to an almost total domination of the One Ton Cup the following year by Peterson and Holland designs and a win for Peterson the following year in the Three Quarter Ton Cup. Yet, strangely, there were but one Peterson (Yeoman XX) and two Holland (Irish Mist and Katsou) designs in the Admiral's Cup.

At right: Under spinnakers in the Solent. From the left: Mandrake (16300), Italy; Golden Fleece (SA62), South Africa; and Tenacious (US2121), USA.
Click for a larger image.

The new philosophy in design came from lighter displacement and the garboards growing tighter until the keel became a separate entity rather than a mere extension of the underwater body. The Bruce King One Ton bilgeboarder, Terrorist, was perhaps the farthest that anyone went in this direction with two asymmetric pivoting-boards angle to be vertical when the boat was at a normal angle of heel. She had no keel ballast as such; all her ballast was carried as lead in the bilge and much of her stability was due to the form shape of her gull and her beam. The canoe-like underbody was being enveloped within the IOR rule and keels were made more hydrodynamic to provide more reduction to leeway rather than just to be a ballast function. Dick Carter first showed the way towards this style of design with his series of designs which culminated in the One Tonner Ydra. He could not, however, get Robin Aisher to accept a totally flat floor for Frigate in 1973, even though Aisher had seen the performance of Ydra, but, two years later, he was only too happy to allow Peterson to exploit this characteristic to the full. Peterson had gone somewhat further than Carter in his appraisal of the design parameters and Holland was travelling down similar paths.

Yet Sparkman & Stephens still held the sway; 24 of the 57 competing yachts were to designs from the American design office. But even this establishment organization had made drastic changes in their philosophy with hulls bearing considerable resemblance to the new-wave from Peterson and Holland although the Sparkman & Stephens keels were still more part of the hull than those of the "young turks". German Frers, who for a considerable time had been working in the Sparkman & Stephens office, was now in business on his own. His designs conveyed much of earlier Sparkman & Stephens boats in their forward sections and there were seven of them of varying sizes. Frers scored because of his careful balance of length, sail area and displacement.

There were some extreme boats in the Cup line-up. The Bruce Farr-designed Gerontius was light and flat. She had been designed for Graeme Eder as a fast cruiser without too much thought for the IOR, but came good in the New Zealand trials. Her optimum performance was in fresher breezes, as was that of the Carcano-designed Vihuela in the Italian team. The drawback to there light displacement boats is that they lack sail area for light weather and in 1975 that was to be their undoing.

The Germans appeared very determined to retain the Cup and their trials were hotly contested. Rating anomalies showed among the top seven boats when they were re-measured just before Kiel Week and most went up by half a foot. The trials, however, did produce an all-Sparkman & Stephens team,within certain parameters. Each of the yachts Rubin, Duva and Pinta began their lives in Madison Avenue but Hans-Otto Schumann modified the design of his Rubin together with that of Peter Lubinius' Duva while Willi Illbruck put his own touches into Pinta. It remained to be seen whether the meddling could improve on the masters' touch, but these three relatively big boats had cleaned up in their trials despite the introduction of a new Time Multiplication Factor which was thought to favour the smaller boats.

The British trials were close, too. There were not as many involved as two years previously but some owners had gone to great lengths to prepare their boats properly for the trials. Tony Morgan, who won a silver medal in the 1964 Olympics crewing a Flying Dutchman for either Musto, completed his 49 foot Bob Miller design, More Opposition, by the end of the 1974 season. He felt that it needed time to tune a boat to produce the maximum from its potential. To that end he appeared with the boat for Cowes Week with nothing more than a suit of "training sails". He invited many of those he had sailed with and against during his days in dinghies and began to settle on a crew for the following year. The boat had probably the most complex winching system of any Admiral's Cup yacht ever built, with two grinder pedestals each able to connect into any of four primary winches. The area for the crew to activate these winches was partially sunk into the deck - it was a development of the crew pits that had been found on Ginkgo and Apollo III two years earlier.

More Opposition underwent a major re-fit at her builder's yard in Holland during the winter but regrettably Morgan did not increase her mast height and thus her sail area and this was to prove her undoing; she did not have the necessary speed in light weather and because of that was not chosen for the British team, except as reserve. Instead she was chartered to the Swiss.

