EACH INTERNATIONAL 6 MET RE YACHT POSSESSES A UNIQUE PERSONA, GLEANED FROM A CENTURY OF DESIGN EVOLUTION, INNOVATIONS AND RESULTS, WHICH MAKES THEM PERFECT FOR COLLECTORS AND T WEAKER SA LIKE.
With the push of a tiller, Greg Stewart can easily force His Majesty over the starting line early. But Stewart, the kind-eyed skipper standing at the helm of his baby-blue 6 Metre, Sprig, isn’t the type to stick it to the 79-yearold former King of Spain. Juan Carlos Alfonso Victor María de Borbón y Borbón, on Bribón Gallant, is exposed and vulnerable, and as the seconds wind down before the start, his sails are flapping and his crew is jawing in terse Spanish commands.
“Go ahead, King. Go across,” Stewart shouts, waving the king across his bow and allowing the Spaniards to dip below the starting line to get away clean to the racecourse’s favored left side.
It’s good to be king, of course, but on this particular day at the 6 Metre World Championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, it’s just fine to be Greg Stewart. The autumn sun is radiant, a westerly is whistling in from the Pacific, and a cold spray pelts the deck. Señor Borbón is to his left, Lars and Torben Grael — two of the best keelboat sailors to ever come out of Brazil — are to his immediate right.
For Stewart, a naval architect, 6 Metre enthusiast, and 57-year-old San Diego bachelor, this very moment on English Bay is everything he imagined as he towed his 9,000-pound boat 1,400 miles up the West Coast. As he sails upwind with white laminated polyester sails sheeted hard, Sprig’s spruce spar and boom flex naturally with each gust, the mast panting and spilling wind from the top of the mainsail. The leeward rail dips and
the boat surges forward. Stewart’s feet are pressed against glossy varnished mahogany ribs and planks. Sprig’s tiller tugs at his left hand, and his right grips the mainsheet, which is wrapped twice around a small bronze winch nearby. The slight grin between his round, wind-reddened cheeks is genuine.
Stewart steals an occasional glance over his right shoulder, toward the fleet on his weather quarter, and whenever he does so, his bow wanders off-course.
“Pay attention, Stewie!” barks his tactician, Chuck Allen, who paces like a tank commander in Sprig’s middle cockpit, his sailing sneakers squeaking on the varnished floorboards. “You’re all over the place!”
Stewart corrects his course, trains his attention on the yarns twitching on the luff of the big overlapping genoa, and the race is on. It’s a race to beat the king out of the left corner.
Here at the Royal Vancouver YC, Stewart is in 6 Metre heaven. It’s extremely rare to have 45 of these classic race boats in one place, especially in North America. While technically one class, explains Tim Russell, the International Six Metre Association executive secretary, the boats are categorized into four different eras of the 101-year-old measurement rule. A 6 Metre is not 6 meters in length, but rather derived by a formula and a whole lot of measurements. Rule 1 boats, which date from 1907 to 1918, were narrower full-keeled beasts prone to filling with water. Rule 2 boats, favored from 1919 to 1933, were longer, more seaworthy, and introduced overlapping genoas. Rule 3 yachts that followed embraced deeper keels, and were used for three successive Olympic regattas from 1936 to 1952. Then came a rebirth with the Moderns of the 1970s onward, embracing winged keels, trim tabs, aluminum spa rs, fiberglass hulls, and exotic fiber sin the sails.
While there are four distinct eras, Vancouver world championship organizers pit them into two fleets, Open and Classic, with all sorts of perpetual trophies at play. Within the Classics, however, there’ s a subset of five traditional woodies like Sprig, boats with white sails, wooden spars and bronze hardware. There’s nothing one-design about a 6 Metre, and each and every boat has its known sweet spot. Sprig, built in 1930, for example, likes light air. King Juan Carlos’ Gallant, built in 1947, is exceptionally fast in stronger winds.
One guided tour through the boats in Vancouver is all it takes to understand there’s a rich history of yacht racing floating in the slips. There’s also a lot of tinkering before, during and after the racing, and plenty of opinions on sailcontrol setups. Yet one thing everyone agrees on is that all 6 Metres present at this world championship are deserving of preservation.
