By John Welsford - Hamilton, New Zealand

The Other Side of the Coin
or at least one side of a many sided coin

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Making a living from small boat plans is not easy, and so like all of the designers of small boats I know, I do all sorts of other things to bring in the bacon.  A bit of commercial fishing boat work doing incline tests, stability calculations, and horsepower calcs.  I teach yacht design at a college, do some supervision of other designers building on customers behalf, some preliminary and feasibility work for other proposals and so on.  I even work in sawmills and wood processing plants doing quality control and technical consultancy work.

But now and again I get something really different to do, and here is a quick look at one of those projects.

The Mini Transat race from France, singlehanded across the Atlantic in 6.5m (21 ft 4in) ultra lightweight super fast racers.  This is one of the toughest races of all those in the yachting calendar, the speed of the boats is staggeringly quick, the weather often foul, the boats tiny and the distance - 4000 odd miles - means a month on board with 10 minute catnaps every hour or two,  mostly dried and cold food,  and very very few creature comforts.

To give you an idea, my Navman design, 3rd place getter in the 1999 race, was only 4 nautical miles short of 250 miles in one 24 hour run, and made over 1500 miles in a weeks run. That’s a quick boat, averaging 1 ½ times hull speed for a week singlehanded.  That’s daytimes, nighttimes, and no breaks for coffee, breakfast and a shower!  Staggering stuff!

The experience gained designing these “other“ projects finds its way back into the small boats that I’m better known for, and the research undertaken to design competitive extreme class boats has yielded much useful information.

I raced on Navman a few times during the boat's workup period, and have vivid memories of being on the helm when closing the narrow gap between Cape Brett and Peircy Island at the southern entrance to New Zealand’s Bay of Islands at about 2am on a pitch dark howling gale night, the GPS was indicating between 18 and 20 knots as we screeched along under the small kite (only 90 sq m) and reefed main  planing toward the occasional patches of white surf that I could just make out ahead.

Skipper Chris Sayer was comfortable, controlling the speed with the sheet winch by easing and sheeting on the spinnaker, watching the course to the waypoint on the GPS he knew where we were within a few metres, and knew we were well clear of the headland.  But my heart was going pitter-patter in a big way for a while there.

Chris and Navman went on to finish third in that year's big race, and it's been raced by subsequent owners in several more.  A wooden and epoxy fibreglass boat, essentially home built but by a skilled builder who had just been awarded New Zealand’s top Boatbuilding apprentice of the year.  It was built as cheaply as possible for a boat intended to compete in a major international event, and is reported to be still in top order after half a dozen Atlantic crossings, trips from NZ to Fiji, New Caledonia, Southern Ocean and Australia, two races around New Zealand’s North Island and a whole lot of Mini Transat races in Europe.

I was privileged to travel to Guadeloupe in the Caribbean courtesy of Navman Marine Electronics to be at the finish of the 1999 race, although the job was done mostly for love the experience was one of the highlights of my designing life, and I remember the boat and the campaign very fondly.

I was very pleased to recently have an email exchange with Stanislaus Delbarre, the current owner of the boat, and he’s sent me some photos which show the boat in its current configuration and I thought that I’d share them and some reminiscences with you.

Here are some of the little racer’s vital statistics, and no the sail area figures are not wrong or exaggerated.

Length overall 6.5m   21 ft 4in
Beam 3m 9ft 10in
Draft keel straight down 2m 6 ft 6in
Distance from masthead to keel base 14m  45 ft 11in
Sail area (working sail only) 55 sq m 580 sq ft
Largest spinnaker 142 sq m 1525 sq ft
Maximum downwind sail area  210 sq m 2215 sq ft
Carbon fibre Canting keel 325 kg bulb  
Twin “handed“ daggerboards forward  
Single tacking daggerboard aft  
Twin rudders    
Full width semicircular traveller    
Spinnaker pole (prod) 3.5m long  


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