Quarter tonners refuse to keel over and vanish

Daily Telegraph Article
By David Pelly

Racing yachts follow fashions - this year's hot number is liable to be on next year's bargain rail and if there was one particular group of boats that would seem to be well on the way to the Oxfam shop, it must be the quarter tonners.

Designed 30 years ago to a rule that no longer exists, with hulls that often looked distorted and rigs that seem out of proportion, they don't seem to have a lot going for them today. And yet one of the most surprising developments in the past couple of years has been a strong revival of interest in quarter tonners, with boats being dragged out of the long grass and, in some cases, very expensively restored with new keels, masts and sails.

The Royal Corinthian Yacht Club have organised a new series for the Quarter Ton Trophy, thanks to the initiative of club secretary Louise Morton, who also competes in her quarter tonner Super Q, which won yesterday's race at Cowes. Up to 20 boats are now racing regularly with more to come.

The Quarter Ton Cup has not been held for 10 years and the trophy seems to have disappeared. It derived from the One Ton Cup, which was created in the late 1960s for yachts of fixed rating - you could use any design up to a fixed rating level, and racing was boat-for-boat with no handicap.

The concept gave yacht racing a huge boost and design development raced ahead through the 1970s in its wake. To keep costs down, a version for smaller boats, the Half Ton Cup, was promoted, and finally the Quarter Ton Cup, for an 18.5 ft International Offshore Rule (IOR) rating, which turned out as a sporty little number of around 25 ft. Tonnage had nothing to do with it.

The IOR has gone to join the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Ton Cup concept died with it but the quarter tonners seem reluctant to lie down. Seven of the entries in Class 7 of Skandia Cowes Week are quarter tonners with the current points leader in the class the Farr-designed Espada Wanchai Belle, skippered by Jamie McWilliam.

The comeback began when boat-building brothers Jim and George Webb did a superb job in restoring the David Thomas-design, Purple Haze, and went on to revive several more, most notably Odd Job, the quirky Stephen Jones-design built for yachting journalist Jack Knights.

Recently re-bought by Paul Treliving, Odd Job has been rebuilt to grand-piano standard by the Webbs and had her performance boosted with a new keel and taller rig of modern design.

On Monday I re-activated a few old bruises by joining the crew of Odd Job for what proved to be a crash-and-bash race around the east Solent. With her strangely snubbed bow and open stern, she still looks radical after 30 years and proved more than a handful at times for helmsman (and former owner) Ray Nash.

When these narrow-ended IOR designs decide to broach, they don't give up until the masthead is touching the water but, on the other hand, they are sensitive and responsive in a way that today's bulbous brutes never could be.

Provided the rather complex rating questions can be sorted out, it could well be that the Quarter Ton Cup is headed back to the future, though I would want to go on a rigorous fitness programme before sailing on one again.