When it blew More Opposition flew - she easily won the first Solent Points Race of the year but then the wind faded and so did her performance. The very tall rig of Yeoman XX was the telling factor in the next Solent Race, a foretaste of the summer to come. It was to be a summer of new boats despite Morgan's undoubted foresight in getting his boat together early. In one thing he failed: to take the advice of those, designer Miller included, who advised putting five feet on the mast; almost certainly the boat would have been capable of sailing to a higher rating with more sail. Yeoman XX became the boat to beat as the season progressed, being the top Admiral's Cup boat in the Seine Bay Race. But she did not have it all her own way. The late-launched Noryema X, a 46 foot Frers design for Ron Amey, took little time to get into her stride while Bill MCCowan's 49 foot Frers Synergy won the de Guingand Bowl. The Cervantes Trophy Race provided a side issue that will be long remembered. The 47 foot Sparkman & Stephens Battlecry, beautifully cold-moulded in wood by Souters for John Prentice, rounded the Royal Sovereign Light Tower just a fraction too close for comfort and when the wind swirl around the tower caught the boat, she became slightly more upright and the top of her mast became firmly enmeshed in the structure of the tower. Her crew had to break the mast to get her clear of the tower and that set her campaign back slightly.

When she appeared the following week with a new mast, Battlecry seemed to have more speed and she began to add consistency to this. After the de Guingand Bowl, the second and third trials were inshore races. From the first three races results the selectors' task was unenviable. Yeoman XX and Noryema X were first and second in the first of these and nowhere in the next, a race which saw the latest Morning Cloud and Synergy at the front. Then Noryema won the Morgan Cup with Yeoman well-placed winning class II and the Cup team far from chosen, although the chances of those two boats did begin to blossom.

The final trials were two inshore races. Yeoman XX made absolutely certain of her place by winning them both, but the rest made the selectors' job more difficult than ever. Noryema X had a sixth and a twelfth while Battlecry and More Opposition each had a second and a fourth and shared equal second place in the unofficial points table.

Just for once the selectors chose the team which they felt would reach its full potential in a month's time. To the obvious choice of Yeoman XX they added Noryema X and Battlecry while naming More Opposition as reserve. It was a wise decision in hindsight as Noryema X went on to become Yacht of the Year and top scorer in the Admiral's Cup. Amey's wealth of experience in nominated reserve on two other occasions - may have swayed the selectors in his favour.

The United States used the SORC for selection trials and, to their great disappointment, Chuck Kirsch's Scaramouche, which had won every race in the previous year's Onion Patch Series including the Bermuda Race overall, was not competing as she was at Palmer Johnson's Sturgeon Bay yard having alterations made to her hull. Two boats were however outstanding: Ted Turner's 49 foot Frers-designed Tenacous and Ted Hood's 40 foot own-designed Robin, and both were selected. The American selectors then were faced with several possibilities and they decided on Jesse Phillips' new 54 foot Sparkman & Stephens Charisma, which had disappointed at the SORC, but only if Dennis Conner were to skipper the boat. That personnel requirement was met and Charisma was confirmed in the team.

Canada made a first challenge and a full team came for the first time from New Zealand. Eighteen months earlier the Kiwis had shown how good they were in Sydney but lost the Southern Cross Cup when a man died on board Inca during the Sydney-Hobart Race. Inca and Barnacle Bill were members of that team and they were joined by the light-displacement Gerontius. Switzerland and Hong Kong were the other first timers. The Swiss had the only British-designed boat in the fleet in their team, the 46 foot short-ended Atair of Arthur Sutch, with the chartered More Opposition, skippered by Beat Guttinger, and the Swan 41 On Dit. Hong Kong was led by Bill Turnbull with the 48 foot Miller-designed Ceil V, a production counterpart of More Opposition, with the other two chartered - the Swan 41 Casse Tete IV to Hector Ross and the Swan 44 Trailblazer to Bill Jeffery.

This year the challenge from France had an added boost. The 50 foot Coriolan was designed by Jan Kjaerulf and skippered by his partner, four times Olympic gold medallist Paul Elvstrom. Revolution was back for a second time with the Holland-designed Katsou making up the team.

The Spanish took the Cup more seriously than ever before by hiring Butch Dalrymple-Smith to act as their coach for six months. He found that progress was possible because of the keenness of those concerned and the fact that some talent was available. Juan Camunas had purchased Noryema IX and followed Ron Amey's reverse name idea by re-naming it Sanumac. To complete the team there were added the Swan 41 to Guillermo Cryns, Flamenco III, and the Carter-designed 40 foot Mabelle chartered from Italy.

