Two new Corbys

John Corby gives his views on yacht design and handicaps and along the way describes his two new boats

Friday March 19th 2004, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom
At present Cowes is a hive of winter boat building activity. Aside from Jo Richards' new extreme monohull due for launch in April/May two new John Corby designs are nearing completion for owners in Ireland and the US.

The smaller is a 36 footer for Dublin-based Roy Dickson, a well known figure in Irish and UK sailing circles for campaigning the red-hulled Corby 40 Cracklin' Rosie. Dickson is now into his 70s and has had surgery on his knees, but still wants to race and wanted a boat with more stability says Corby. This he can just sail inshore with a smaller crew of around seven rather than 10-11.

The 36 is currently being built in Newport, Isle of Wight by Mark Downer who previously built Cracklin' Rosie. While her deck is foam sandwich her hull is being crafted out of glass with cedar strip core - around six of Corby's boats have been built this way. "Mark is very good at building in cedar strip," says Corby. "By completely drying the cedar properly we have ended up with a pretty light boat."

The boat will have a retractible bowsprit/asymmetric spinnaker configuration. Roy Dickson has been sold on this configuration since he converted Cracklin' Rosie to it and Corby says this sees a return to some of his designs from the early 1990s such as Joyride and Converting Machine which were bowsprit/asymmetric boats. Today there is a greater acceptance of asymmetric boats due in a large way to J/Boats heavily marketing them as well as their potential speed benefits and in particular, their ease of handling. "For a lot of people, it is very satisfactory. You get used to it and you have a boat which requires less number of skilled people."

Assymetric sail design has also improved greatly over the last decade through development in one design classes like the 1720. "You can go much squarer than you could. Talking to Johnny Brinkers and Jamie Boeg after they'd been sailing an asymmetric and they said they were going lower [than the symmetric spinnaker boats]." Rating-wise boats using asymmetrics also get a credit for not being able to square the pole. Therefore you can carry more sail area, says Corby. "There are times when it definitely seems to pay, but it is not as simple as that. You have got to really know your angles and you have to have the confidence to sail them and you have to trim the sail very very well."

There are also other less obvious developments. "What I have observed on Cracklin' Rosie is how much of the sail sits quite happily to windward. It is not a jib at all, there is a lot of the sail billowing out to windward which has to be effective square running."

Generally asymmetrics only work on lighter boats, Corby maintains, although Roy Dickson's new 36 is far from being super-light. "We have gone for the heaviest displacement we dare on a performance race boat because Roy is not a young man and he wants a very stable boat. This boat has many similarities to Mustang Sally which I designed in 1995 and had possibly the best record I think of any boat in recent history. We had 33 firsts out of 53 starts that year." While the boat is relatively heavy Corby says it has a narrow waterline enabling it to be easily driven through the water.

Otherwise the new 36 will have a Formula Spars carbon rig and a non-overlapping genoa. Tropical Engineering are making the rudder and the boat will have tiller steering while Harken are supplying the deck gear .

Unusually for a Cowes-based designer roughly half of Corby's boats have been commissioned by Irish owners. "The Irish people are in some respects more innovative and more prepared to try things," says Corby. "English owners seem to be more interested in buying into a club of Swans or X-Yachts or Mumms or whatever. It is image. The thing about English owners is that they want to be able to walk into the Pierview [Cowes' most popular hostelry with the yacht racing fraternity] and they want everybody to know that they have a Mumm 30 or a Farr 40 or a Swan. If they have a Corby boat everyone will laugh. But in Ireland they say “no, that’s good. Nice boat.” It is a totally different mentality. In this country owners used to enjoy one-offs and the adventure of creating a custom boat, but not any more. It is marketing. It is image. They’re being sold a different lifestyle. It is not mad inventors anymore going out trying things."

In thedailysail's view the move away from custom building is more because there are some very strong and sophisticated one design classes. Dare we mention handicaps? We do.

"My feeling is that we’ve got it as good as we’re going to get," says Corby on this topic. "I don’t think the situation in our lifetimes is going to get any better than it is now. I would like to see more one-offs for my own personal benefit, however taking my own greed out of the equation, I don’t think the situation is bad at all. I think it is good. IRC might not be everyone’s idea of a grand prix rule, but at least it will rate a swing keel boat. With IRC we have Jo Richard’s new boat appearing, which will be really really amazing. You’ve got the maxis with their swing keels and you’ve got all these things arriving, which is all good. They wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for IRC."

IRM is a dead duck he says. "I don’t wish to say I told you so. I went to a meeting four years ago about IRM and it was pretty obviously it was going to be a disaster then. There are only about 10 people who have built boats to it."

One explanation of why IRM failed to gain more popularity is that RORC didn’t do enough promotion of it. "I think RORC tried to tell people what they should have rather than actually seeing what people want," counters Corby. "The RORC decided it would be good and found that no one else was very interested in it."

He admits that IRM does produce nice boats. "There’s nothing wrong with the boat, but they are very type forming. I just can’t understand why we don’t have box rules: 40ft, 45ft, 50ft and the race starts at 2pm - see you there. It would be just so easy. I don’t know why everyone is putting the breaks on that idea."

