The day after he won the Southern Circuit championship in his 38-foot eight-inch yawl Finisterre, Carleton Mitchell made a bold guess. "I wouldn't be surprised," he said, "if Finisterre started something of a revolution in boat design" (SI, March 26). Last week, on the eve of the 20th biannual Bermuda Race—premier event of East Coast racing and the oldest blue-water race in the country—it looked as though the revolution was already at hand. The Bermuda Race runs 635 miles from Newport, R.I. across the Gulf Stream, where squalls often knock down the smaller boats while the deep-keeled 70-footers can use their driving power to get out ahead and beat their time handicaps. Yet in the fleet that heads for the island June 16, nearly half of the record-breaking 93 entries measure 46 feet or less. Moreover the hottest favorite is not a keelboat at all but the fat-bodied little centerboarder, Finisterre.
Like any revolutionary, Finisterre is as much a product of change as a cause of it. And the forces in yachting design that produced Finisterre—the perfect combination of fast racer and comfortable cruiser—have been at work since the first race to Bermuda in 1906.
In those infant days an ocean race was just a bunch of the cruising boys who thought it might be fun to get together. It was pretty much come-as-you-are, with no formal handicaps and no nonsense about slipping in a cast-iron water tank for ballast or building a whole new boat just to get there first.
The first Bermuda winner (see box p. 61) was an honest, 38-foot yawl named Tamerlane that made the passage in five days, six hours and nine minutes. But then the 85-footers got into it, and within four years the race died of big-boat domination.
June 17, 1956
It was revived in 1923, with a set of rules limiting length to 70 feet and awarding progressively higher time allowances to the smaller boats. However, marine architects quickly discovered that within the limits of length there were still ways to build faster boats. Hulls that had been built wide for comfort and shoal for shallow harbors gave way to narrow-beamed racers with deep keels, cramped quarters and a tendency to take the fast, wet route through a wave rather than the dry, slow way over it. In the late '20s the Cruising Club of America took over and tried to check the tendency toward pure racing boats by a broader set of rating rules. But all they produced was a more sophisticated set of rule-beaters, like the radically slender Dorade and in the early '30s her fatter sister Stormy Weather, both designed by Architect Olin Stephens.
"The truth was," said Olin Stephens last week, "that the rule had not been very scientific. If all boats were geometrically similar, you could rate them on one dimension-length, for example. But as soon as Mr. X, who wants to win the race, gets together with Mr. Y, the designer, they build a boat with all the characteristics of speed except for that one dimension. Then you need a really complicated rule that takes into account all factors of design, or you'll get freaks."
The rule the Cruising Club thought up to beat the rule-beaters stands today as about the most complicated document in sport. In its present form it is a 27-page labyrinth of fractions and rating tables that measures every plank and angle on a boat by means of such wonderful equations as: P = ‚àö(1/.95)-B—which is a learned way of saying your spinnaker should not be too big.
In essence the rule takes the following stand: extreme length, narrow beam, tall masts and great sail area make boats go faster. If carried too far, all these tendencies lead away from healthy cruising concepts. Therefore, all short, fat, shallow-draft, little boats receive time allowances over the racing machines.
Then, two years ago, along came Finisterre to win 17 of 29 races in all kinds of weather, and now the rule makers aren't sure what to think. The rule says fat boats pound or wallow in waves the long boats slice through. Yet Finisterre, whose length is only 3½ times her beam, drives through like a 50-footer. The rule says excess weight slows a boat; but Mitchell's yawl is built like a truck and loaded with gadgetry. Finally, the rule says, and everybody knows, that a centerboarder hasn't the depth and stability to go to windward. But Finisterre goes to windward probably better than any little heavy-weather boat ever has. Briefly, Finisterre beats the rule; and the extraordinary part of it is that she was never intended as a rule-beater.
"I give you my word," says Carleton Mitchell, "that not once in my discussions with Sparkman and Stephens when we were building and planning Finisterre did we mention the ratings, or any way we could beat the rule.
"When I first built this boat she came out round and fat, and people said she was a clunker. It's just as though you entered a sports car race in a big, boxy sedan, and the rules favored her, so you got a big handicap. Then it turned out that you were faster than the Jaguar.
"My idea in Finisterre was to build a floating home for two people. A boat that could poke into the smallest harbors, but rugged enough to take a hurricane in mid-ocean. I wanted something I could take for an afternoon sail by myself; but I wanted her capable of sleeping a full racing crew of seven. Nothing was left out of her that could contribute to the good life afloat. I don't think any boat's ever been built better than we built Finisterre."