The Admiral's Cup was now firmly established at Cowes. The Groves and Gutteridge Marina housed them before the start of the Channel Race, now moved to the Squadron Line from Southsea, and all 57 boats were at the northern end of the marina. The hustle and bustle of the fleet in the week prior to the racing as stringent safety checks were made brought a new life to this yachting town. It was disappointing, therefore, that when the fleet came to the start of the Channel Race there was only 6-9 knots of east to north-east breeze.

With a course east to the Owers and the Royal Sovereign Tower, progress was slow for the yachts from their early afternoon start. The wind freshened to 10 knots by the time the leaders were off Ryde but further to the east there were more holes in it than in Emmenthal cheese. From the start John Kahlbetzer's 53 foot Frers-designed Bumblebee 3, with Australian sailing coach Mike Fletcher at the wheel, took the initiative, making full use of every zephyr as she chased the earlier starting classes down an almost glassy Solent. Frers was steering his own Don Alberto for Argentina but had been badly boxed on the starting line and was one of the last past the Forts at the eastern end of the Solent.

After a long run to the CH1 buoy off Cherbourg, the fleet faced a turn to windward back to the Nab Tower. Bumblebee 3 maintained her lead throughout the race. Noryema X was always in the first three on corrected time and on the beat home consolidated her placing with some brilliant sailing. Amey said afterwards that this was the leg which took them into a comfortable first place but admitted that even then they had made mistakes because the wind was virtually unreadable. It did cause the downfall of Robin Aisher and Yeoman XX. She had been racing closely with Irish Mist and Robin which finished second and third while Yeoman XX dropped to thirteenth on this leg.

Each team had one bad result. The United States took the initial points lead with Charisma adding a fourth to Robin's third but Ted Turner could only manage a twenty-second with Tenacious. Pinta and Rubin at fifth and eighth set the defending German side for a good placing but Duva's nineteenth put them six points behind America. The Australians were the most consistent. Peter Kurts' Love & War a 47 foot Sparkman & Stephens design which had won the previous Sydney-Hobart Race, was ninth. Among her crew were the Star Olympic champions David Forbes and John Anderson. Bumblebee 3 corrected out into tenth place after leading the Admiral's Cup fleet home and Ted Kaufman's home-designed (with a little help from his son, Scott) 42 foot Mercedes IV finished fifteenth so that the team was just four points astern of Germany. Britain was fourth, 38 points behind and just four in front of New Zealand.

It is always said that the British team has an advantage in the inshore races in the Solent. The tricky tides and sometimes the working of the race instructions have on occasion helped the home side to better results than might otherwise have been expected. Now with these two inshore races separately started from the rest of Cowes Week races, the visitors had less of a disadvantage than before. Despite that the British team were to win them both and move into a 34 point advantage after three races.

The sun shone on the Monday and a force 2-3 north-easterly breeze greeted the yachts at the start. As they went away to the east the years of starting small boats in big fleets showed to Robin Aisher's advantage. Against the foul tide he made the perfect start inshore right under the shadow of the Squadron Castle. It was a cheecky manoeuvre but one which team-captain Aisher had practised three times before the start and then judged to perfection when it really mattered. Starting there, however, did have one disadvantage as it took some of the Cup yachts into where the day racing classes were moored at the mouth of the Medina. Saga caught the mast of one of these in her rigging and snapped the mast out of it like a carrot.

Battlecry and three others, including Sanumac, went to the north shore after rounding the Ryde Middle buoy on the leg out ot the Nab Tower. Aboard Sanumac was Teddy Hicks who used to navigate her as Noryema IX and who knew the Solent like the backs of both hands. It was a move which was to pay handsome dividends. Red Rock III, a 46 foot Frers design in the Argentinian team, was another of the select four and she went on to win this race by 50 seconds on corrected time. Sanumac led at the Nab with Bumblebee 3 overtaking her on the long run back to the East Lepe buoy and finishing 21 1/2 minutes ahead...

Red Rock was third around the Nab with Battlecry on her heels. Within the race another was developing, that between Robin and Yeoman XX, one which was to stimulate them to produce excellent results. Robin, in these conditions, was slightly the faster to windward while downwind the edge was with the Peterson design. Robin was first to the Nab but Yeoman XX was close astern and, on the long run up the Solent, Yeoman XX slipped past and into a two minute lead. Then disaster struck the British boat.

