John Lammerts van Bueren, 2007

In May 1908 Major Heckstall Smith, secretary of the IYRU wrote: “The rules of yacht racing are now the same in all the countries of Europe.  A few years ago, a state of hopeless chaos reigned everywhere.  Different systems of measurement and classification and different codes of sailing rules prevailed, and the average yachtsman was quite unable to master them all.  If he was accustomed to race in England he was very much at sea when he visited Germany, and, similarly, he was apt to find himself high and dry on the coast of France. It was very disheartening, and the situation discouraged not a few from attempting to race beyond their own waters.  Now this has been rectified. In 1906, at two conferences in London, a uniform Measurement Rule was agreed to. In the same year, in Berlin, the details of this rule were completed.  The yachtsmen who had conferred in London were enthusiastic at their success and determined to meet in Paris and agree upon uniform racing rules.  Accordingly, in October, 1907, the sailing rules were adopted, and the International Yacht Racing Union was formed comprising all the maritime nations of Europe interested in yachting.”

As Heckstall Smith wrote these words in 1908, I don’t think anyone at the time could or would have expected that the International Rule would continue to produce some of the world’s technically most refined yachts for the century to come.  As naval architects learned more and more about the infinite number of variables that make yachts go fast, the International Rule yachts remained at the forefront of development, the complexity of the rule presenting an intellectual challenge that only the very best naval architects were able to master. Although the typical downwind speeds of modern yachts are higher, the metre boats are usually able to hold off most modern yachts when driving to windward.  Uncountable yacht designs and classes have been launched in the past 100 years enjoying a typical life span of some 10 to maybe 30 years to then fade away in obscurity. So what is that something that kept the metre boats together and made them outlast all other rating rules in the history of yachting?  Appearance helped, the yachts of the international Rule were generally agreed to be the most beautiful of all racing yachts, if she lost her racing edge then her pleasing lines would come to rescue and ensure a new lease on life as a pretty and fast cruising yacht.

Read the second part of this story here