Certainly no boat has ever been planned better. Mitchell has sailed all his life. In the last 10 years he has raced and cruised more than 50,000 miles, and Finisterre represents the best ideas from all those years and miles on the water.
Before the keel was laid, Mitchell had a complete plywood mockup of the cabin made. Then he crawled all over the mockup to find out what the paper plans had not told him. The cabin was too narrow, so he widened it. He moved the stove from starboard to port, changed the angle of the backrests in the main cabin, and fixed the main bunks so they could be pulled out at night.
He picked the lumber for the actual construction with the same loving care. For the frames, Connecticut white oak ("Better than Maine oak," says Mitchell), winter-cut to be free of sap. African mahogany and teak for the interior, and on the interior deck raised holly strips for better footing. The sides are double-planked with¾-inch Honduras mahogany over ‚Öú-inch Port Orford cedar. Main deck and structural bulkheads are mahogany plywood. The deck is covered with canvas, and the spars are spruce.
Of her 27 sails, only two are cotton, and those a special mainsail and a mizzen for the Atlantic crossing Mitchell plans for just after the Bermuda Race. The rest are nylon and dacron—nylon for the light sails because it stretches to give a bigger belly, dacron for the working sails that have to hold their shape in the heaviest weather. As with the sails, all the sheets and halyards that must not stretch are dacron. The anchor lines, which should have some give, are nylon.
She has wheel steering instead of the more sensitive tiller because a wheel is less work in a seaway and because a wheel can take the automatic pilot—a device unheard of on any boat the size of Finisterre.
Down below she is the ultimate example of the perfect use of space. Actually no bigger than the lifeboat of a large ocean liner, she somehow manages to look like a palace. And as the drawings on these pages show, nothing has been left out. She has a mechanical icebox, a mechanical shower, depth finders, barographs and enough other gadgets to sink a normal boat her size. With everything aboard she weighs 22,330 pounds—and still she wins races.
How does she do it? "For one thing, she's got everything," says Dick Nye, winner of the 1952 Bermuda race and a threat to Finisterre for the upcoming race. "And he sails the hell out of her."
Dick Nye Jr. agrees. "Look at his crew [Richard H. Bertram, Lockwood M. Pirie, Henry K. Rigg, Edward B. Freeman, Corwaith Cramer Jr., Henry Davis]. It reads like an all-star list of ocean racers. Some of the hotshots he takes as crew, we'd be sort of nervous to have them aboard. You'd be afraid they'd give you an inferiority complex." With the Nye racing record, there was little danger of that, but it was an indication of the respect in which Mitchell and Finisterre have come to be held. It was, moreover, a real compliment, since the Nyes are among the crack racers who have recently turned to small centerboarders.
"Small boats," said the junior Nye, "are easier to manage. It's easier to get six for a crew than the dozen you would need for a big one. And then a small boat handles much quicker, can shift quickly to take advantage of new wind, and jibing the spinnaker doesn't take 10 guys."
All this is true, but the real story, the essence of the revolution, lies in Finisterre's design. In her, all the factors that should make a boat go slowly add up and cancel each other out. Her weight gives her driving power to keep moving in a chop, and her short length allows her to ride up and over the big waves. Her broad beam and heavy construction provide the stability to ride under the jib-headed rig that traditionally would have called for a keel; and the retractable board gives an advantage going downwind. And finally the designers reversed her fat curves to make them concave at the forward waterline and below so that she cuts through the waves instead of pounding.
Result—a perfect Bermuda boat, a boat that follows the rule in every detail, yet comes out a mile ahead. The only part of Finisterre that Mitchell didn't care for was her price tag. "I can tell you she's probably the most expensive boat of her size ever built, foot for foot—a fact of which I am not proud," he said. The highest estimate he would acknowledge was "more than $60,000."
Less expensive copies of her are springing up everywhere. Of the 21 cruising sailboats now on the drawing boards at Sparkman and Stephens, 18 are centerboarders. And Finisterre's most dangerous competitor for the Bermuda Race is Colin Ratsey's 40-foot centerboard yawl Golliwogg, an admitted Finisterre imitator.
