What the IOR did for us.

Note : contains copyright material, all rights go to the original owners.

For any Monty Python fans this should be read along the same lines as “what did the romans do for us” and  i might put a link in at the end for anyone who doesn’t have a scooby what i am talking about.

What i am talking about here is the International Offshore Rule and the dire influence that the rule had on boat design : spoiler alert !.               Several posts back i was talking about my ‘first time’…..sailing i mean not what you filthy minded sailors are thinking, anyway i had been trying to remember for days the design of that first boat i sailed and a few nights back i was just about to fall asleep when i suddenly woke up again and thought “Hilbre Island one design” which is a nice a boat to start off with as any and then my second boat was a Hunter Impala which was one of the 3 offshore one-designs , designed by the late David Thomas and a ‘not quite’ half tonner under the IOR. For the next few years ALL of my sailing was in IOR designed or rated boats and that went from Quarter Ton (Bolero and Quarto) Half-ton (Impala and Scampi) Three-quarter ton (Sigma among others) One ton (Farr 36) and the infamous OOD34.  Later on i got to sail the pinnacle boats of the IOR which were the maximum rated, ie Maxi yachts of the era and i have since sailed a few of those and some IOR rated Swan’s too.

Look : here is a baby one currently residing in the boatyard, i guess its a mini-tonner.


For anyone who isn’t familiar with the type is pretty typical of the mid to late IOR period which i know sounds a bit archeological but its where the IOR idea took boat design in that it gave us boats with boxy and wide hulls with not much underwater, a deep but narrow fin keel, a spade rudder and a moderately tall, whippy and weak rig.  If you want to take a look at the history and development of this avenue of boat design then you will work back to boats such as ‘Zeevalk’ and ‘Black Soo’ designed by E G Van de Stadt.   Black Soo still looks like a very modern boat with her flat panel chine construction but she was also narrow and very light and had a high ballast ratio.  She reminds me now of an Australian super-sled (Wild Oats) which is still one of the quickest boats ‘down-under’.

Link : http://www.classicboat.co.uk/articles/great-yacht-designs-8-black-soo/

If memory serves then Black Soo was designed the same year as i was born so yeah….its my era of boats, there were of course fast and light boats before but Van de Stadt’s early designs were partially highlighting the possibilities of light ply-chine construction which we have already taken a look at.  Had the IOR gone down this route then i think we might have had fast and light boats earlier than we did : instead we got the aberration of heavier and heavier and fatter and fatter rule dominated boats that became steadily worse and slow sea-boats where just about every speed making feature was penalised out of the resulting boats. I must add that Van De Stadt went on to design many decent boats , many of which are sailing well today and its one of those that i am going to base a story around : remember also that one of the boats i am considering as my next boat is a Van de Stadt design and almost a quarter-tonner with a lifting keel  :


Ok so story time.     Back in the day when i was a keen racing sailor in the Irish Sea a ‘hot’ three-quarter tonner appeared called ‘Luv’, she was from the Van De Stadt board although most likely drawn by somebody else in the office.  The type was given the label ‘DB1’ and later on there was also a DB2 of which a mate of mine bought one to have a crack at the 3/4 ton worlds in.  Luv was somewhat infamous in that she pitchpoled over Salcombe bar when trying to cross the bar in a spring ebb vs a brisk southerly resulting in some big standing waves. The RORC sailing magazine of the day gave a brilliant headline : “head over heels in Luv” …..all the crew walked away from the wreck although the boat was totally destroyed.    Its funny then how i thought of the DB1 and DB2 : i thought of them as the ‘dogs bollocks’ 1 and 2 ! but somebody i knew who sailed one said it meant ‘das boote’ which if you know your war films is the name of an epic U-boat film so maybe the DB was a bit wet too !.  Anyway and back to my mate Rob and the DB2 : i must have been fan-girling all over it and may have described it enthusiastically as this no-compromise race boat.  It may have been Rob or one of that group that raised an eyebrow and said something along the lines of the IOR boats being THE most compromised boats ever designed : at that time i didn’t know enough about boats but basically what was being said was that they aren’t ‘fast’ boats, aren’t ‘safe’ sea-boats (safer and more stable upside down) and neither are they good boats to go anywhere on as they need constant tending, attention and sheet-trimming…..oh and really need all the weight on the rail to get upwind.

As boats go the DB1 and DB2 aren’t bad boats as club cruiser-racers so it would be unfair to pick them out but i would say now that they are only ‘good’ boats upwind for example when they are getting continuous attention at the helm , the mainsheet and the mast controls and they aren’t fast downwind as the IOR rule stripped them of downwind sail area.   However they were far from the nadir of IOR race boats : i would put that point somewhere around 1974 and the yacht Morning Cloud 3 which broke up and sank on a delivery trip that year and she was supposed to be a genuinely offshore race boat at Admirals cup standard and would sailed in the Fastnet race.  Which inevitably brings me onto the Fastnet race disaster of 1979 which was nearly wholly an IOR boat race and during which 15 sailors died, 5 yachts sank and an estimated 75 had full inversion knock-downs let alone a plethora of dropped rigs and snapped rudders.  In short the IOR had produced a boat that was wide and flat, more stable inverted than upright, it is probable that the rule also encouraged flimsy rigs and light construction that wasn’t up to the demands of heavy weather sailing and ultimately sea-survival.