“Every boat we have here has done something — has won a world championship, a major regatta or an Olympic medal,” says Nigel Ashman, who oversees the care and maintenance of many of the Vancouver fleet. “They’re each fast in their own right, and you know why? Because all the slow 6 Metres of the past have either been cut up or left to rot in the mud. What’s left today are the best of them.”
Every Modern, he adds, has potential. With a pile of money or innovation, any design can come to life, and there’s more speed for keen designers to explore in keel and rudder shapes, as well as rig and sail controls and cockpit configuration.
The king’s new boat, for example, is the first 6 Metre built since 1995. It’s a product of radical and outlier designer Juan Kouyoumdjian and is rumored to be a weapon. Launched after nearly 10 years of design and development, it is also said to be complex to sail, and wasn’t ready enough for Vancouver. It isn’t perfect, says
“THE 6 METRE HAS A SENSATION, TO BE SO NEAR THE WATER AND REALLY FEELING THE BOAT. AFTER TWO YEARS, I AM LEARNING THAT EACH BOAT HAS A STORY .” —KING JUAN CARLOS
“SOMETHING TH TH A OATS, HT NA V HO ATE BODY IS FANTASTIC. THE ABOUT THING 6 METRES IS THAT EACH BOAT HAS A LIFE, A HISTORY, AND MAYBE EVEN A DARK SIDE .” —RAINER MÜLLER
the king, so instead he shipped Gallant to Vancouver, a standout 1947 vintage with its appointed leather seat and coaming.
While the Classic and Open fleets start separately, it’s all one big happy family, says Russell, an astute historian of the class. For the better part of an hour, Russell delves into the intricacies and permutations of the rule and the algorithms that define a 6 Metre. It’s all about displacement, volume and stability, and each yacht is unique, but given the right light-air conditions, says Russell, a classic can beat a modern, and does so regularly.
“I’m convinced the perfect 6 Metre has never been built,” Russell confesses. Nor, perhaps, will it ever be, and that’s the attraction for collectors like Peter Hoffman, the skipper and owner of Goose, which is considered one of the best of the Classics, and certainly one of the prettiest.
“You can’t buy the best boat,” says Hoffman, of Bainbridge Island, Washington. “It’s the sails and the trimmers. If you get those two things right, you can get a 6 Metre to do what you want it to do. Half-inch differences in trim are a big deal. If you put a lousy crew on Goose, you’d be in the back of the fleet pretty quick.”
Hoffman, a genteel and seasoned sailor with snow-white hair and trimmed beard, is always happy to talk 6 Metres; they’ve consumed him for decades. In the 1970s, Hoffman’s father, a naval architect and self-made shipwright, relocated to Seattle and sailed with the active 6 Metre fleet. But in the 1980s, says Hoffman, owners there were bailing out of the class, and the boats were suffering from neglect: “My old man ran around and offered everyone $2,500 for the lead — and took the boat.”
Hoffman Sr. eventually owned seven and undertook substantial rebuilds of three. When his father passed, Hoffman kept his personal favorites: Llanoria and Goose, two of the most immaculately restored Classic 6 Metres racing today. Hoff man fondly refers to them as his daughters, and admits to doting upon them more than he does his wife.
He’s owned Goose since 1982, and the going concern of Hoffman, at age 74, is who will take care of her when he’s gone.
As he pauses to ponder this matter again, he suddenly breaks his thought: “Dennis wants to buy the boat, but I’m not selling it to Dennis.”
By Dennis, of course, he means Dennis Conner, Mr. America’s Cup.
“He’s offered me a lot of money for Goose, but he’s not in it for the long term.”
The 6 Metre group is a fraternity that tends to look out for one another’s prized possessions, says Hoff man. “By and large it’s a generous group that’s willing to help one another,” he says, “but on the racecourse, there are some that are a bit pushy.”
A petty protest that got Hoffman tossed out of one race and cost him the previous worldchampionship title in Finland still stings two years later. He prefers not to talk about the incident, but says: “If you’re going to be in a collision, you’d better bail out, even if it costs you the race. These boats are too special, and the amount of money it’s going to cost you to fix the damned thing isn’t worth it. Plus, you’re going to take some character out of the boat because what you fix it with is not original wood.”
