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Friday 23 December 2011


Here’s something very different from Dave Zeiger of TriloBoats which are a family of barge/scow hulls that have been adapted for fast and easy construction in plywood. Dave and his family have what might appear an alternative and enviable lifestyle living aboard their 26 foot Trilo - Slacktide among the islands of Southeast Alaska's Alexander Archipelago.

If you think of Dave and family in terms of Ralph Waldo Emerson then perhaps Slacktide is analogous to Walden Pond. At 26' x 7' x 1' Slacktide is engine-free, a junk ketch-rigged sailing barge “not one of those curvaceous barge-babes, either, but a four-square and unrepentant box barge”

Slacktide is wind and human powered so sailing, sculling, drifting and idling are important pastimes. When the wind is fair and the tide a'rising, she will skim the shorelines or thread tiny passages between islets. When at anchor or waiting on the next tide Dave and family are afforded the perfect location from which to while away the day, drawing (boats from Dave, plants and animals from Anke), making music and exploring realms of the senses.

Compared to many of the boats featured on 1001 Boats “Slacktide” might be described as plain or even odd, but that’s to miss the point and a long history of slab sided working boats such as the sharpie, scow and barge. Reference England’s east coast barge trade, square section barges of 80 to 90 feet carrying immense cargos of up to 100 tons under sail through the shoal rivers and right into the port of London, often crewed by just a skipper and mate speak of an efficiency and fitness for purpose. In her way Slacktide draws many parallels, her form is a direct consequence of her intended function and owners purpose.

That’s not to say that Dave’s aesthetic is constrained by straight lines functionality, as he comments on his blog,

“.. don't get me wrong! I love curvaceous beauties, gleaming golden in every lissom line! The glint of brass and stalwart patina of bronze. Makes my heart go pit-a-pat!”

If I had a magic wand… sweet and curvy would suit me just fine. She'd be cold-moulded and dynel sheathed. Copper plated, from the boot-stripe down in strips hand-spilled and hammer fit by masters. She'd be tricked out with bronze hardware and copper running lights. Teak decks and resin plus gel-coat in lieu of paint. For easy maintenance, you know. A custom, welded stove would warm her, reminiscent of the old Shipmates, right down to the embossed anchors on the face.”

But I think of our box barges as the Least Common Denominator in boats. They are, quite literally, the least possible effort you can expend and still have a capable cruiser. KISS, even by barge standards. By almost any performance criterion, it's uphill from there. They are the lowest of the low. The bottom of the barrel.

But that's kind of empowering, don't you think? Look at how well they do... look at all the fun you can have on one! Their virtue is that their bang-for-the-buck ratio is through the roof. If any dreamboat is in reach, it's this kind, and it just gets better. And they do have sort of work-a-day good looks to them... don't they? Anyone?”

The answer to which is “yes they do.”

For further proof point of Slacktide’s fitness for purpose we should perhaps look at Dave’s previous boats. The first was a 19 foot Phil Bolger built Micro called Zoon, despite her small size the family proved to themselves that such a sailboat, even a small one “might be a good place to live.”

Zoon was followed by Luna, described as 31foot and “Bolgeresque” a slightly larger interpretation of Phil Boger’s Advanced Sharpie AS29.

With Luna sold and lessons learned, Dave and family used their unique experience when they embarked on the design and build of Slacktide, as the next generation vessel which incorporates several features ranging from unusual to outright experimental.

Sea trials were aimed to answer questions about the viability of the following:

Slacktide is a box barge – while there are several examples of sailing box barges, few if any sail as general cruisers in anywhere near the range of conditions found in SE Alaska, in particular, could she make good in moderate gale conditions?

The bottom is a trampoline structure, there are no internal stiffeners over the large and dead flat cabin sole (the inside of the hull). It's designed to flex. As a result the copper bottom plates were glued, not fastened to avoid barnacle-like nail-heads

The large, side-windows are little more than a foot above the waterline.

The low foredeck is just over two feet above the waterline in order to maximize the forward windows and allow good steering visibility from a sitting position, inside the cabin.

Her centre boards are arranged on cable travellers to allow them to stow aft providing a clear and unrestricted view while at anchor.

