Several of the Vancouver Dragon Fleet sailed as crew on Six Metres at the recent Worlds hosted by the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. Here's a report from Dragon Fleet Captain, Chris Ebbehoj.
The Royal Vancouver Yacht Club hosted the Six Metre World Championships in September of this year. The Dragon that I normally sail was in the yard having some modifications performed and I was asked to sail in the Worlds on the mighty Six Metre “Saleema”, US 40.
Saleema was designed by Henry Gielow but attributed to Sherman Hoyt, who was a partner in that business. Hoyt had designed an unusual six meter the previous year, Atrocia, and US 40 Saleema was a bit more conventional. The boat was designed for Henry Plant and built at Henry B. Nevins' yard on City Island, New York. She was sent to Sweden to compete in the 1928 Scandinavian Gold Cup as the USA representative. Sherman Hoyt drove the boat with a youthful crew and won 2 races before eventually being outlasted by the Norwegian entry Figaro V. Hoyt and crew then enjoyed an extensive series of regattas and races while at both Sandhamn and Gothenberg in Sweden, then Copenhagen, Denmark. Much of the racing and other events and carousing is covered in Hoyt's Memoirs - an autobiography of his various sailing adventures. Following her return to the USA, Saleema sailed the remainder of the season on Long Island Sound. Saleema was then sold to Southern California where she competed in the races on the Pacific Ocean with that small group of enthusiasts. Saleema appears to have been in California since that time and was rebuilt and renovated in San Diego by Koehler Kraft in San Diego in 2003.
Saleema was purchased by Rainer Mueller who has a strong interest in Sixes having purchased and restored quite a few of them in recent years. His most ambitious Six is “New Sweden” which was extensively modified (cut in half and glued back together with different mid-section shapes), equipped (four speed winches that in first gear spit out three feet of sheet for every revolution of the handle), tricked out (adjustable winglets, trim tab and when going downwind, the mast head is nine feet forward of vertical). Saleema – not so much.
We sailed in the classics division (boats designed and built before 1966) and there were some incredibly beautiful yachts. Yachts is a word I rarely use to describe racing sailboats but in this case, the use of the word in this case is justified. They are beautiful racing machines and to see 20 of them on the start line is truly an amazing sight. At the Worlds, there were 24 moderns and 21 classics.
The depth of sailing talent in the fleets was also nothing short of incredible. Dennis Conner, HRH Don Juan Carlos de Borbon (aka King of Spain), Lars Grael (Brazilian Olympian in two games). I rounded out the talent pool.
Anne Garrett has asked me to describe the differences between a Six and a Dragon. They are profound.
The power generated by a Dragon compared to a Six Metre is miniscule. The sails are huge, the boat is heavy and have a high ballast to weight ratio which means that the sails pull hard on the boat, which pulls on the sheets and halyards, the winches and ultimately on the poor crew.
There are five crew (foredeck, mast, jib and kite trimmer, runners and mainsheet (me) and the helmsman) and there are times when more are needed.
Saleema did not have its rudder extended and in light airs tacking times could be accurately measured with a sand dial. In heavy airs the boat was difficult to control. I never thought that I would say that the Dragon is more maneuverable than a Classic Six but it is. The Moderns, of course are much more maneuverable than the Classics or a Dragon.
The ergonomic set up of a Dragon is far superior to a Classic 6. Some of the Classics have been called “Wack a Moles” after the popular amusement game. Some had three separate cockpits with the location of the equipment guaranteed to test the fitness of one’s back and shoulders: Saleema had two cockpits while the Moderns had one big shallow cockpit so the crew could hike in much the same way that Dragons may be hiked.
In the 6, all sails and runners must be winched. There simply is no other way around it. The mainsheet and the runner winches were self-tailing Lewmar 40s and the genoa winches were standard Lewmar 40s. No fine tunes using block and tackle on these boats – everything was grunted in by winch. The worst occasion for your intrepid reporter was coming into the starboard gate on port gybe in 20 knots of breeze, gybing the main with the winch (the mainsheet could not be moved hand over hand and I am reasonably strong), getting the new runner on (as the main gybed and before the mast broke), the old runner off (before the boat rounded up because it was pinned), easing the main all the way out and the mainsheet pulled in on the beat in time to go upwind (otherwise the helmsman would beat on me).
For sails we were fortunate enough to have new North 3Di main and genoa for the regatta and they were nice sails. There were black sails, carbon sails, yellow sails and even some Dacron sails. The Dacron sails were on the pure Classic sixes. They had wooden masts, wooden blocks and Dacron sheets. They had a masthead pennant – Windexes are not allowed if you are a purist. This one area where I think the Dragon class should move towards – plastic sails seem to last longer than Dacron and I believe (but have not costed the difference) that in the long run, the racing life of the sails would be increased if the same minimum cloth weights were retained.
The level of intensity on the race course was very high – people did not travel from Finland, England, Brazil, Spain, Germany, etc. to go cruising. In the Classic division the rules were obeyed and everyone sailed hard and fair. Very much like the Dragon fleet which I am proud to be a member. The camaraderie after racing was also like our Dragon fleet which I understand is much like all other Dragon fleets around the world.
If I had a choice of which boat I prefer to sail? The Dragon, hands down. Cheaper to buy, to keep competitive, easier to get three crew as opposed to five, easier to store and move around, etc. The prettiest boat – easily the Six and especially the restored Classics. They really are beautiful.
Anne Garrett is the National Secretary for the American Dragon Association and has been sailing and racing Dragons since the early 80s.
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