Published – Sailing World
©2015 – All Rights Reserved – Troy Gilbert
On September 5, 33 Gulf Coast commodores assembled at Mississippi’s Bay-Waveland YC for a long awaited and contentious vote, a decision that will effectively reshape the one-design nature of an entire region. On the table was a decision between two very similar sportboats, the Viper 640 and the VXOne. Only one would be anointed as the official boat of the Gulf Yachting Association’s inter-club events. To only one of the two rival builders would come the spoils: new orders and a huge new territory for what could be decades.
The Viper 640 won by a single vote: 17 to 16.
Consisting of 39 member and affiliate yacht clubs spread from Houston to Sarasota, Florida, the GYA has held inter-club one-design regattas, known as Capdevielle Racing, since 1920. Member clubs are required to own at least one Capdevielle-designated boat. Each club’s top sailors campaign at regattas over the course of a year for the coveted annual Auguste B. Capdevielle Trophy.
This unique regional arrangement and competition has created deep-rooted inter-club rivalries and fostered camaraderie throughout the Gulf Coast. The GYA has only had two Capdevielle one-design boats in 114 years, the Fish and the Flying Scot.
The selection process has been long and somewhat contentious and appears to follow a historic cycle with proponents for the class changes in the past attempting to counter a decline in competitive sailing participation. In 1919 and due to the sudden interest in newfangled naptha and steam powered racing yachts, Southern YC’s RC Chairman and architect, Rathbone DeBuys, designed the 20′ wooden Fish class sloop and jumpstarted OD dinghy sailing in the United States. Taking his cue from the origins of fledgling OD classes in the United Kingdom and a few northeastern clubs, as well as the evolution to the 12-meter class sailing in the America’s Cup and the Olympics, the GYA quickly adopted the Fish boat and partnered with Sir Thomas Lipton and established the Lipton Cup and Capdevielle racing in 1920. But by the 1960’s, these wooden dinghies were rotting and the gaff rig was losing favorability to the marconi rig as well as the introduction of spinnakers. In 1969, the GYA made the jump to the Flying Scot.
“The Fish boats were dying under their own weight and falling apart,” states past GYA Commodore Danny Killeen, Sr., who made the introduction of the Flying Scots to the membership of Southern YC and the GYA back in 1969. “We had these old wooden Fish boats patched together with fiberglass and one, I remember knocked into a pier at a regatta and the whole rig fell off. The GYA made the jump to the Sandy Douglas designed Flying Scot and we’ve sailed them now for nearly 50 years.”
GYA member clubs each hold a stable of anywhere from one to as many as 12 or more Flying Scots, and while most of this fleet was replaced on the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama after Hurricane Katrina, many sailors were looking for trailerable replacement boats when the Viper and VX One classes came into the scene. In the ongoing discussion among clubs about where the future was, there was widespread agreement that the Flying Scot was simply not attractive to younger generations of sailors.
“The Flying Scot has served us very well over the years and still will in one capacity or another,” said past GYA commodore, Corky Potts, who spearheaded the boat selection committee since 2011. “But it’s time for a new platform and new technology. We need inter-club boats that are going to reinvigorate our Capdevielle sailors and excite our juniors.”
The GYA invited fifteen manufacturers in October of 2014 to conduct formal boat demos. Selection criteria required the boats be crewed by two to three people (or up to four juniors), have an asymmetric spinnaker, be self-righting and fast. In November, they narrowed the field to nine, and after selection committee members sailed through the offerings, the Viper and VX emerged as favorites.
For the next 10 months, representatives of both classes and builders called, pitched, cajoled, emailed, and visited member clubs, hunting for votes like eager politicians.
“The VXOne already had more boats and a local dealer in the region so we knew we were starting behind,” says Dan Tucker, of Rondar Raceboats US, which owns the class (the boats are built in Europe by Rondar). The VXOne, designed by Viper designer Brian Bennett, is built by Ovington, in England, and McKay Boats, in New Zealand. “Our strategy was exposing as many people as we could to the Viper, and that meant email blasts, face-to-face visits, and just being visible. It was like a long presidential campaign — get to every club and get butts on boats. We worked our ass off to do it.”
Tucker put more than 1,200 miles on a rental car visiting big and small clubs, even the ones he knew were already leaning to the VXOne. That, he believes, made a difference in the end.
Part of the lengthy discourse was expense. As with any region, there are clubs with bigger budgets than others. Smaller GYA clubs won a few concessions in the selection process including a transition period between the Flying Scots and the eventual new-boat implementation in 2018. For Rondar’s part, Tucker says its bid package included introductory pricing for each of the GYA’s clubs, with graduating increases for each additional boat.
While it may seem a golden opportunity for the Viper class to overtake the region, Tucker admits the GYA’s Capdevielle selection isn’t a guarantee that will happen. The narrow vote hints at the VXOne’s popularity. But for the Viper class itself, it is a substantial boost to its ranks. “This totally changes the dynamic of the class in that region,” says Tucker. “Before this all started I didn’t realize how little small-boat one-design racing there is in the South. The Viper class had only four boats, so our hope is that in five years there will be 50 to 75.”
One could argue that the Viper class won this significant battle but the war for regional dominance will carry on. As performance sailing grows, both classes could happily coexist. Capdevielle Racing and the long history of inter-club competition on the Gulf Coast will carry on as well. The Flying Scot served its purpose for half a century, but with next generation sailors graduating straight into a Viper, the GYA will now cultivate faster, better sportboat sailors.