The mizzen mast is off-center – displaced over one foot to port.

The junk topsail cut is unusual – inspired by Polynesian crab-claw rig.

A SeaCycle ® Drive Unit has been fitted for windless propulsion – this is like an outboard, but with rotary pedals (like a bicyle's) in place of the motor

SLACKTIDE was intended for year-round, live-aboard cruising, since Dave and family have been living continuously aboard now, through two and a half seasons sailing about 428 nautical miles, they have had good opportunity to test her suitability. Details of those extended sea trials are available on their web site, in the sense that Slacktide is a boat that gets you where you want to be, the photos suggest that she does the job well




Sunday 18 December 2011

Foxer Dinghy

Members of the Hamble River Sailing Club Foxer Fleet can be seen sailing every weekend, out on the water all year around summer and winter alike.

Designed by David Thomas (who also designed the Sigma 33) as a versatile sailing dinghy and yacht tender, the Foxer attracts some very experience helms and the fleet is characterised by close and competitive racing.

Length: 3.25m (10' 8")
Sail Area (Mono): 6.3m² (68 sq ft)
Beam: 1.37m (4' 6")
Weight: 78 kg (172 lbs)

The FOXER is a boat you sail IN rather than on. The exceptional stability and simple to control rig means there is no need to perch on the sides or hang overboard when sailing to windward - helms aged 8 to 80 with any degree of physical fitness can sail within their limits, while enjoying outstanding sailing qualities and safety.

The distinctive red, black and white Foxer sails have become and integral part of the Hamble weekend waterfront.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Nicholson 48

I’m not really a fan of centre cockpit yachts, but the exception proves the rule as they say. The first time we went aboard a Nicholson 48 was in Scotland Bay, Trinidad. Growler monkeys could be heard among the steep and thickly wooded shore as we rowed over to swap some books, our conversation led to an early evening beer and on to a dram from the ships supply of single malt.

Our hosts proudly showed us around their boat and what we discovered was a strongly built and hugely practical long distance cruiser. Designed in the 1970’s for serious offshore cruising the Nicholson has a full, encapsulated keel, comfortable motion and well planned accommodation. With a sail area to displacement of 12.07 the Nic is perhaps a little under canvassed but the ketch rig, with everything in board, is easy to work with a small crew. The deep centre cockpit with permanent cover works equally well offering protection and security from the in the blazing Caribbean heat or the cold, wet waters of the Western Isles.

Although the styling places the Nicholson firmly in the 1970s – touches such as the venetian blinds seen on many examples, the design has a timeless quality and an image which speaks of quality and fitness for purpose which has aged well.

LOA 47' 6"
LWL 34' 3"
Beam 12'
Draft 7' or 5'5" (shoal draft version)
Displacement 31,300lbs
SA/Dis 12.07
Bal/Dis .32

Wednesday 7 December 2011


Bernard Moitessier will always be remembered as the strange Frenchman who might have beaten Robin Knox-Johnston to be the first man to sail singlehanded non-stop around the world. Instead, on the last leg of his journey, when heading North in the South Atlantic towards the finish, he put the helm over and headed back into the roaring forties on a second lap of the globe.

At the time, in March 1968, he had been closing rapidly on Knox-Johnston, who was sailing a much slower boat but had started ten weeks before Moitessier.

Moitessier's powerful 39' ketch "Joshua" - named in honour of the first solo circumnavigator, Captain Joshua Slocum - was built in steel in France in 1962 to a design by Jean Knocker. Her immensely strong double-ended hull, welded, with minimum framing, in thick gauge steel plate, is clearly heavily influenced by Colin Archer's famously seaworthy norwegian yacht and lifeboat designs. By coincidence, Knox-Johnston's 32' "Suhaili" was also based on a Colin Archer design.

Joshua was not built specifically for the Sunday Times Golden Globe Challenge, the competition won by Knox-Johnston for the first non-stop solo circumnavigation. She was conceived and built, however, with shorthanded long ocean voyages in mind. Moitessier had already made a number of ocean crossings in home-built boats of his own design. As both his previous oceanic adventures had ended in shipwreck, he was no doubt keen to make sure that Joshua would be built as strongly as possible. Her construction was financed by the royalties from the book he wrote about his previous voyages, and by the time of the Golden Globe race, Moitessier had already tested her thoroughly, in ocean voyages from France to the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific to Tahiti, and back to France by way of Cape Horn.

