Stormvogel is known as the "original" maxi yacht. The first large, light racing yacht of its type still in competition today.
There's still gunpowder in the Stormvogel powder flasks
Last year's Rolex Fastnet Race got off to a dramatic start. Winds of over 30 knots blew through a fleet of 330 yachts lined up on the shores of the Solent. Not all participants were able to withstand such a powerful start. 79 yachts retired in the first 24 hours. But one yacht was truly in its element, the 74-foot Stormvogel ketch. Despite its 60-year-old age, Stormvogel not only withstood almost stormy conditions. The boat took a very respectable 6th in the class and 7th overall in the IRC.
It was an impressive performance for a yacht often referred to as the first maxi yacht due to her radically lightweight design. The performance at the Rolex Fastnet Race marked the yacht's long-awaited homecoming. She returned to northern Europe after an absence of more than 30 years.
“At the start we had a good strong wind. But Stormvogel seemed to be at home,” said skipper Graham Henry. “We gave our all on 100%. It was a tough start, but Stormvogel and we took on the challenge. She can finish in the same row with modern boats. It says a lot."
Cornelis "Kis" Bruinzel, the first owner of the Stormvogel, conquered the Fastnet regatta even before buying a boat. In 1959, Keys decided it was time to build the perfect boat.
Stormvogel as a risky proposition
Keys decided to implement the project at all costs. Bruinzel turned to Olin Stevens. Alas, he did not want to risk his reputation in such an unusual project. Then the yachtsman turned to the designer, who was not afraid to take risks. They became Laurent Giles, who created the radical "Myth of Malham" for John Illingworth.
Giles readily took on the project. Somewhere in the end, Illingworth was persuaded to do the sketch too. But when Bruinzel showed the two designs to Erik van de Stadt (a Dutch yacht designer), he was unimpressed. Eric agreed to make preliminary sketches of his vision for the project.
Faced with three different approaches, Bruinzel made models of all three designs. Keys conducted their sea trials at the University of Southampton. Van de Stadt's design proved to be the best and was selected.
However, the method of construction using sandwich plating on the bow and stern stringers was similar to that pioneered by Myth of Malham. Therefore, Laurent Giles was brought in to draw up plans for the building. To complement the illustrious crew, Illingworth agreed to design the yacht's rigging. Construction will be carried out by Bruinsel's own company Lamtico in Stellenbosch. The company has extensive experience in wood lamination.
The new structure was built from four layers of mahogany. The inner and outer layers went along the bow and stern. The two middle layers are on opposite diagonals. The boards were glued together with resorcinol. At the time, resorcinol was the standard wood laminating adhesive.
Full length struts with lightweight frames and bulkheads completed the aircraft-like hull structure. The deck and coaming were made of plywood and foam. This was necessary to create a rigid, lightweight structure that was integral to the overall strength of the boat.
The Stormvogel was built in just 10 months, an outstanding achievement for such an impromptu design. She was launched in April 1961. After short sea trials, she went to England. Gordon Webb became the ship's first skipper. He took the Stormvogel to the UK with a crew of 13 including Bruinzel. They traveled 7,660 miles through Saint Helena, Ascension and the Azores in 51 days at an average speed of 7.6 knots.
Fastnet Race 1961 or “What do you call a boat…”
Stormvogel's navigator for the 1961 Fastnet Race was none other than Francis Chichester. Then just Francis - he was just about to win the first OSTAR on the Gipsy Moth III and circumnavigate the world on the Gipsy Moth IV.
Stormvogel got off to a great start, leading the flotilla out of the Solent. Alas, she was thrown back when the head angle of the mainsail broke off. The boat was forced to go ashore to install a new one. Navigational disagreements between Bruinzel and Chichester ensued. In the end, Bruinzel got his way, but Chichester was right in the end. It cost them four hours of tack across the Irish Sea.
Despite this, Stormvogel caught up and overtook the rest of the fleet, rounded the Rock first and, a day or so later, was the first to cross the line in 3 days, 20 hours and 58 minutes.