The marina at “Royal Van” during the worlds is a yacht collector’s show, and Hoffman has a few on display. Robert and Molly Cadranell, of Seattle and San Diego, orchestrated the charter of May Be VII from owner Joth Davis to America’s Cup legend Dennis Conner for the regatta (although he sailed only four races before retiring her with a cracked mast). There’s a five-boat syndicate from San Francisco’s St. Francis YC, which includes Cadranell’s Arunga and the wood-sparred Classic Lucie, owned by class president Matt Brooks, who is an unmistakable presence in his signature black-rimmed and embossed skipper’s cap. The other three St. Francis boats are the three moderns: Sting, Scoundrel and
Scallywag. And then there’s Rainer Müller’s personal armada of 10 at the regatta. It’s anyone’s guess how many 6 Metres Müller actually owns, but at one point, it was upwards of 20.
This world championship is also Müller’s party, and the companies he’s founded or is associated with serve as the regatta’s sponsors. Whenever he arrives in the venue, he’s a celebrity to the locals who know him and an enigma for out-of-towners. “Who is this guy Rainer?” I hear people ask. Come to find out, Müller is an architect who splits his time between Vancouver and Zurich, Switzerland, and he’s obsessed with 6 Metres. When he gives a guided tour of the fleet with VIPS and guests on several occasions, he’s a walking encyclopedia.
Müller’s story is a common one in the class. He grew up crewing on 6 Metres in Europe in the early 1980s, went off and made his fortune, eventually reconnected
with the class, and in 2010 went all in. “He’s got a mix of classics and moderns, and he’s plowed a lot of money into them,” says Hoffman. Müller is also part owner of Llanoria, which is the beneficiary of a recent $200,000 restoration. “That’s what it costs, but now it’s a stronger boat.”
Müller is adamant that the Rule 2 boats are still competitive, and without too much money, can be brought into racing form. “We brought Saleema [circa 1928] for $20,000 and invested another $5,000, and the boat is very good,” says Müller in a thick German accent. “People say 6 Metres are a lot of money, but I disagree.”
Müller is credited with helping spur the 6 Metre revival of the past few years, and he sees the class’s future in competitive moderns. There are a number of good boats held hostage in barns and boatyards in Europe, he says, and if he has his way, it’s conceivable to have a West Coast circuit with regattas in San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver. “If we can create such a thing, we have a chance of continuing this revival,” says Müller. “There is a lot of possibility to come into the class, especially with the modern. There is always intrigue: Why is one boat fast? Why is it not fast? Here, you discuss a new rudder, or perhaps change the wings. It adds another level of complexity, but for people who like to figure something out, this is the place to be.”
The fastest Modern at the moment, says Müller, is Junior , the 2015 world champion and 1980s-era 6 Metre, owned by Philippe Durr, of Switzerland, who has sailed the boat for nearly 20 years. Junior, commissioned by the wealthy Swiss Edmond de Rothschild family, once fell off its trailer during transport and was severely damaged, but Durr completely rebuilt it, says Müller, “and because of this, he knows his boat inside and out.”
The battle of the classics pitted King Juan Carlos’
Bribón Gallant (’47) against Saskia (’34), chartered to Brazilian brothers Lars and Torben Grael. The king’s men triumphed by 5 points despite grounding in the final race. No one 6 Metre is the same then and now: Bribón Gallant’s “keyhole” cockpit and New Sweden’s modern approach.
As an architect, Müller eschews today’s cookiecutter residential homes and compares 6 Metres to the eclectic houses that dot the neighborhoods surrounding Royal Vancouver YC. “To have something that nobody has, that is fantastic,” he says. “The thing about 6 Metres is that each boat has a life, a history, and maybe even a dark side.”
As an example, he calls out the Modern blue-hulled New Sweden, a 1988 Peter Norlin design raced by Royal Vancouver’s young match-racing star, Ben Mumford. Mumford didn’t want the boat for the Worlds because of its reputation for “not getting to the top mark,” says Müller, but they turned to local yacht designer and builder Don Martin to exorcise New Sweden’s demons.
“The Norlin hull of this era is a fine-body boat that is good for Vancouver,” says Martin, “but we changed it considerably, cutting the boat in half — literally into two pieces — in order to lengthen it.”
They lopped 3 feet off the bow as well, and when they put all the pieces back together, it was an entirely new boat: longer, lighter, faster, and teaming with bells and whistles. With the addition of a new keel, trim tab, rudder and rig, it was essentially a new boat. “We knew the courses were going to be three-lap courses in Vancouver, putting a premium on boathandling,” says Martin. “It doesn’t look like any other 6 Metre here, but it does look contemporary.”