After these voyages Moitessier wrote another book and many magazine articles about his experiences.

Although he became renowned as France's most intrepid ocean voyager, and financially comfortable as an author, Bernard Moitessier was a quiet man, never comfortable with his celebrity. It seems it was the anticipation of the public and press hullabaloo that would result if, or more likely, when he won, that persuaded him to abandon the race and continue sailing, just at the moment when victory began to look probable.

"I am continuing, without stopping, towards the islands of the Pacific," he wrote, "because I am happy at sea, and also, perhaps, so that I don't lose my soul". He sailed on as far as Tahiti, then spent many years living and sailing in the South Pacific, earning his living writing about his voyages.

Joshua became another of Moitessier's shipwrecks, when, ten years after his famous one-and-a-half times round-the-world solo voyage, he accidentally piled her up on the shore in Mexico. This strange man then gave the boat away to a couple of young men who helped to recover her. Later she was purchased and restored by the Maritime Museum of La Rochelle, where she remains afloat and active to this day.

Moitessier died in 1994 and is buried in Brittany.

Images: Wikipaedia

Links to more information about Joshua and Bernard Moitessier:

Saturday 5 November 2011

Elizabeth - Copper Ore Barge

An unusual although no less deserving and interesting boat, sadly neglected was brought to my attention by Tedd Gregg, who kindly sent in these photos and history.

Ted writes, "Lying on the shore of Lake Windermere ajacent to the Steamboat Museum is the Barge Elizabeth . Though now a ruin she is surely worth a mention.

Elizabeth was built in 1839 at Windermere by a local boat builder. She was built for the Coniston Copper Mines Company to transport Copper Ore down the six miles of Lake Coniston. There she would be off loaded and the Ore carted to the nearby estuary to be loaded onto Sailing Ships for the ore refinery in South Wales.

Alas her duties as an ore carryer were short lived, with the coming of the Railway in 1849 Elizabeth became redundant and she lay unused for the next thirty years, until she was purchased and taken back to Lake Windermere in 1880 and put to use as a Sand and Gravel Barge for a number of years .

Elizabeth was beached many years ago and is now in a very sorry state but quite unique, she is double ended, of 50 feet in length, with a beam of 12 feet.

The photos were taken by myself and are being used in my endeavours to build a model lookalike on behalf of the Steamboat Museum.

Even in her dilapidated state Elizabeth shows her fine lines and the interesting juxtaposition between the details of her construction and the ravages of nature moving inexorably to reclaim her.

We look forward to seeing Ted's model (a follow up post perhaps)

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Muscadet - the French "peoples' boat"

Philipe Harlé's Muscadet is a French legend. In the early 1960s the Muscadet helped “democratise” the sport of sailing, making ownership of a real coastal cruiser affordable for the ordinary working man. There were, of course, other designs, many from the drawing board of J-J Herbulot, that were as affordable and as capable, but it is the Muscadet, with its instantly recognizable profile, its startlingly good offshore performance, its sheer numbers and its longevity that must take the honours as the real French “peoples' boat”.

What is most surprising about the boxy little Muscadet is that, as well as being a capable and roomy small family cruiser, it turned out to be an exceptional mini ocean racer. Its outstanding successes in this field could be compared to a VW Beetle winning the Monaco Grand Prix and the 24 Heures Du Mans. (Yes, I know about Herbie, but that was Disney comedy, the Muscadet is a real life champion!).

To start at the beginning, Philippe Harlé was working at the Glénans Sailing School where he was in charge of boat maintenance. A new motor supply shuttle was needed for the cash-strapped, island-based school, so Harlé designed it and oversaw its construction himself. Naturally he was then the obvious choice to manage the construction of the school's new offshore training yacht, Glénan, designed by the great John Illingworth.

