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Bill Lapworth

(excerpts from “The Great American Yacht Designers”, Bill Robinson )

In February, 1964, in the comparative infancy of stock fiberglass boats as ocean racers, a short-ended sloop of moderately light displacement came out of California to take the Southern Ocean Racing Conference (SORC) in the waters off of Florida. Named Conquistador, she was #2 of a stock line known as the Cal-40. Starting with that highly prizes and well-publicized title, an unprecedented string of victories in major ocean-racing events was chalked up by this design. The effect on the whole sport was profound, giving impetus to a “revolution” that is still going on. It also propelled the designer, C. William Lapworth, into front-rank prominence among the naval architects in yachting.

Not that Bill Lapworth, a forty-four year old transplanted native of Michigan was unknown at the time. Especially in Southern California, he had achieved local stature as an advocate of light displacement. The L-36 Class (built of wood, as were all of the “L” boats) had become the biggest class of one-design ocean racers up to that time with over seventy boats. His unusual-looking Nalu II, with its reverse-sheer transom, had placed 2nd in the ’57 TransPac, and won the ’59 TransPac. The L-50 Ichiban placed 2nd in the ’61 TransPac. The Cal-24, the first boat from his board for the new firm of Jensen Marine, had won her division in Yachting’s One-of-a-Kind Regatta, followed by the Cal-20, also a new Jensen model, for a Lapworth sweep.

These successes had gained him growing attention among those who keep an eye on likely prospects, but it was the Cal-40, which Jensen brought out in the fall of 1963, that sent his name across the yachting firmament like a skyrocket. Conquistador lit the fuse, and the design took off from there with TransPac victories in ’65 (Don Salisbury, Psyche), ’67 (Skip & Scott Allan, Holiday Too, , and ’69 (Jon Andron, Argonaut), as well as the ’66 SORC and ’66 Bermuda race. In that Bermuda race, the Cal-40s had taken 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th,and 6th, as well as 4 of the first nine overall. Meanwhile, in Southern California, Cal-40s were dominating the Whitney Series and Ahmanson Series.

The Call-40’s special features and general characteristics provide a distillation of much that Lapworth had been practicing since the early ‘50’s, and the design philosophy he had always worked by was well embodied in it. Typically, he had gone for speed and performance, with little regard for rating under the rule. Their ratings looked a little high based on their 30.5’ water-line, but they sailed up to their rating in most conditions.

Perhaps the biggest eye-opener of all was how the design exceeded all previous expectations of what speeds a boat that size could attain and maintain at sea. A 40-foot boat surfing along for hours on end at 14 – 16 knots, with wings of water arcing out from her hull like a water-skier’s wake, was mind-boggling to traditionalists, and virtually a new breed of sailors was created by this type of sailing. Young athletic crews who could stand the constant tension and exhilaration of rides like this drove the Cal-40s as ocean racers had never been driven before, and TransPac was their special place to shine, with its days of down-wind surfing.


TransPac 1977 .... a Cal-40 perspective

There were three types of Cal-40s sailing in 1977. At the top of the speed curve was the "Turbo'd" Ariana (George Thorson), with her bow-sprit, over-sized poles & chutes, stern "scoop", and very light. Even the cockpit combings had been removed. In the middle were all of the stock boats: Concubine (Dick Daniels), Montgomery Street (Jim Denning), and Flying Cloud (Skip Feldmar and Lou Comyns). These boats and Ariana all sailed in class "C". At the bottom end of the potential speed curve, sailing in class "D" were Anona II (Fred Leichtfuss), Olympian (Peter Schmidt), Red Head (Charles Hope), and Vivant, tri-skippered by Scott Alexander, Phil Rowe, and Fin Beven. These boats sailing in Class "D" had typically "minimized" their ratings by doing such things as shortening their booms down to the IOR minimum of about 12'. On Vivant, our boom sheeted to the aft edge of the "bridge-deck", just forward of the tiller.

From our perspective on Vivant, we were stunned to hear of the carnage the night 6 boats (including Concubine) were dismasted, We'd survived that night with a 2.2 oz "chicken chute". The problem for us was not the wind velocity, it was the waves. There seemed to be three different wave patterns that made steering very difficult. To make matters worse, sailing "safely" meant sailing a higher (more westerly) course than I wanted. We really wanted to sail Dead Down Wind, and there was plenty of breeze to do so. So, the next afternoon we did the "crazy thing". We took down our chute, and "wung-out" our Jib Top on starboard pole. We then lowered our under-sized main and poled out a genoa on the port side. We sailed all that night, wing-and-wing, going DDW. Because of the confused seas, we rolled like crazy, but we went straight and fairly fast, still hitting 15's and 16's with some regularity. By the next morning we were 50 miles south of Olympian, whom we considered to be our primary Cal-40 competition, and 40 miles south of Cotton Tail, a very well-sailed Choat 37, with whom we had been sailing for days and days.