Her accomplishments earned Bruinzel the Elizabeth McCaw Trophy (a first around Fastnet Rock) and the Erivale Cup. However, their final place was reduced to 6th in the handicap, as another Dutch yachtsman, Van der Vorm, won the overall standings in a traditional S&S longboat, the Zwerver II.
This first race set the tone for the first 10 years of Stormvogel's career. She crossed the finish line first in every race, only to be thrown back by the handicap. The same story was repeated in the 1962 Buenos Aires-Rio de Janeiro regatta, the 1963 Shaw regatta, the 1964 Newport-Bermuda regatta, the 1965 Sydney-Hobart regatta, the 1966 China Sea regatta, the 1967 Transpac regatta, the Middle seas of 1968 and 69 - to name but a few.
But, as Van de Stadt said, "Bruinzel didn't really care about handicaps, he just wanted to come first, and the final ranking didn't matter to him."
Traveled path and parting
In terms of nautical miles, the distance traveled by a yacht in the first 10 years is extraordinary. Bruinzel never thought about going from Europe to Cape Town, Buenos Aires, then the Caribbean, to the US, and back to Europe in half a dozen ocean races in one year. He just took part.
In 1965/66 Stormvogel competed in the Transpac, then the Sydney Hobart and China Sea Race before returning to California to compete in the Big Boat series in San Francisco. In the first six years alone, the boat traveled 200,000 miles, the equivalent of sailing around the world once a year.
By 1968, Bruinzel had moved on and built himself a new toy: a 53-foot Van de Stadt-designed Stormy with an unusual clipper bow. In 1971, Stormy took 3rd overall in the first Cape to Rio Race, and in 1973, in the same regatta, she won both actual first place and overall race victory. In 1980, at the age of 80, Bruinzel died aboard the Stormy while on a Mediterranean cruise.
Meanwhile, Stormvogel went through two owners in the 1970s before being taken over by an Italian owner in 1982. These relationships continue to this day.
Stormvogel's new owner put the ship to the test shortly after purchase, sailing across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, then across the Pacific to Australia (where it starred in the classic thriller film Dead Calm) and Indonesia, before arriving in Thailand in 1987.
Over the next 20 years, Stormvogel barely left Southeast Asia, cruising and charter flights between Thailand, Malaysia, Bali and Singapore and participating in local races such as the King's Cup, the China Sea Race and the Raja Muda Regatta.
New Zealand shipbuilder Graham Henry operated the ship throughout the 1990s. He began the restoration process in 1991, replacing the mast step with a solid I-beam and getting rid of the aftermarket bowsprit. Further hull repairs were carried out, especially in the bow on the starboard side, where in the 1970s the yacht was hit by a whale. After restoration in 2007, Stormvogel returned to the Mediterranean.
She raced Panerai Classic Yachts for two seasons, winning the class in 2008 before sailing across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. Over the next few years, the yacht constantly moved to Europe and the Caribbean under the supervision of skipper Jan Hulleman. In 2013 Stormvogel won the class at the Antigua Classics.
Old age ... in joy?
It was almost a swan song by Stormvogel. When the yacht was taken out of the water in Finike on the southeast coast of Turkey in the fall of 2014, the full extent of its wear and tear became apparent. Water seeped through layers of cladding, rotting wood, and corroding fasteners, and the electro-galvanic reaction between various metals created its own toxic miasm.
Hulleman carried out most of the repair work alone for almost three years, after which the yacht was transported to Metur Yachts in Bodrum for final installation and retrofitting of systems. Special care has been taken to keep the yacht as original as possible, down to designing and 3D printing stainless steel replicas of the original cabinet latches.
By the spring of 2020, the work was completed, and the ship was launched - right in the midst of a pandemic. Another year passed before the yacht was moved to Valencia (Spain) and prepared for a return to ocean racing, and Graham Henry became the skipper of the Fastnet Race.
Returning to the Fastnet start line last August, Stormvogel could not repeat her initial winning run against much younger yachts - although she managed to save nearly two hours from her 1961 race time, finishing in 3 days, 19 hours and 2 minutes, despite the longer distance. Despite this, the yacht took pride of place among the younger participants in the regatta.
|Actual deck length
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