Obviously the revolution is at hand. And as usual, the forces of conservatism, as manifested in the Cruising Club rule, are moving to check the revolutionaries. "Any time any one boat has demonstrated she's found a loophole in the rule, the rule has been changed," said Mitchell. "It's now up before the Cruising Club to penalize centerboarders—which means Finisterre. But they're kind of stuck this time because Finisterre carries to an extreme what the rule says should be good, but at the same time makes a boat go slow. Still a record like ours does require some action."
Whether it does or not, there seems little doubt that there is going to be action. No matter what the committee does, however, Carleton Mitchell has proved what he set out to, and as far as changes in the rules are concerned, he will still take Finisterre any day. "I don't give a damn about the rule," he said. "We're beating boats almost twice our size without a handicap."
WINNING BOATS IN PAST BERMUDA RACES
1906—TAMERLANE, 38' yawl, Frank Maier; 1907—DERVISH, 85' schooner, H. A. Morss; 1908—VENONA, 65' schooner, E. J. Bliss; 1909—MARGARET, 93' schooner, G. S. Runk; 1910—VAGRANT, 76' schooner, H. S. Vanderbilt; 1923—MALABAR IV, 46' schooner, J. G. Alden; 1924—MEMORY, 59' yawl, R. Bavier; 1926—MALABAR VII, 53' schooner, J. G. Alden; 1928—RUGOSA II, 59' yawl, R. Grinnell; 1930—MALAY, 45' schooner, R. W. Ferris; 1932—MALABAR X, 58' schooner, J. G. Alden; 1934—EDLU, 56' cutter, R. Schaeffer; 1936—KIRAWAN, 53' cutter, R. Baruch; 1938—BARUNA, 72' yawl, H. C. Taylor; 1946—GESTURE, 57' sloop, H. Fuller; 1948—BARUNA, 72' yawl, H. C. Taylor; 1950—ARGYLL, 57' yawl, Wm. Moore; 1952—CARINA, 46' yawl, R. S. Nye; 1954—MALAY, 39' yawl, D. Strohmeier; COURSE RECORD—71 hrs., 35 min., by HIGHLAND LIGHT in 1932.
(1) After pulpit
(2) Lazarette hatch
(4) Mainsheet blocks
(6) Combination check-and-snatch blocks for genoa, spinnaker sheets
(7) Wheel and binnacle
(8) Sail and rope lockers
(9) Automatic pilot remote control
(10) Hand pump for bilge
(11) Switchboard and instrument panel
(12) Distance-run recorder
(14) Vegetable bin
(16) Food lockers
(18) Galley sink
(19) Garbage pail recessed in centerboard trunk
(21) Portable depth finder
(22) Icebox top used as chart table
(23) Dish cabinet
(24) Navigating instruments
(25) All-wave radio
(26) Centerboard winch handle
(27) Radio direction finder
(28) Teak deck with raised holly strips
(30) Main berths can be pulled out (dotted line) for more sleeping room
(31) Dropleaf table set on gimbals
(32) Cabin heater
(33) Linen lockers
(37) Shore clothes locker
(38) Oilskin and boot locker
(39) Accordion-type door to forward cabin
(40) Folding sink
(42) Forward berths
(43) Drawers and lockers under forward berths
(44) Forward ventilator
(45) Mooring cleats
(46) Forward pulpit
(1) After pulpit
(6) Movable backrests
(7) Condiment containers
(9) Glass rack
(10) All-wave radio (chronometers swing down from above)
(11) Translucent-bottom dinghy
(13) Kerosene gimbal lamp
(14) Main-cabin ventilator
(16) Forward hatchcover with transparent plastic top
(17) Forward ventilator
(18) Forward pulpit
(20) Stowage space
(21) Forward head
(22) Folding sink
(23) Mainmast step of sheet Monel
(24) Doorway to main head