When the time came to drop the spinnaker for the final beat, it would not come down. Crewman David Low went aloft with a hacksaw and cut through the head of the sail. During this operation Robin closed right up but once the sail was free Yeoman XX regained the initiative. She crossed the line 20 seconds ahead of Robin but undoubtedly lost first place in the race to Red Rock III. Her second, however, together with Noryema X's sixth and Battlecry's seventh, gave the British team an 11 point advantage over Germany for the day and 20 points more than the United States. It moved Britain into third place behind Germany and the United States who had swapped places in the overall standings. Australia really fell from grace on that day. Mercedes IV was disqualified for premature starting and Bumblebee 3's twelfth together with Love and War's eighteenth only just kept the Australians in fourth place. Mercedes IV was not the only transgressor: Don Alberto, Ceil V and Mandrake were also disqualified, spoiling the chances of the Argentinians, Hong Kong and the Italians for the series.

The second inshore race was memorable for its late finish and it was as a a result of this that the time limits of the inshore races were reviewed. It will be remembered by the competitors as one of the most trying and frustrating races ever. The wind played tricks of the nastiest kind and the last six hours or more of the race were held in the area between the two winds: the south-westerly that was there at the start and the south-easterly that sought to replace it in the Eastern Solent. It meant constantly changing sails and the crews were more exhausted after this race than they would have been had it blown a near gale.

Eleven hours after the start only four of the 57 boats had completed the course and the first three home took the leading positions. The tide was flooding and the final part of the course saw the yachts beating towards the finishing line, cheating the tide along the Island shore. Yet they had to leave the Prince Consort buoy to port, going out into the stronger current to do so. Bumblebee 3 had three attempts and then hit the buoy, only a half mile from the finish, and retired.

It was Giorgio Falck's Guia III (the Miller-designed Ginkgo of two years earlier) which was first across the finish at five past eight in the evening. The delight of her crew was all too obvious. They had been forced to retire from the previous race for fouling the South African Frigate but now they danced on he deck in celebration and one crew man back-somersaulted the rail into the water.

Six and a half minutes later, to cheers from the crowd standing ten-deep along the Parade at Cowes, the green-striped aluminium-hulled Yeoman XX crossed the line, which gave her a corrected time 26 minutes better than the Italian, and as time ticked by, after 15 minutes, Yeoman XX could not be beaten. Noryema X finished two and a half minutes behind Yeoman XX and took third place to Guia III.

The majority of the fleet were then forced to kedge against the tide with little or no wind. Twelve boats opted to try the mainland shore, among them Battlecry, and for a time the ploy appeared to work but then they, too, lost the wind and lost out. Battlecry did no better than thirty-first. But it was the failure of the other major teams that saw Britain go to the top of the table after three races. The United States trio, Robin, Tenacious and Charisma, were twenty-sixth, thirty-seventh and forty-seventh. Mercedes was not seen to cross the finishing line for Austarlia and, with Bumblebee 3 retired, the Australians gained only 32 points from the race. Rubin was disqualified on protest and, with Pinta at eighteenth and Duva at thirty-ninth, there was little celebration for the German team. Britain, therefore, led the Germans by 34 points with the USA 15 further back and New Zealand 100 behind the leaders in fourth place. The Admiral's Cup however is not won, or lost, until after the Fastnet has finished.

Races which are repetitious are boring and the 1975 Fastnet was very much a re-run of the 1973 race. The very light weather made it a race for the navigators and tactiticians, particularly for the leg from the Scillies home. 280 boats were entered for the Fastnet and the 57 Cup yachts were the last group away into a force 4-5 westerly breeze with a veer to the north-west forecast. This time the head-wind was no real problem in clearing Portland Bill and all the Cup yachts were through this first "gate" on the ebb tide. At this stage Irish Mist was the corrected time leader. She passed four cap-miles off and then headed into Lyme Bay to tack along the shore when the time turned, short-tacking in 20 knots of wind. She had earlier had a close battle with Robin and Yeoman XX, Battlecry and Inca with Tenacious and Charisma at tenth and eleventh.

By then the wind was round into the north-west but even so, at the very front of the race-fleet, Jim Kilroy's 79 foot ketch-rigged Kialoa was on schedule, at the Fastnet Rock, to break the course record then held by Ted Turner's American Eagle. Indeed the leaders began their run back to the Bishop in brisk breezes, and Yeoman XX broached so violently that her mast hit the water, but these winds were caused by a very local depression off the south coast of Ireland and were to fade as the boats ran under spinnakers to the Bishop.