These two projects provided Harlé with such fulfillment and excitement, that he recognised his future lay in yacht design. At the end of the proving voyages of Glénan, trials which involved taking part very successfully in a couple of RORC races (9th and 2nd places – in spite of the boat starting its first race two hours late, its fit-out still unfinished, and the boat so underprovisioned the crew all lost 7 or 8 pounds in weight), Harlé bumped into Louis Blouet, a businessman and enthusiastic offshore racer. Blouet mentioned that he was about to commission Illingworth to design a new ocean racer, and the young Philippe impulsively offered to design the boat himself. Blouet, rather surprisingly, agreed. This was 1962 and Philippe Harlé was now a naval architect!

In spite of this encouragement, Philippe was still working at the Glenans when the prototype of his next design, the Muscadet, was launched at the Aubin yard in Nantes during February 1963. Built in plywood with a single hard edged chine, its reverse sheer and high slabby topsides unrelieved by ports or other features, she must have looked unusual to say the least. Claude Harlé, Philippe's wife, thought it ugly, and taking a tin of anchovies from her larder as a template, she traced three oblong porthole openings on the Muscadet plans. With these windows and a broad contrast stripe painted under the sheerline, the Muscadet's looks were marginally improved, and the boat sailed, with little further preparation, across the Bay of Biscay from Nantes in heavy weather, to take part in a One-Of-A-Kind Rally organised by a yachting magazine at La Rochelle.

The crews of the competing yachts may have laughed at the little "soap box” as they called the Muscadet, but they stopped laughing when she outsailed bigger and much more expensive boats and left them all with a good view of her most boxy feature – her almost square transom. That year two further Muscadets sailed to the Glénans, where they were trialled by many of the staff and trainees and excellent reviews were published in the Glénans journal. Muscadet's performance both on and off the wind, especially in a choppy sea, was judged outstanding, and her fine seakeeping and sailing qualities, together with her low cost, soon led to a very full order book for the builders, Aubin, and to Philippe giving up his job and setting up shop as a Naval Architect in his Paris apartment.

You have to like a man who names most of his work after alcoholic drinks. Philippe Harlé started this sequence in 1963 with the Muscadet. By the time of his untimely death in 1991, more than 50 of his designs were named in this fashion, including Armagnac, Cognac, Scotch, Aquavit, Gros Plant, Cabernet, Sancerre, Pineau, Sauvignon and Sangria.

At any time in the 1960s or 70s, a yachtsman visiting France would have noticed the proliferation of the Muscadet class. it was taken up by individuals and clubs all over France, and its amazing ability to make fast passages in rough water, often with 4, or even more, on board (the French love to sail in company) impressed the crews of larger, more traditional British cruising yachts who would find Muscadets turning up in the Channel Isles, the Scillies, the English south coast ports, and even the south-west of Ireland.

The combination of good performance and low initial cost was unstoppable. Young people could afford to buy boats that were equally as capable of winning races and of making offshore passages as the larger boats that had hitherto been thought the minimum requirement. In 1977 when already around 750 Muscadets were afloat, the first Mini-Transat singlehanded race for yachts of 6.5 metres overall length was announced. This race, though conceived and organised in Britain, attracted a large number of young French entrants, and 6 out of the 26 starters were sailing Muscadets, even though the design was already 14 years old.

5 Muscadets finished the gruelling race from Penzance to Antigua in the West Indies. The first 3 of them finished 4th, 6th and 11th. The last of them was in 16th place. Muscadets were still well represented in the 1979 race in which Philippe Harlé himself came fourth, sailing a Gros Plant, a slightly modified and modernised version of the Muscadet design. Another Gros Plant finished 2nd, while the lowest placed Muscadet was in 17th place out of 32 starters.

Although the Muscadet continued to prove its ability in offshore races throughout the 1980s (there was at least one Muscadet in every Mini-Transat up until 1991), the new generation of Mini 6.50 offshore racers, including designs by Harlé, eventually made it uncompetitive. However, the class remains, to this day, highly popular in French waters as a family cruiser and one-design regatta racer.

The strict one-design class rules include two unusual stipulations. First, the crew must be good company and willing to take part in parties and social events organised by the regatta committee. Second, the boat must have at least one full bottle of Muscadet on board at the start of the race, and one full bottle on crossing the finish line.

