Georgia Racing


Seahorse Reports on the new 52

Monday, September 07, 2009

Seahorse 001By Ivor Wilkins

Seahorse International Sailing Magazine - Issue 356 - October 2009

Breeze Magazine - Issue 167 - September/October 2009

Following the southern summer launch of two new generation TP52s - one for Emirates Team New Zealand and a new Artemis - and the slightly later launch of the new Beau Geste, Cookson Boats is nearing completion of a new IRC 52-footer.  The new boat is for Jim Farmer, who has spearheaded a line of race yachts in NewZealand and, certainly in recent times, has been the most active racing boat owner and builder on the local scene.

The seeds of his latest project were sewn at the launch of the Emirates Team New Zealand TP52 back in the summer, the week after the completion of the inaugural Louis Vuitton Pacific Series.  Farmer, who is a Team New Zealand trustee and prominent New Zealand lawyer, was standing alongside Mick Cookson as the new Botin and Carkeek creation went into the water.

"Somebody took a photograph of the two of us standing there," recalled Farmer.  "Actually we were talking about how this boat could be adapted for IRC racing.  In fact, Grant Dalton was already trying to persuade me to take over the TP52 after this season."  Dalton has more recently announced that Emirates Team New Zealand will not reutrn to the TP52 circuit next year and clearly already had it mapped out that this would be a one-season campaign.

"There were two problems with Grant's suggestion," said Farmer with a knowing smile.  "The first was that Grant would want too much money for it" - a reference to Dalton's well-know perchant for maximising every cent the team invests - "and the second that I would then have to spend a whole lot more money modifying it for IRC.  At the end of the all that I would have a boat that I didn't really like anyway."

Much better for Farmer - and certainly better for Cookson - to start from scratch with a new boat.

With George Hendy appointed to manage to project, what Farmer had in mind was an IRC racer/cruiser utilizing the TP52 hull, but with greater internal volume, the addition of a retractable bowsprit and a different keel and rig.  The greater internal volume has been achieved by slightly raising the topsides and adding a completely new deck and cockpit.

This is a strategy Farmer has successfully followed in the past.  Apart from three one-design boats, two Mumms 36s and a Corel 45, he has shrewdly taken advantage of existing designs and adapted them for his own purposes.  This way, he builds on a grand prix foundation based on a great deal of research and development - and adds some home comforts to create a powerful package.

He did it first with a Farr 43 design which grew out of Helmut Jahn's very successful Flash Gordon, built by Cookson.  This was at the beginning of the IMS era and Farmer's Georgia proved so successful that it not only won the cruiser racer division at the 1996 Kenwood Cup in Hawaii, but it also cleaned up all the IMS racing yachts - including Flash Gordon.  Farmer later sold the boat to a US-based owner, but then bought it back a decade later, sight unseen, and successfuly converted it for IRC racing.  He still owns and races it today.

In between selling and repurchasing the 43-footer, he did a similar project based on the Farr 52 one-designs built by Carroll Marine in the US.  For this one, he stretched the hull by a foot, changed the deck layout and added a stylish interior that made the cover of a classy architectural magazine.

These projects have all proved successful, helped no doubt by a line-up of talented rock stars including David Barnes, Russell Coutts, Brad Butterworth, Dean Barker and other America's Cup luminaries.  The 53-footer came to a sad end last year under new Australian ownership when it hit an object and sank during the Melbourne to Hobart Race, thankfully with no injury or loss of life.

Farmer's ability to pick good bloodlines has been confirmed in this latest project as Emirates Team New Zealand leads the Audi Medcup TP52 rankings.  The more powerful hull shape drawn by Botin and Carkeek is working well across a range of conditions and will equally benefit Farmer's search for an all-round performer targeted at a range of events including round the buoys IRC regattas and passage racing.

The TP52's cramped interior, however, holds no attraction for Farmer.  His version will have a double berth up forward, an enclosed head to starboard, a small galley to port and refrigerator to starboard and then long berths running along the sides from the middle of the boat to the stern.  A nav station will be situated behind the companionway ladder, enabling the navigator to communicate directly with the afterguard in the cockpit.  A large LCD TV screen will be mounted on the forward bulkhead, primarily for displaying performance information, but also able to screen movies during downtimes.  "The whole interior will be finished to a high standard in sliver, carbon and red leather," said Farmer.

Mick Cookson noted that the interior gave the crew standing headroom and plenty of space from the companionway forward.  "This takes the TP52 concept in a totally different direction," he said, adding, "this will be a substantially better boat to live on offshore for a few days than a TP52.  It will be really well suited for events like the TransPac race, the Sydney-Hobart, Fastnet or the ARC rally."

The deck package has also been completely redesigned to make it as clean as possible.  All the halyards and controls run from the mast down into a channel that splits the cabin sole and then up to a keyboard organizer in the cockpit.  The cockpit will not feature coffee grinders at all.  Two hydraulic primary winches will take care of all of the control lines.

The keel is the same as the Emirates Team New Zealand version but with a bigger bulb providing 900kgs more stiffness to balance a rig that is taller by an undisclosed amount.  "It will be big enough," said Cookson.  The downwind sail programme will utilize asymmetrical spinnakers only.

Apart from competing in grand prix events, Farmer also enjoys social racing on Auckland's Waitemata Harbour.  "I found with my 53-footer that even for casual racing, you had to have 15 crew.  Getting people to make up numbers for a Wednesday night race meant that half the time you didn't even know some of the people on board."  With the powered winches, gennaker/bowsprit arrangement and simple control systems, the new  boat will be able to race with fewer than 10 people.  "After racing, I like to come back to the dock and sit around below with the crew and enjoy a beer," said Farmer.  "With a TP52, you could never do that.  It would be a question of back to the dock, fold the sails and everybody off to the bar (Auckland's climate is not generally conducive to sitting about in the cockpit after dark - except at the hight of summer)."

Farmer's campaign plans include the Annual Coastal Classic race from Auckland to the Bay of Islands, the Bay of Islands Sailing Week, the New Zealand IRC nationals in Wellington, and some racing in Australia, including Hamilton Island Race week.  If plans to revive the Admiral's Cup come to fruition, he would like to see this new boat as the big boat in an anticipated three-boat team.

With sponsorship, he might even conceivably have two boats in the team - the new 52 and the 43-footer, depending on selection.  One problem with that would be a potential clash of names.  All his boats are called Georgia, so presumably if he keeps the 43-footer there would be a Georgia I and  Georgia II.

This latest Georgia project is, in the jargon of business evangelists, one of those rare win-win situations.  For Farmer it will provide a potent new machine with creature comforts enough for cruising and social racing, but with a pedigree and performance package to feel right at home in grand prix circles as well under IRC.  For Cookson, the commission has allowed development of a serious IRC 52 performance yacht, while other projects moved towards final commitment.  This has now happened with Jean Pierre Dick commissioning Cookson to build his next Open 60 to a design by Guilaume Verdier and VPLP.  Like most of Cookson's work, this is a repeat commission.  The yard built Dick's first Farr-designed Virbac.

And, no sooner was Farmer's new 52 out of the mould, than work began on another one that will follow a similar, but not identical, racer/cruiser theme.  Having invested in the tooling and and a lot of work into the repackaging of Farmer's new project, Cookson has complete faith in the concept.  Having backed winners before, it would be a brave punter that would bet against Cookson's instincts with this one.