A Fascinating Hobby - By Neil Kennedy
If you were to divide sailing into three elements: the technical fascination of building and equipping your own yacht, the thrill of sailing it as fast as you can, and the excitement of competing with and beating your friends, it would be easy to understand why many of New Zealands best centreboard classes from the 1960s and 70s are enjoying a resurgence of popularity in the 90s.
New Zealanders are renowned the world over as "do it yourselfers", and when you take away the elements of evolution and the opportunities to experiment and tinker, the self-styled one-designs such as the Laser are, for an increasing number of yachtsmen and yachtswomen, offering less and less hobby value in comparison with the classic centreboards of the 60s and 70s. Certainly in England and Australia it is these classes that create and retain their appeal, by virtue of their ability to challenge sailors at all levels, that have been and will continue to be the backbone of our sport.
An excellent example of this is the Farr 3.7 single-handler, and on a visit to the Pakuranga Sailing Club on the Tamaki River , I took the oppurtunity of taking a closer look at the state of the class with national champion Trent Cornwall.
Designed by Bruce Farr in 1970 as a single-handled trapeze yacht that could then fit into the Q-Class 12ft restrictions, it quickly established itself as a class in its own right. It grew steadily in the Auckland, Northland and Waikato regions and in the 80s spread to New South Wales although the current state of the class there is unknown. Registration numbers have now reached
the 360s with the owners' association estimating that about 60 boats are currently active. As with many classes that are enjoying a resurgence of popularity the owners association is very keen to trace any 3.7s that may be stored away that could be returned to the fleet, as they are fielding enquires for good second hand boats on a regular basis.
One of the great features of the class is the quality of the design and construction specifications set out by Bruce Farr. The best illustration of this is the fact that XL 3.7 number one, Sea Spray boat test, May 1971, is still in excellent condition and is fully competitive. After 26 years the hull was only one pound over the minimum weight and many of the original fittings are still on the boat. This is a tribute to Bruce Farr's skill as a builder as well as a designer of centreboard racing yachts, and indeed it is sad that we have not seen any
centreboards from his drawing board for many years, particularly as Bruce always said the 3.7 was one of his favourite designs.
The vast majority of 3.7 hulls were constructed of 4mm plywood with kahikatea stringers and timbers and those that have been well cared for are as sound as a bell and on or very close to the class minimum weight. The quality and strength of the construction as illustrated by the photo makes plywood hulls ideal for refurbishment and many have undergone rebuilding or
redecking; the only area for concern has been cockpit floors which take a pounding but the class association has all the necessary advice to assist newcomers on how to overcome the problems.
Plywood hulls are still being built, indeed number 363, featured at the New Zealand Boat Show, is a new plywood boat. Cost of materials for a plywood hull is about $1200. The class also has a female mould suitable for foam glass construction, three new hulls are being built in the Bay of Islands; one of foam glass sandwich construction, and the new owners are looking at approximately $1500 for materials. When these boats are completed the class will consider making some additional boats of either all foam glass construction or foam glass hulls that can be fitted out with wooden decks. The availability of a class association-owned mould is crucial to the continued development of the Farr 3.7 class as it enables newcomers to the class to obtain a fully competitive boat at a very reasonable cost.
Centreboards and Rudders
There has been some variation in shape from Bruce Farr's original shape but on the whole the changes are minor. Wooden boards, glassed, are still the prefered option with kahikatea favoured by most.
Here is one of the real attractions of the 3.7s. All boats have the usual controls, mainsheet, traveller, boom vang, cunningham and outhaul and there are many variations in the set-up. However as the boat is sailed from the trapeze in eight knots and above, simplicity and ease of adjustment are paramount. National Champion Trent Cornwall's boat shows this aspect very well. Suprisingly, despite the potential for costs to run away here, it hasn't happened. Flash fittings don't make you go fast. The sailors of 3.7s tend to take a keen interest in others peoples boats in terms of fitting out, and looking for any ideas to make their controls better and more efficient.
Masts and booms
This has been where the biggest advances have been made in the class with the emergence of carbon fibre. However the common sense approach of the owners' association has ensured that sailors in the class without large chequebooks have not been disadvantaged, a sharp contrast with the Europe dinghy where the advent of carbon fibre masts has split the class apart between the haves and have-nots. In the case of the 3.7s, carbon fibre was banned until the costs and availability was sufficient to allow all sailors to compete. The first experimental masts were made of combinations of windsurfer masts and carbon tubes from Kilwell industries but final approval was not given until suitable stock sections were available. The Howick Sailing Club 3.7 fleet has been a hotbed of carbon spar development. Although a number of the leading boats in the class have switched to carbon masts, there are still plenty of alloy masts which are more than competitive. There have been a few all carbon booms appear, but the poor man's carbon fibre boom - irrigation tube painted black - at $30 is equally effective.
Kevlar weaves in their various forms are becoming more popular than the more traditional dacron. Cuts, seam arrangements and batten arrangements are many and varied, with no particular design providing a clear superiority. A number of sailmakers make 3.7 sails with the cost of a new sail around $1000. Incidentally Trent Cornwall is using a sail he bought for a tray of beer after the previous owner, a sailmaker, had cast it aside reckoning that it was past its best.
For newcomers to the class the 3.7 Owners Association has an outstanding comprehensive tuning and sailing guide covering every aspect of owning and sailing 3.7, and there is plenty of helpful advice and assistance from the various class fleets and sailors. Trent Cornwall's boat is undergoing a revamp. The hull and decks have been completely taken back to the bare wood, sanded and sealed with Awlcraft timber sealer, then repainted in his winning colour scheme of yellow and white. His 20-year-old hull is still in top condition and with its new paint job, he'll be ready for the new season.
The class has had a number of dedicated sailors who have sailed and promoted the class for a considerable number of years. Each season feature regattas are held at Howick, Takapuna and Rotorua in addition to the national championships which attract about 30 competitors. But perhaps its most innovative idea is to promote itself on the Internet through its website: www.sentech.co.nz/Farr37.
(NB: No longer active) On this you can find all of the latest class information but its real appeal lies in its versability. It can carry a wide range of crew weights and can be handled effectively by older and younger sailors: Grant McInnes is the veterans champ, while the under-21 champ is Joanna White. Above all, for those younger sailors looking toward skiffs, the 3.7 will give a supurb grounding in the art of skiff sailing, or if you just want to sail fast and have fun and enjoy the challenge of tinkering you need look no further.The cost of all this? A limited number of second hand boats are for sale ranging from $800 to $2000 depending on the condition but even a brand new one, home-built with the latest rig, can be had for $5000.
As the class says: Farr 3.7 - the best by Farr.
Indeed a fascinating hobby.
--Reproduced by kind permission of Sea Spray magazine.--