Muscadet designed by Philippe Harlé
Built 1963 - 1979, over 750 produced by Aubin, 1000+ examples in total.
LOA 6.4 m
LWL 5.6 m
Beam 2.26 m
Draft 1.12 or 0.75/1.25
Displacement 1200 kg
Ballast 520 kg
Sail Area 25.05 m2

Sources, Photo Acknowledgements and Links:

All Boats Avenue, Association des Propriétaires de Muscadet, Ouest-France, A & P Aubin Brochure, and the official biography "Muscadet, Armagnac, Sangria... : Philippe Harlé, architecte naval", by Claude Harlé and Dominique Lebrun.

Saturday 15 October 2011

St Michel II - Jules Verne's yacht returns!

The happy band of sailing men seen in the picture here are volunteers from the "Cale 2 l'Ile" association based in the French port of Nantes. The association aims to save some of France's nautical heritage by restoring and maintaining old boats.

The boat they're sitting on is one they all helped build - the St Michel II - a replica of Jules Verne's second yacht in which he enjoyed escaping from land to cruise and write his novels in peace. (The reason they're all sitting on the rail, by the way, is that they're helping the boat's designer, Francois Vivier, to measure the boat's stability.)

The 6 year project to build St Michel II was completed earlier this year and she was launched at Nantes where Jules Verne was born in 1828.

Jules Verne was, from an early age, an enthusiast for all things to do with ships and the sea. In 1865, with his books selling well, and his fortune increasing, he bought a small fishing vessel of around 25 ft at the small port of Le Crotoy at the mouth of the river Somme, and had it converted into a capable sailing yacht. Verne made many extended cruises in his little boat, becoming familiar with many ports in Northern France, the Channel Islands and parts of the English south coast. He even sailed up the Thames to London. It was on board this yacht, the St Michel, while cruising with his crewman Alexandre Delong, that Verne wrote his “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea”.

In 1875 after having been elected to membership of France's premier yacht club, Verne ordered a larger 13m yacht from the Cherbourg yard of Abel Lemarchand. Although he took pleasure in working with the builder on the yacht's plans, she retained the lines and character of a traditional northern French pilot vessel. The new boat was named St Michel II and launched in 1876. Once again Verne undertook a full programme of extended cruising, along the coasts of northern france, the south of England, Brittany, and even across the Bay of Biscay to Bordeaux and back. He loved the peace and solitude he found on board his boats, and was able to write very productively while at sea, unburdened by everyday social and family matters.

After only a couple of seasons, however, the St Michel II was replaced by a magnificent steam motor-sailer of 31 metres length, the St Michel III, a vessel befitting the world's most famous author of tales of travel and adventure. This new boat required a crew of 10 men, and Verne's cruises became even longer and more extended, reaching as far as the Baltic, Scotland, Spain, Portugal, North Africa, Malta and Italy.

The original St Michel II was sold to the St Nazaire Pilot station where she served for many years. Later she became the supply ship for the prison on the island of Belle-Ile, off the Brittany coast. The St Michel II was eventually scrapped in 1911.

The new replica St Michel II has already taken part in a number of sailing events for classic and historic vessels around the coast of France. Her first public outing was at the famous "Semaine du Golfe de Morbihan" (Morbihan Week), a biennial boatfest which attracts hundreds of vessels of all shapes and sizes. I'm hoping to take part in the 2013 event with my own boat - if my own restoration project is complete by then.

St Michel II

LOA: 13.27m
Beam: 3.52m
Draft: 2.25m

Acknowledgements and links:

Association La Cale 2 l'Ile

Images and story sources: La Cale 2 l'Ile and Francois Vivier

Additional images: Ouest-France, Mer et Marine.com

Friday 30 September 2011

Fowey River Class

The Fowey River Class is a 14 foot traditional dinghy which is actively sailed in the Cornish harbour town.

Based on a knockabout day boat by Reg Freeman in the late 1940’s, the design of which was published in Yachting World. In the early 1950’s a local dentist commissioned a boat to be built by Hunkins Boatyard across the river at Polruan, after that the fleet quickly grew and by the mid 1960’s had reached 36 boats.