(25) Removable pipe berths for additional crew
(26) Lead ballast in keel weighs 5,660 pounds
(27) 527-lb. bronze centerboard adds 3'7" to draft
(28) Centerboard winch and handle
(29) Garbage pail recessed in centerboard trunk
(30) 32-hp gasoline engine
(31) Automatic pilot mechanism
(32) Two-bladed propeller
(33) Monel fuel tank holds 32 gallons
(34) Valve cutoff on exhaust keeps water from backing into engine
(35) Engine exhaust
ENTRIES FOR THE 1956 BERMUDA RACE
VENTURER—73'3", H. C. Haskell Jr.; BOLERO—73', Sven Salen; WINDIGO—71', W. S. Gubelmann; ROYONO—71', U.S. Navy; COTTON BLOSSOM IV—71', W. H. Wheeler Jr.; PETREL—70'3", U.S. Coast Guard; GULF STREAM—70', M. E. Hemmerdinger; ENCHANTA—66'2", R. Stiegler; SEA LION—66', G. Verney; CRIOLLO—66', Dr. L. H. Vida√±a; GOOD NEWS—63', 10", A. L. Loomis Jr.; MANITOU—61'9", U.S. Coast Guard; PICKLE—58'4", Canadian Navy; ARGYLL—56'7", W. T. Moore; ROB ROY—56', A. Boorstein; CIRCE—56', C. Hovgard; CARINA—53'6", R. S. Nye; STORMY WEATHER—53'5", J. J. O'Neill; ONDINE—52'9", S. A. Long; KAY—52'7", S. Frisell; SAGOLA—52', G. R. Hinman; BACCARAT—51'7", G. Coumantaros; CALLOOH—50', J. M. Brown; FIGARO—47'2", W. T. Snaith; SOUVENIR—46'8", C. W. Wharton Jr.; PALAWAN—46'7", T. J. Watson; CLAIRE—46'5", F. E. Lintilhac; WHITE MIST—46', G. W. B. White; ICEFIRE—45', J. Isbrandtsen; REVONOC—45', H. Conover; SWIFT—44'3", U.S. Navy; VIGILANT—44'1", U.S. Navy; FROLIC—44', U.S. Merchant Marine; DANDY—44', U.S. Navy; SCHLUSSEL VON BREMEN—44', R. Evans; RESOLUTE—43'11", U.S. Navy; KATINGO—43'10", J. T. Vatis; BLIXTAR—40'8", D. Miller Jr.; SWAN III—40'1", W. M. Wood; INDIGO—40', S. K. Wellman; GOLLIWOGG—40', C. E. Ratsey; JEN—39'11", C. Koch; WILD SWAN—39'11", B. Lippincott; MALAY—39'7", D. D. Strohmeier; FINISTERRE—38'6", C. Mitchell; ROEBOAT—38', J. A. Roe; GLORY—38', P. F. Miller; FLAME—37'9", J. Timken; CORROBOREE—36', A. J. Peaslee; SHADY LADY III—35'2", C. T. Sturgess.
WESTERN STAR—57'6", J. J. Wilson; MINOTS LIGHT—57'5", C. Warden Jr.; MERRY MAIDEN—52'5", H. I. Pratt; HALLEE—52', P. Richmond; FAIRWINDS—49'11", K. S. Kapp; WIND SONG—49'11", W. G. Anderson; SOUTHERN STAR—45', J. W. Mullen II; VARUNA—44', A. H. Robertson II.
HIGHLAND LIGHT—61'6", U.S. Navy; GESTURE—56'6", A. H. Fuller; JULIE—56'1", P. Campbell; WHITE LIE—46'7", G. L. Wolfe; CYANE—46'5", H. B. duPont; SOLUTION—46'2", T. H. Ramsing; FUN—45'5", T. H. Closs; MUSTANG—45'3", R. Stephens Jr.; NUTMEG—45', W. Shallow; HARRIER—41', C. R. Hunt; HIGH ROLLER—39'3", D. S. Hartshorn Jr.; ECHO—39', W. R. Ryan; DOVEKIE—38'9", C. J. Schmidlapp II; TRUCHA II—38', M. de la Fare; LAPWING—35'3", H. M. Willcox.
SHOAL WATER—72'1", N.Y. Maritime College; BARLOVENTO—64'5", P. S. duPont III; ONWARD III—60'4", H. B. Barlow; NI√ëA—58'9", De C. Fales; ZINGARA—56'8", V. D. Smith; FORTUNE—50'9", M. J. Feiring.
MOGU—67'3", F. S. Guggenheimer; FOXHOUND—63'3", R. P. Rivers; NIMROD V—55'2", R. L. Hall; SALLY III—48'7", R.B.M. Barton; ELDA—46', H. A. Wise Jr.; HOTHER—45'10", P. Hoffmann; UNDINA—45', E. R. Williams; RENOVA—45', C. M. Dodson; NICOR—44'11", Dr. J. T. Callahan; PANIC—42'6", W. Buckley; SEPTEMBER SONG II—42'2", G. P. Fitzpatrick; PRIM—40'6", M. Gibbons-Neff Jr.; TETON—34'9", J. A. Mulcahey; KATRIENA—34'3", Dr. H. M. Rozendaal.