Corby similarly condemns the new Grand Prix Rule as being developed by the RORC, the ORC and US Sailing. "I think it is another bloody disaster. It is IRM just on a bigger grander scale and it will have just about the same amount of success. It is just not needed. And they are making it too complicated and there are no swing keels. It is a no-hoper, a complete and utter waste of time."

One issue the new Grand Prix Rule hopes to solve is how to encourage a rule that will encourage international competition. At present IMS is the main rule in the Med, IMS and PHRF are used in the States, IMS is used in a few pockets elsewhere, but otherwise today IRC is the rule of choice.

"As far as international racing is concerned I think we will look back and realise how lucky we were with IOR," says Corby. "IOR was not improved satisfactorily with cleaning up the shapes of the hulls and giving them more stability - getting rid of the stupid stern shape and getting the lead out of the bilge and into the keels. They only had to do two things and they already had everyone’s attention but they just didn’t do those things, so they missed the opportunity and I can’t see us getting it back. What I do believe is that IRC will take over and I have believed that for years and year. I think it does a better job of racing a maxi against a Swan than any other rule in history. It is a compromise but it is a very very good compromise and people are pretty happy with it. And it is getting people’s attention. Rather than forcing people on it, let’s just let it evolve. It is past the point of no return now. You want to buy shares in IRC."

IRC is beginning to take off in the US with US Sailing this week announcing that they will be issuing certificates on behalf of the RORC Rating Office and it is believed that September's Rolex Big Boat series will be raced under that rule. "I think people in the US will start doing dual scoring," says Corby. "PHRF is absolutely loathed by everyone there because it is a purely made up number. It is Portsmouth yardstick and it varies from region to region. Each region issues their own certificates and they even look completely different. Some are typed out on an old antique typewriter and some are done by computer. That has to go."

To conclude the handicap part of our conversation Corby says that RORC should stop confusing people over handicaps. "They should just allow people to race IRC and if you really want something more refined then get a Volvo 70 or a Farr 40. There are enough fleets for people who want to take things to the extra degree. But one step back from that and you want to race your own yacht - then IRC does an incredibly good job."

There remains the issue that custom-built one-off race boats are still more expensive than even sophisticated one designs like the Farr 40 and therefore should be the race boat for the elite? "I try to make boats which are solid structurally and will last," says Corby. "A boat has to be a nice boat, it has to have some degree of comfort in it and it has to be a boat that will be around for a while. You can spend as much or as little as you like. They are either expensive or incredibly expensive. There is no way am I in the same league as a Beneteau, but in terms of something like a Farr 40 or a Farr 52, I am similar money."

Which brings us on to Corby's second new boat... This is an interesting prospect as the new 41 is for an American owner and will be his first boat going to the States. Chesapeake Bay-based sailor Hank Fretz has previously owned a Bashford 41 and 36 and most recently a Synergia 40. Originally Fretz was looking for a secondhand Corby, but couldn't find what he wanted.

The design is a development of the Corby 41 Barlo Plastics (latterly Charles Dunstone's Carphone Warehouse and now owned by Andrew Ritchie and called Minx) with slightly more orientation towards offshore sailing. "With this boat I’ve improved the hull shape," says Corby. "It will be a lot faster in a breeze, but it should be just as quick in light airs."

To do this the keel bulb will extend forward beyond the fin and the centre of buoyancy of the hull has moved further forward, a trend at the moment in yacht design maintains Corby. "The market place now accepts a bulb that sticks out the front of the keel so you can move the keel weight forward and that means you can move the centre of buoyancy forward in the hull. Four or five years ago, owners were very reluctant [to have it]. If you showed them a proposal drawing with the bulb sticking out the front, they probably wouldn’t have ordered the boat."

Unusually the boat has been designed so that it can use a bowsprit or a conventional pole and symmetrical spinnaker according to the handicap is racing under. In the US the new Wahoo will race under both IMS and PHRF, its first race for example being under IMS at Block Island Race Week.

While Corby describes it as an IRC boat that will rate reasonably well under IMS and PHRF, Wahoo has got an IMS cruiser racer cockpit and interior, which he says is considerably more comfortable than anything he's designed before. "The coachroof is bigger than Carphone Warehouse. Because we are not putting any overlap on the genoas, you don’t have to worry about track positions at the back of the coachroof, trying make things narrow enough to get a decent angle, so the coachroof is quite wide."

For rating purposes there is refrigeration on board and IMS-cruiser racer cockpit seating, but otherwise he says they are not including some of the IMS cheats you see on boats in the Med. The rig for example will have checkstays, but purely as a tuning device.

The boat is being built on the outskirts of Cowes by Vision Yachts who built all the Ker 11.3s as well as the Corby 38, Gloves Off. Construction is entirely in carbon fibre, although it is wet lay-up not pre-preg. "You can build a pretty good boat that way. Jo Richards is doing his like that and that is incredibly light."

Unusually Corby is not involved with the build and for the current two boats is concentrating solely on design. "We’re doing a nice job of this. We are putting a lot of attention to detail into it. Because I am not building at all, I am able to spend all my time on the design. Normally I am building as well so we cobble the details together on site. So I am actually drawing everything."

In the pipeline he says he is currently doing some work on a Volvo Ocean 70 - watch this space...

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