Inevitably with the introduction of modern plastic boats the class declined throughout the 1960’s and 70’s, but there has been a resurgence of interest in the class and several new boats have been built including those by local wooden boat builder Marcus Lewis.

Racing on a evening in the summer, the Fowey River Class make a wonderful sight, their distinctive coloured sails and bright finished hulls look spectacular sailing in the steep wooded estuary. The current popularity of the Fowey River Class can be seen all along the town’s water front where well kept examples swing to their moorings when not sailing.

This boat was interesting, it seems to be a FR and certainly the coloured sails and sail number reflect that, but the boat is painted rather than varnished. The planking is also different to other examples, having fewer and broader topside planks and a more pronounced sheer. Whatever her origin she’s certainly a pretty boat.

Monday 26 September 2011

Maïca and her sisters - a classic Illingworth design

There are not many ocean racing characters whose exploits and achievements rival those of Captain John Illingworth. He was already a well-known and successful yacht racer before the war, but it was in the 1940s and '50s that he virtually dominated the British ocean racing scene, as well as being hugely influential in the development of the sport in other countries, especially France and Australia. (photo: Mandragore, a transom stern Maïca class)
His most famous yacht, Myth of Malham, was nominally designed by Laurent Giles, but it is no secret that Illingworth himself conceived the general outline of the boat, with its abruptly short ends, relatively light displacement and, above all, its groundbreaking rig with big masthead foretriangle and high aspect ratio mainsail. Jack Laurent Giles begged to be allowed to draw longer overhangs, but was firmly overruled. He complained that the proposed mainsail was too short on the foot and looked more like a flag than a sail, but Illingworth insisted, and Myth of Malham went on to be one of the most successful ocean racing boats of all time.
In 1958 Illingworth opened his own yacht design business, in partnership with Angus Primrose. Together they created some of the most attractive and weatherly boats of the era. Illingworth's role was to conceive the design in general, the rig, and the details of deck and interior layouts, while Primrose gave the hulls their sweet and efficient lines for speed, good seakeeping and beauty. (photo: Saba, a superb example of a counter stern Maïca)
Many of the firm's early clients were French. Illingworth spoke fluent French and loved the country. He encouraged and assisted in the founding of the enormously influential Glenans sailing school, where hundreds of young Frenchmen learned to sail – and to become instructors themselves. He was commissioned to design a yacht for the Glenans school, the building of which was put under the supervision of Philippe Harle who worked at the Glenans at the time. This experience so stimulated Harle that he immediately gave up his job at the school and set up as a yacht designer himself.
The first of what became known as the Maïca class was commissioned by French yachtsman Henri Rouault who had admired Illingworth's earlier successful racer “Belmore” and asked for a smaller version. She was built by Burnes of Bosham and launched at Easter 1960. At the suggestion of Rouault's sister, a nun, the boat was named after her convent's former Mother Superior, a decorated heroine of the wartime resistance, who was known by the nickname “Maïca”. (image: drawings for the transom stern Maïca)
The original Maïca, like the Belmore design, had a transom stern. She was so admired and so successful, winning the RORC Class III championship in 1962 that soon further examples were built in Britain and in France, but when Illingworth sold the plans for the Maïca to Constructions Mécaniques de Normandie at Cherbourg, Felix Amiot, the owner of the yard, insisted that the design should be modified with a counter stem. Apparently this was because M. Amiot wanted a Maïca for his own personal use and he preferred the elegant look of a counter stern.
So Illingworth and Primrose produced plans for a “Maïca à voûte” (counter stern) and in 1963 CMN started to build this version employing a novel method of construction that made series production viable - cold moulded mahogany. (image: drawings for the counter stern Maïca class) A first lightweight layer of 1cm planks was laid longitudinally over formers, then two diagonal layers of planks, each 4cm wide, at right angles to each other. When the glue had cured the hull was simply lifted off the formers and turned right way up for decking and fitting out.
CMN built 38 Maïca class yachts, about half of which are known to be still sailing and in superb condition. (photo: Maïcas awaiting delivery at the CMN yard in Cherbourg) The CMN Maïcas were mostly sold to French clients, (one was ordered by the Greek ambassasor to Paris), but many went to customers from Britain and other countries. Some of these boats were among the most famous offshore racers of their day - and many were scoring notable wins even ten years after the introduction of the class
With so many international racing successes and long voyages, the class also made a name for itself in Mediterranean waters and it was not long before a couple of Italian yards obtained licences to build slightly modified versions. One Italian version, of which I believe over a hundred examples were built, was in GRP with a modified fin keel and skeg underwater profile.

