A sample of a small literary experiment titled ‘I’mperfect’ about the incredible story and track record of the the Sparkman Stephens 34 – the official design of the MOD GLOBE RACE!
The S&S 34’s distance to here: 108,000-nautical miles nonstop…& counting.
“Design in its most effective form is a process, an action, a verb, not a noun. A protocol for solving problems and discovering new opportunities. Techniques and tools differ, and their effectiveness is arguable, but the core of the process stays the same. It has taken years of slogging through ‘design = high style’ to bring us full circle to the simple truth about design thinking: that when used effectively, it can be the foundation for driving a brand or business forward.”
– Fast Company, October 2008
The first inspiration was in the mind of Sparkman & Stephens fertile imagination along with his brother Rod Stephens. It was illustrated on the drafting board and field-tested in her race debut for the Sydney Hobart Race under the name ‘Morning Cloud’ skippered by then British Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath…and the story evolves radically from there.
There are revolutionary moments in human technological history and in yacht design, when an explosive new idea is paired with an exceptionally talented sailor. A seamen willing to push this human and mechanical interface of himself and his yacht to the limit on all oceans of the world. While proving for the rest along the way, how far we CAN push and how far we remain from our own limits. These new technical concepts redefine the considered ‘norm’ and re-direct current evolutionary trends. Everything we thought that was impossible is thus up-ended and turned on it’s head…
In 1982, a West Australian sheep sheerer turned yachtsman would affect the future of endurance sailing more than he would realize at the time, when he dreamed to become the 1st-person to double ‘lap’ the planet by sail, solo and nonstop’ aboard his Sparkman & Stephens S&S 34 ‘Perie Banou’. This epic voyage would be the harbinger for an absolute assault in the years ahead by multiple young sailors of many nationalities.
Fifteen years later, the records keep falling in all categories…
There is a reason why Sparkman & Stephens is the most successful yacht designer in history bar none. Their first big affirmation is they remain the ONLY designer to win the America’s Cup seven times and now hold the absolute youngest solo circumnavigation record for the second time.
Their upwind ability remains second to none thus such an early America’s Cup racing resume to their credit. If you could get to the top of the race-course first, then you could not only claw your way off a lee-shore in a gale but protect your flanks from the competition and usually win the race. As it is always much easier to protect your lead than to pass someone on the race-course!
For the quiet mannered, tall and lanky West Australian – Jon Sanders, it was the fact that British Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath had handily won the 1969 Sydney Hobart Race in what is always one of the toughest yacht races around, and against a slew of much larger boats as well, was part of the reason why he aspired to buy one together with his brother Colin Sanders. Another good reason was that Swarbrick boat-builders had recently acquired the moulds for the S&S 34 and started building them in Jon’s home state of WA (Western Australia).
His inspiration of what to do with the boat had been – ‘What to do if it’s all been done already?’ He’d been referring to the fact that all the big ones had been done and dusted: First solo nonstop around the world – Robin Knox Johnston or (Bernard Moitessier depending on whether you’re talking to – a Frenchman or Englishman). First the ‘wrong-way’ against the prevailing winds and currents of the Southern Ocean: British sailor Sir Chay Blyth.
…So what was left to do?! As I look back now having sailed double-handed and raced with Jon – I know for sure what he was thinking, as his novelist mother Dorothy Sander’s said to him – “Why be ordinary when you can be extraordinary!”
Every other sporting discipline laps the race course more than once. Why is that no sailor or races to date do so? Why not be the first to do it more than once. Imagine sumitting Everest and returning to base camp, but instead of a rest you turn right back around and do it all over again! This is the horizontal or nautical equeivalent but 21,600-nautical miles per accent and descent!
The S&S 34 had proven to Jon to be perfectly resilient in the often boisterous conditions in Perth on the fringe of the Southern Ocean’s Cape Leeuwin. He’d sailed his brother’s in the local regattas and eventually, with his plan in mind, bought Colin out (Colin long since acquired a 2nd S&S 34 and to this day remains the president of the S&S 34 association at the Royal Perth Yacht Club in Western Australia.)
What are some of the notable technical and visual characteristics of the S&S 34? First off, she’s shaped like a drop of water. She has a pronouncedly pinched bow and after-stern quarters, with abundant tumble-home in her mid-sections and pronounced overhangs giving her sexy lines that disfigure the finest runway models ashore.
From the non aesthitic visual eye-candy stand-point, here’s a couple simple attributes that help make sense out of the design math and sheer madness of what she’s achieved over the course of 5-nonstop circumnavigations:
– A 50% ballast ratio to the overall weight/displacement of the boat & positioned proportionately (meaning 5,000-pounds of weight is in the six-foot deep keel for an overall vessel weight of ten-thousand pounds. What does this mean? That if struck by a breaking wave she is far more likely to recover quickly or shun it aside due to her abundant positive stability curve).
– The pinched bow and stern enable her to point upwind better than most anything that exists to this day, even while sailing in a gale while her tumble-home in the mid-section shaped like an egg maximizes the strength of the hull structure on the side, enabling immense resistance to waves breaking onto her beam ends in a gale.
Jon Sanders debuted with a trade-wind route circumnavigation with friends joining along the way in 1975 via South Africa and the Panama Canal which gave him additional respect for what was becoming the technical extensions of himself, his S&S 34 yacht – ‘Perie Banou’.
The centinial Parmelia Race from England to Perth via the Southern Ocean came next. At that point, he knew the boat perfectly and trusted her heavy weather attributes entirely and why wouldn’t he with so many thousands of ‘practice-miles’ on the nautical-odometer?!
…Imagine a clipper ship captain from one-hundred years before during the Great Age of Sail or the 1st-solo circumnavigator, American Joshua Slocum for that matter…If they were told a solo sailor would embark just a century later to circle the world by sail not just nonstop and solo, but more than once!
Keep in mind, it was another eighty-years from the time Slocum completed his circumnavigation with ‘pit-stops’ before a sailor would sail the course without stopping in the 1969 Golden Globe Race (the very same year Sir Edward Heath handily demolished the Sydney Hobart race fleet).
This particular sailor thinks that had Jon gotten his S&S 34 sooner and entered the Golden Globe, he would surely have made fast work of Robin-Know Johnston by the simple fact the S&S was so far ahead of Knox-Johnston’s turn of the century wood built ketch ‘Suhali’. Thus, we’d be remembering Jon Sanders as the first nonstop circumnavigator…However, we’ll forever remember him as something more.
…When its all been done and you’re backed into a corner there IS a way out – go one better, do it more than once. Because if you loved doing it enough the first time, you’d want to do it again – thus, ‘once isn’t enough’…