When Bumblebee was the first of the Cup boats around the Fastnet at five past eight on the Monday evening, the Rock was shrouded in thick fog. On corrected time Irish Mist, somewhat appropriately in the circumstances, was the leader from Inca, Battlecry, Pinta, Noryema X, Rubin, Tenacious and Red Rock III. Yeoman XX was not sighted but, from her own log, it would appear that she was within half an hour of Irish Mist. Inca's crew had one other cloud hanging over them, a protest for a port and starboard incident for which they were subsequently disqualified.

The correct course home was to stay to the west of the Rhumb Line to the Bishop Rock and avoid the patch of calm around the Scillies. The skipper of the Dutch Goodwin afterwards expressed considerable surprise that others had gone inshore as this was a well-known trap: after all had Arthur Slater not shown this two years previously? And avoiding it did work for Goodwin: she went on to win class II and be the first of the Admiral's Cup boats on corrected time. Standfast, Trailblazer and Flamenco all stood 15 miles off the Scillies and did well. At the Lizard the fleet drew together as progress against the tide became almost impossible and any ground made towards the finish at Plymouth was generally current-assisted. Charisma was first home late on the Wednesday evening and by midnight so were eight others. It was in the early hours of Thursday that the race was won and lost as the fleet came home very much together. It was a runaway victory for the British team although the German team had threatened with Rubin and Pinta at ninth and tenth. Noryema X's fifth with Yeoman XX and Battlecry at eleventh and twelfth was more than enough to regain the trophy; 105 points separated the British from Germany with the United States a further 32 points behind. The Dutch came very much into the reckoning with their Fastnet performance to take fourth place when Inca was disqualified, dropping the Kiwis to fifth. It was Australia's worst ever Admiral's Cup. Bumblebee's disqualification from one inshore race and her thirtieth in the Fasntet helping to drag the team only to ninth. The light weather had not made this a good Admiral's Cup but there was no denying that the winning team well deserved their position.

Naturally enough there were criticisms of the 1975 Cup. Jesse Phillips had sought to have the second inshore race abandoned because he held that it was unfair. Yet he did not receive support from his own team mate Ted Turner: "I helped talk him out of it. Anyone who sails sailboats has to be prepared to accept those sort of things. I pointed out to him that he would not be complaining if the big boats had got in and the little boats had been left out there, and how many times does that happen in offshore racing?"

Aboard Phillips' Charisma was John Marshall who wrote in North Sails magazine: "The second day race, held in a fickle westerly/easterly, was a catastrophe." But he had admitted: "Any regatta can become a disaster if wind conditions are sufficiently fickle." Even he however showed bias towards the larger type of boat on which he was sailing: "The Fasntet Race, normally, is truly a great race...one of the best overall tests of sailing held. This year the wind gods made a mockery of the best efforts of many competitors by rewarding boats which took flyers in the face of long odds and by completely shutting off the wind for the leaders near the finish line, so that a three-quarter tonner was first in fleet." He completely ignored the fact that the boats which did win, including the three-quarter tonner Golden Delicious, had taken action to avoid the calm off the Scillies, a calm which is more predictable than the East Solent calm of the second inshore race and one which can be avoided, and was avoided two years previously by Prospect of Whitby. Marshall went on to criticize the organisation - "the dregs of 19th century regatta management" - and suggested that things would be improved if "the committee would set a decent starting line. As it is now, the two starting lines were set up around 1840 and have remained fixed for every race since - regardless of tide, wind or course! The more chaos, the more spectator enjoyment ashore. The whole starting line scene is reminiscent of the Roman Forum with the lions turned loose on the Christians and spectators screaming for blood."

For once it was Turner who took a stand against change: "...it is really up to the RORC. They do a fine job even if things like starting races on the Squadron Line are not the way you would normally go about orgainising a series of this stature. But they've been starting on the Squadron Line for what, fifty or seventy-five years? There's a lot of heritage involved and it gives the spectators something to watch. I know it's difficult, very demanding and very fluky to sail in those conditions and race in the Solent, but there's something to be said for it. There's not much heritage left in sport these days."

Perhaps the truth came from a member of the Admiral's Cup Committee who added: "The Grand National would be a fairer race for the riders and the horses if it were held on the flat at Ascot, but it would not be the Grand National."


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