Georgia Racing


Historic boat repatriated to New Zealand race scene

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Georgia One, Rangitoto channel, 15/11/2006By Ivor Wilkins, Breeze Magazine

A chance reunion with an IMS boat he first built in 1995 and then sold into the United States has given Auckland barrister Jim Farmer an opportunity to re-configure the yacht for IRC racing – an effort rewarded with victory in the inaugural New Zealand IRC championship in March.

Farmer has been a committed owner of race yachts, with a small fleet of Farr designs to his name, including two Mumm 36s and a fully-worked 53-footer. Much of his racing has involved professional crews at a high level, including many of the current Emirates Team New Zealand line-up. One of New Zealand 's top lawyers, Farmer is a Trustee of Emirates Team New Zealand .

In 1995, he had a 43-ft IMS cruiser-racer built by Cookson Boats. This shared a hull-mould with Helmut Jahn's Flash Gordon of a similar vintage, except Farmer's Georgia had a full interior.

The yacht was raced very successfully. Skippered by David Barnes – who also spearheaded Farmer's two Mumm 36 campaigns – it was top performer of the New Zealand team that won the Kenwood Cup in 1996 and twice won the Air New Zealand IMS regatta in Auckland . In 1998, with Dean Barker at the wheel, it was runner-up in the Air New Zealand IMS regatta, behind a brand new Beau Geste campaigned by Gavin Brady for Hong Kong patron, Karl Kwok.

At that point, Farmer sold the yacht to a US sailor, where it continued to be campaigned with success in IMS and PHRF regattas up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

Farmer well remembers some advice he received from boatbuilder Mick Cookson not to fall in love with his boats. It seems it was advice he failed to follow, because when he learned that Georgia was for sale in 2005, he immediately bought her back, sight unseen.

"I became overwhelmed with nostalgia," he said of the decision.

With his Farr 53 programme already in place, Farmer's initial plan was for his partner, Rhonda McCrea, an accomplished sailor in her own right, to run the 43-footer with an all-women crew, or with a mixed crew.

Having shipped the yacht back to New Zealand , he was relieved to see that, even though it had suffered from lack of use in recent years, the yacht was basically in very good order. The Kevlar hull was very sound and all the electronics were good. Having been built for IMS, however, the rig was quite small and the keel was very dated.

First order of the day, therefore, was to upgrade the yacht with an IRC rating in mind. To this end, he commissioned Nick Holroyd of the Emirates Team New Zealand design team to design a new keel and mast.

"Nick did some initial research and ran a couple of trial certificates until he came up with a programme he felt was the optimum in terms of performance and rating. He ran some polars comparing our VPP with Farr 40s. He felt our rating would be very similar to a Farr 40 (it turned out to be virtually identical), yet with our longer waterline we would be quicker round the track, upwind and downwind in most conditions.

"The exceptions are in very light winds and over 20 knots downwind, when the Farr 40 will surf quicker than we do."

On this basis, the decision was made to proceed with the modifications. The original keel was a lead fin with a small shoe at the bottom. The yacht also had a tonne of internal ballast.

Holroyd designed a new steel fin and bulb arrangement. It turned out the bulb design was so close to the new Cookson 50 bulbs that it was more cost-effective to use the existing mould. The original keel, plus all the internal ballast was melted down and used for the new bulb, which weighs in a 3.1 tonnes. The draft remains the same as before at 2.8m.

The original rudder was retained, although Farmer intends to replace it with a bigger blade following an experience on Auckland harbour when the yacht broached while doing 20 knots downwind.

The new rig is 1.5m taller than the original mast and is carbon fibre as opposed to alloy. With swept-back spreaders, it does not rely on running backstays to keep the mast up, although it does have runners for forestay tension. At present the boom is the original alloy, although a switch to carbon is probably on the cards. The combined effect of the keel and mast changes is that the yacht is 25% stiffer than it was in IMS mode and a whole lot faster.

Under IRC, it is able to carry masthead spinnakers, which has made a big difference to downwind speed. The only area where it is vulnerable in its new guise is upwind in anything under 7-8 knots of breeze when the IRC's non-overlapping headsails leave it struggling for horsepower.

In all other respects, the yacht is transformed. Burns Fallow, sail designer for Emirates Team New Zealand , undertook the design of the new sail wardrobe, which features a moderate roach mainsail and quite narrow-shouldered masthead spinnakers.

With a new paint job, the yacht was relaunched a year ago. As a sailing experience, it was so enjoyable that Farmer scrapped his original plans and decided he would do most of his racing on the 43-footer.

"I found it was more manageable than the 53-footer. From the outset, we sailed with a mixed crew of men and women and I found this more sociable. There was still an intensity about doing well in racing, but it was a different kind of intensity."

The sailing might have been fun, but it was frustrating too. There were lots of equipment failures and small breakages as the original deck gear was found wanting under the new loads. "Through most of 2006 we suffered these little breakdowns, which made it a very frustrating year," said Farmer.

But, suspect gear was progressively replaced and a steel reinforcing plate was inserted to stiffen the cabin top under the bank of jammers. The original winches, oversized for the original yacht, are perfect in its new mode.

The whole exercise, including buying back his old yacht, shipping it to New Zealand and carrying out the modifications with new sails has cost him in the region of $NZ450,000. "If I were to build a boat of similar size and standard, it would be double that," said Farmer.

In January, this year the effort started to pay off when Georgia finished 4 th under IRC in the Bay of Islands regatta despite some continuing reliability issues. Then, it all came together in early March when 18 yachts – including three canting keelers – competed in New Zealand 's inaugural IRC regatta, run by the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. This comprised seven windward-leeward races and one long passage race. With a single discard, Georgia notched up two wins and everything else in the top five to win the overall trophy, 8pt clear of Power Play, a Cookson 12m.

Although the crew included some top sailors, notably George Hendy, Rick Royden and Rhett Jeffries with a young Squadron Youth Programme star-in-the-making, James Williamson trimming, nobody sailed as a professional and the rest of the crew were club sailors. For the first time in a long sailing career, Farmer steered the yacht through the entire regatta. "That was a great thrill for me," he said.

"We all worked hard at upgrading our skills (especially in my case!) and we put a lot of effort into analysing what was wrong with our crew work in the Bay of Islands and earlier racing and devising systems that would be as mistake-free as it was reasonably possible to make them.

"We had two women in the crew (Rhonda McCrea and Sabra Davies) and I think that too is a step in the right direction. One crew member, Craig Shelley, who now lives in Australia and who had sailed for us in the Bay of Islands , came over especially for this regatta which I think shows the enthusiasm that he and the rest of the crew had."

Overall, he has found the experience intensely rewarding and believes there are lessons in the exercise for other owners of yachts of similar IMS pedigree and vintage. With well designed modifications, these yachts can definitely foot it with purpose-built modern IRC boats, he said. And, he has the trophy to prove it.