There are plenty of other Moderns such as
“ALL THE S LOW 6 METRES OF THE PAST HAVE EITHER BEEN CUT UP OR LEFT TO R OT IN THE MUD. WHAT’ S LEFT TODAY ARE THE BEST OF THEM .” —NIGEL ASHMAN
New Sweden that could benefi t from a face- lift or two, he adds, but rebuilds are not for the faint of heart, confessing that they were “into this boat for what a new boat would cost.”
While there are mixed opinions about which is better: Modern or Classic, Russell, the executive secretary, also believes the class’s future is in the Moderns. Hoff man does too. “What’s neat is there are guys like Rainer who are into this whole thing, and I’m hoping it’s an incentive to not write off existing boats, but just redo them instead.”
King Juan Carlos, who cut his teeth in the International Dragon class long ago, had been racing grand- prix TP52S before hip surgeries prevented him from sailing for seven years. When he was able to return, his search for an appropriate boat led him to a 1929-built Classic 6 Metre. “I said, ‘This is the boat I need, a lovely sailing boat,’” says the king, whose grandfather King Alfonso also raced 6 Metres in the 1920s. He bought his first boat in Finland and then bought Gallant in Switzerland soon after. The king’s home fleet now counts seven boats, three Classics and four Moderns, including his latest Kouyoumdjian model.
“I have sailed many boats, but the 6 Metre has such a nice sensation,” he says. “The sensation to be so near the water and really feeling the boat. After two years of sailing them, I am learning that each boat has a story.”
Ironically, before the Vancouver Worlds comes to a close, the king will unwittingly add his own chapter to Gallant’s story. Among his men for the championship is hometown Star Class Olympic silver and bronze medalist Ross Macdonald, whose local knowledge helps keep Gallant in the top three in the fi rst six of eight races.
With a marginal lead on the scoreboard over Hoffman’s Goose going into the final race, Macdonald guides his team to the favored left side of the racecourse to escape a strong flood tide. All is well until Gallant comes to an abrupt stop as its long keel plows into the mud on — of all places — Spanish Banks.
Having happily waved the king across at the start 10 minutes earlier, Stewart enjoys the benefi t of witnessing Gallant’s grounding before suff ering a similar fate. A quick tack away from the shallow hazard springs Sprig to a fifth-place finish and a 10th overall standing among the Classics.
The king and his crew, meanwhile, manage to sail off the bottom and fi nish eighth in the race to win the championship by only three points over Goose. After fi ve long days of racing in drifting to near- gale conditions, it is an impressive result for a helmsman of his age, especially one who walks the docks gingerly with the help of a cane.
Philippe Dunn’s Junior is victorious over Mumford’s New Sweden in the Moderns and now stands as the ruling 6 Metre of the day. Dunn and his team are highly respected in the class but intensely competitive on the racecourse, which leaves one to wonder whether when, or if, the king competes in La Trinite, France, at the 2019 World Championship with his state-of-the-art Juan K design, might Junior allow His Majesty a little leniency on the starting line as Stewart did? Si, señor.
“YOU CAN’T BUY THE BEST BOAT. IT’S THE SAILS AND THE TRIMMERS. IF YOU GET THOSE TWO THINGS RIGHT, YOU CAN GET A 6 METRE TO DO WHAT YOU WANT IT TO DO .” — PETER HOFFMAN
Peter Wealick’s Max’inux, a 1985 build, was the hometown newcomer to Vancouver’s 6 Metre fleet. Max’inux dismasted during pre-worlds racing, but a replacement spar was locally sourced in time for the first race of the Worlds. To weather is Henrik Andersin’s Evelina (’95), from Finland, and Steve Kinsey’s Blade (’87), from Vancouver.
Peter Hoffman, of Bainbridge, Washington, inherited Goose from his father, who restored the 1938 vintage 6 Metre to racing trim. Hoffman and his crew won the final race of the Worlds to finish second overall in the classic division.
World champion Phillippe Durr, of Switzerland (left), has campaigned
Junior (’89) for 20 years, and the team’s consistency earned them the title over Ben Mumford’s New
Sweden (CAN 129), which was modified for the Worlds. Bob Cadranell’s
Arunga (’82) is from Seattle, and Reinhard Suhner’s
Courage IX (’88) hails from Switzerland.