1907 – 1919 The First International Rule

Part 3 of a bit of history

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It all started with the launch of the first Metre boats in 1907 under what is today known as the First International Rule.  Arguably these are the most exquisite beauties of our class.  For example, a typical 1912 8-Metre displaces some 6.000kg and carries 120m2 sail to windward placed on a narrow and easy driven hull with long overhangs.  These boats still hold the ultimate recipe to make the hearts of the classic yachtsman jump.  Right from the start the racing was most exciting and many prestigious trophies would be donated for racing these boats, most notably the Coppa d’Italia, La Coupe de France, The Kattegat Cup and The Canada’s Cup and later for the Twelves, the America’s Cup.  The 8-Metre Class received Olympic status in 1908 and would remain the largest and most prestigious Olympic class until 1936.

Originally the anticipated shapes were such that, for instance an 8-Metre, would have a waterline of 8-metre, but the formula was soon to be explored well beyond the expected limits. Length and beam counted equal in the First Rule, so the first opening was an obvious one; reduce the beam and add the difference to the length. In hindsight the weight of sail area in the rule was too light and by tweaking girth measurements “cheap” sail area became available.  No-one knew how far this could be carried, but with every boat launched, the limits of extremities were stretched a little further. The game was a popular one, and within the first eight years over 140 8-Metre boats would be launched.

The pace in which designs followed each other was such that it seemed like a full-scale tank testing. The Royal Norwegian Yacht Club at one point held a fleet of 120 Metre boats in one place, the majority coming from the hand of Johan Anker.

Ideas were tested full scale, some based on science, some pure gamble, some paid off, some didn’t.  The window of opportunity for some pretty extreme yachts was larger than expected and the great success of the First Rule was probably therefore due more to the facilitation of good international racing rather than a ridged framework for yacht design.  In the first seven years the boats grew some 10-15% in length, lost 20% of their beam and received some 40% extra sail area! Seaworthiness was the forgotten factor, and the financial expense was staggering.  What proved to work in those early years was mandatory Lloyd’s plan approval and building survey, they ensured the yachts would be built to exceed their competitive life span and would serve as cruising boats after thus retaining some resale value.  The flaw was obviously that factors less dominant to performance were treated equal to those that did which resulted in freak like trade offs which resulted in extreme designs. Positive technical developments came from Norway where Johan Anker pioneered the Marconi rig. Gaffs would quickly disappear from the podium and Anker soon realised that this type of rig was so efficient that he could trade sail area for again more length. Controlling the tall and thin spars was the next challenge to address as rigs would drop over the side regularly for the next 15 to 20 years.  The hull shapes had stabilised at narrow over-canvassed boats, a far cry from the original intent.  Time for change or to say goodbye, luckily the call for change prevailed and the Second International Rule took shape.

Read the fourth part of this story here