Maïca class by Illingworth and Primrose

LOA: 10.08m (transom), 11.06 (counter)
LWL: 7.32m
Beam: 2.74
Draft: 1.74
Displacement: 5300Kg (approx)

(photo: The elegant stern of one of the counter stern Maïcas, recently sold by Sandeman Yacht Co.)

Class Maïca (Acknowledgements to this French website for much of the history and most of the above photos)
Saba - a French owned Maïca.
If you want to sail a Maïca, see Saba's cruising and regatta programme

Monday 19 September 2011

Lacoste 42 - handsome yacht - but a marketing fiasco

I usually contribute posts about French boats to this blog, but when I heard last week that Sparkman and Stephens, the most illustrious yacht design firm of the 20th century, had moved, after more than 80 years on Madison Avenue, NY, to new premises on the Connecticut shore of Long Island Sound, I thought I would feature an S&S design in this post to mark the historic occasion. Cunningly, though, I managed to find an interesting S&S boat with a very French story.

The fashion brand Lacoste is so well known all over the world that it's easy to forget its French origins. Rene Lacoste was a French tennis champion, winner of 7 grand slam titles in the 1920s and '30s, whose nickname, "the alligator", was the inspiration for the logo on his tennis shirt - the first of many products marketed under the now famous Lacoste name. In 1985, the house of Lacoste, by then a global byword for sporty fashion goods, took the bold step of extending their brand into yachts - not just any yacht, of course - Lacoste yachts were to exemplify style, performance, and comfort, so naturally they went to the world's most respected yacht architects for the designs.

Sparkman and Stephens designed at least two boats for Lacoste. One, a motor yacht, never went into production. Another, the Lacoste 42, a fast cruiser/racer, was built and marketed for Lacoste by the Dufour yard at La Rochelle. Though a very handsome, stylish and capable vessel it was not a great success in sales terms - only 12 were ever built

Looking at the photographs and drawings of the Lacoste 42, I think I can guess why sales were disappointingly slow. The boat suffers from a seriously split personality. On the outside it is a very high performance racing yacht, with a tall, narrow, complicated rig, a race-crew oriented deck layout and an aggressively honed, IOR-rating-tweaked, short fin and vestigial skeg underwater profile; inside it's a de luxe holiday home with 3 double bedrooms, (each with ensuite facilities), a large galley and a spacious and comfortable saloon.

I imagine most of the marina posing types, who could have been attracted to the stylish and comfortable interior, would run a mile from the race-bred rig with its three-spreader mast, running backstays, hydraulically tensioned standing backstay and 2 inner forestays (one is detachable to ease tacking - the two guys on the foredeck in the publicity shot below are leaning against it).

Conversely, few of the hard-core racing crews capable of handling the big rig with its huge headsails and spinnakers would be likely to appreciate all the comforts of the double beds and triplicated shower and heads compartments.

Aside from that, the marketing and management suits at Lacoste probably knew little about the unglamorous wet, cold and bruising side of yacht racing, and the salt-stained welly-boot boat jockeys at Dufour equally little about fashion marketing - in short, a perfect recipe for a marketing flop. None were built after 1992, even though the Lacoste name was dropped and the yacht was rebranded as the Dufour 42.

A pity, really, because according to the accounts of owners and crews that you can find on internet forums, the Lacoste 42 made an excellent, long-legged cruising yacht. Even now, it seems that when they do come on the market they tend to sell for very good prices.

Lacoste/Dufour 42

LOA: 42'-2"
LWL: 35'-9"
Beam: 13'-0"
Draft: 7'-6"
Displacement: 16,538 lbs
Ballast: 7,124 lbs
Sail Area: 748 sq ft

Colour image right: a very handsome Lacoste 42 recently sold by Ancasta International Boat Sales.

Plans and drawings: Sparkman and Stephens