Within a day or so, the winds lightened considerably and the seas flattened out. We had already gained significant southern "leverage", but still pushed for some more.

By the time we could see land, the trades had filled in nicely. We set ourselves up for the classic approach of coming in at about the middle of Molokai on port pole at high speed with our big 1.5 runner. At just about the point where we should set up to gybe, we did, in a dramatic round-down. As the boat veered right, the main backed and pinned the boat over, now arguably on starboard gybe. At just the right moment, the pad-eye that was holding the boom out by the starboard rail let go, pulling out of the deck with it's fasteners still attached. The boat popped back up, we somehow managed to get the pole on to the starboard afterguy, and we went off screaming down the Molokai coast, aimed at Koko Head.

We finished at the perfect time, just before cocktail hour. Of the Cal-40's, only Ariana was ahead of us. By a lot. As Olympian (which owed us time) and Cotton Tail (whom we owed about two hours) were more than two hours behind us, we could not see them. When Cotton Tail did arrive, we soon learned that we had corrected ahead of them by 31 minutes. Off we went to party the night away, believing we had won Class D. Ariana had won Class C.

The next morning was quite a surprise. A boat we had not even tracked during the race turned out to be the real threat. L'Allegro was a highly-modified Cal-36. She had a new, modern keel and was sailed by Pete Arapoff with the legendary Cy Gillette from Hawaii as part of his crew. As it turned out, the time difference between Vivant and L'Allegro was just 0:00:00:53. 53 seconds after 12 days of racing. As we all quickly figured, if we'd done a better job of "backing up" that pad-eye that so conveniently pulled out at just the right time, the race would have gone the other way.

It was an "A-Boat" year, with class "A" boats taking all of the Top-10 overall spots except 4th: Ariana. On Vivant, we were 11th overall.

As a side note, it is my impression that the best sailed boat that year got virtually no attention. It was the PCC "Undine", sailed by Norm Dawley. The PCC's have a PHRF rating of 120, as compared with 114 for the Cal-40's. This 1946 Kettenburg "woodie" that was not designed to surf, out sailed all of the Cal-40's, even finishing ahead of Ariana. They ended up 3rd in class "B". The IOR rule was not kind to that sort of design.

Cal Yachts History

Cal Yachts was originally named the Jensen Marine Corporation after the founder, Jack Jensen, a pioneer in fiberglass boat building. He sold his company to Bangor Punta Corporation in 1968. Jensen later produced Ranger sailboats and a line of molded fiberglass recreational vehicles.

Nearly 18,000 boats were built under the Cal brand name. There were many different models, but perhaps the most famous is the Cal 40. The first of the ultra-light, production ocean racers, the Cal 40 was inspired by ocean racing legend, George Griffith, of the Los Angeles Yacht Club, and was purportedly first sketched by him in 1962 on the back of a cocktail napkin. Following Griffith's inspiration, the Cal 40 was designed by the prolific and ground-breaking naval architect, C. William "Bill" Lapworth and was lofted by Willis Boyd. A major undertaking for its time and radically different from other production racing sailboats with its fin keel separated from a spade rudder mounted well aft, the Cal 40 continues to rack up an impressive string of ocean racing victories more than four decades after its initial launch, winning major competitions such as the Newport-Bermuda Race as recently as 2008. Among other ocean racing classics, Cal 40s still compete as a class in the Transpac from Los Angeles to Honolulu and in 2005 recorded 14 entries, more than any other production sailboat at any time in the century-long history of this, America's longest-running ocean yacht race.

The Jensen-Lapworth collaboration resulted in some amazingly competitive racer/cruiser sailboats. If the PHRF ratings below are compared to those of recent hull designs it will be found that the Cal designs are relatively fast boats. This is one of the reasons these ruggedly built and surprisingly affordable boats remain popular nearly fifty years after they first appeared in the recreational marine marketplace.

The Cal-29 Fleet of SF Bay, which used to be one of the largest, has diminished over time and no longer races a one-design fleet in the SF YRA Season. However the boat is still very competitive and active, sailing in both PHRF Divisions and in a new SF 180 Fleet with other boats that have the same PHRF rating (180)

 

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