The next aspect of the IOR is that i steered rigs into a direction that gave a very tall and narrow inefficient mainsail and required a huge overlapping genoa to give the boat any performance.  What that then did is force boats to sail with multiple headsails : just thinking back to the OOD34 and our headsails and we had : 2 number 1’s, a number 2, 3 and 4 and then storm canvas plus i think 3 spinnakers and what that did is also to force up the weight of gear as those big genoas really needed big winches and big blokes to wind them. Downwind it got even sillier as the boats only get up to speed if you fly a spinnaker .  I remember us as having 3 spinnakers on the OOD34 and that went up to 6 or more at maxi-boat size. of course with all of that you then need not just big fit blokes to handle the sails but to sit their hairy arses on the rail to keep the boat upright. Try cruising a masthead rigged cruiser-racer of that era and see how painful the foredeck work is without roller-blind sails and then when those boats do get roller furling headsails see just how narrow the effective working range of the sail is.  Today i owe a lot of my sailing ability to the amount of time i had to spend thinking about and choereographing sail handling manouevres : does anyone remember the gybe-peel ?, that and spending hours at the helm on delivery trips.


In a way this isn’t the worst of it as the Fastnet race showed up many a weakness in boat design, preparation, crewing and sea survival but that by then the IOR idea had infested the world of modern (for the time) cruising boats , thus anyone who had designed a briefly successful race boat could instantly start selling it as a down-tuned cruising boat and the reason why is that the hulls are high volume =lots of bunks and the hull shape is easily amenable to popping out of a mold en masse and fitting out as quickly and shoddily as only a factory can.  Take a look at nearly all generic French ‘lozenge’ boats from this time and you will see often a big and boxy hulled boat with lots of sell-able space inside but badly built ….hull to deck joints were often only self-tapping screws and mastic !.

I also happen to think that the deep-keeled IOR influenced cruising boat also created a boat and owner/crew that became marina dependent and less self-reliant as the boats became ever more tied to their marinas. One very forgotten factor of the many production boats is how poor their anchoring arrangements are : consider a fine bowed IOR cruiser racer of the time and see how often they are under-anchored because it just didn’t work to have a decent heavy anchor on the bow and plenty of chain in the forepeak.  Thinking back to the OOD34 i seem to remember that our primary hook was only a 25lb CQR and only with a short length of 6mm chain and some warp…..i have better gear on my Liberty and much heavier gear on my previous boat.  Ok so that wasn’t totally a design issue but one that i believe made owners less keen on anchoring out and more keen to get their big crews ashore.

So why am i still enthusiastic about the type and why am i considering a project to turn one into a cruising boat !.   Well first i grew up in sailing with these boats and i sort of understand their foibles, at a quite small size you do often get good volume thus living space and the rigs are often big enough to hang enough canvas to sail reasonably well.  The one i am still considering is a failed race boat : the GK29 but which is reckoned to make a nice ‘small’ cruising boat, amazing that a 29 foot boat is now considered small but i reckon is about the maximum size ideal for us as a couple.  The problems are of course that they are a deep-keeled boat that is heavily reliant on a big genoa upwind and spinnakers downwind and i have been thinking my way around both of those problems. For the keel problem i am considering a scheel keel to reduce draught and legs to support the boat so that it can be beached.  The rig and sail plan will need thinking about as the big IOR genoa is useless downwind and IOR spinnakers can take a bit of handling even down at that size…maybe the way to go will be to add a short plank bowsprit to hang the anchoring gear and fly either a cruising chute and/or code zero from just as i did with the Frances 26.

I first started thinking about building a cruising boat out of a former race boat very early on in my recent cruising experience : when i had a zero budget and thought about doing a micro-cruiser based around the dinghy idea, my version of Shoal Waters i first thought about using the 21 foot ‘E’ boat which is nothing but a big dinghy with a lid and a lifting keel.  With those little boats the interior space comes from the huge width to length ratio although the hull is still very low…just about enough room to sit down in but at the time i was more just thinking about getting afloat with a camping style existence.   I think it could have been a viable project and it came to mind again when i found the little Poacher 6.5m cat-ketch in Jersey and i am sure that the hull of that boat is a failed mini-tonner.  Its a young mans or a small mans boat though.


GK29 :


So : what did the romans do for us BTW.


IOR Boats :


Slow downwind without specialist sails.

Twitchy and demanding to sail.

Unstable except when upside down

Unwieldy and inefficient sailplans

Heavy gear.

Frequently poorly built.

Deep draught that is difficult to dry out.


  1. This takes me back! I started racing in the Irish Sea on Malaise, an S&S 34, which epitomized many of the characteristics you mention but was actually a pretty good boat. I remember Black Soo, which was in DunLaoghaire for some years and my Golden Years were on Tritsch Tratsch II, a lovely McGruer 47 footer which was very successful but would have won even more if the rating had been done properly. Also a fantastic cruiser with a gang on board. My all time favorite was the Hustler 35 and you may remember Andromeda, owned by the late, lovely Alan Stead, sailed out of Hollywood in the 70s and 80s, on which I raced and cruised many miles. My current boat is a Tony Castro design from the late 80s, when much of the worst of the IOR had been worked out


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s