By Louay Habib
Tom Bombadil, Bad Toad, Bandit, Bullet, Runaway Bus, Purple Haze, Odd Job....just some of the eccentric names for a class of yacht that is now nearly 40 years old but has shown an amazing re-birth in recent times.
This year, the Quarter Ton Class lists a staggering 117 boats on its register and many are expected to be racing this year - under IRC. Most of the boats are around 25ft long and like their unusual names, they are a quirky design and crewed by some of the more colourful characters in the sport: Ron Holland, Ed Dubois to name but two.
The origins of the Class can be traced back to 1969. The International Offshore Rule (IOR) was born and for the first time, yachts all over the world, raced under a single rating system. Yacht racing was very much on the increase in 1969; The RORC Admiral's Cup in the Solent, was in its twelfth year, the NYYC Onion patch series in Newport, Rhode Island was firmly established and the CYCA Southern Cross series in Sydney was very popular.
At about the same time, the Control Data Corporation released the CDC 7600, considered by most to be the first supercomputer. Yacht designers were using this new tool, the computer, to exploit the Rule with odd bulges to the hull to exploit rule measurements. One of the classes to come out of the new IOR Rule was the Quarter Tonner and the computer aided designs gave them their unusual shape and odd features. The Class produced some incredibly close racing and fierce international competition under IOR for nearly three decades.
Eventually designs were producing unseaworthy boats and in 1996, the Quarter Ton Cup looked to have had its day. However in 2005 the class fought for the Cup again under IRC and has done so every year since. In 2008, 25 quarter tonners raced in the Solent for the Cup and they had the privilege of their own class at Cowes Week - a remarkable resurgence.
Louise Morton is the Class Secretary and races the 1980 Bruce Farr designed, Espada, with her all girl crew with some aplomb; winning class at Cowes Week, last year. Louise Morton explains how she got into the class.
"Before Espada, I had a Marieholm Folkboat, it was a great little boat but it wasn't very fast," explained Louise. "My husband, Morty is a bit of an anorak with Quarter Tonners and noticed that his old boat, Super Q, was on the market and he bought it for me."
At the same time Jimmer and George Webb at Casse Tête Marine were renovating Purple Haze for Tony Dodd. Morty had also worked with Ed Dubois on some of his QT designs and between them, they decided to get things going. Morty started tracking boats and letting people who had shown an interest in the class know about them.
The class has attracted a wide variety of sailors. "There is a mixture of people who race in the class at the moment but all of them are enthusiasts, some have spent quite a lot of money with boat builders, developing them with new rigs, keels and rudders and there are other boats which are shared by younger guys who do them up themselves, Morty has been very helpful to those owners with small budgets and there is a great community spirit; sails, rigs and other help are often provided by members of the class."
The first chapter of the Quarter Ton Class lasted 27 years and the rule was changed at least three times during those days, this means that the current fleet of boats are not evenly matched, some boats are quicker than others. To maintain fair racing, the Class has adopted IRC for all of its racing, this is also a good way to prevent big budgets affecting the competition, as Class Secretary Morton explains;
"There is only one carbon rig in the whole fleet and it is rated for it and it doesn't seem to make a huge difference. Also they are very manageable little boats, you can fair the bottom yourself, you can do one up over the winter. We think IRC is very equal, for example; in last year's Quarter Ton Cup, two of the oldest boats came first and second; Tom Bombadil and Purple Haze were built in 1974 and they are competitive against ASAP which is a 1989 example, so I think it is very fair. The event was decided by boat handling and tactics, not by having a quicker boat."
The Quarter Ton Class revival is not just in the Solent, according to Louise Morton.
"Last year in Brittany, the Benodet Obelix Trophy attracted 18 British and French boats in the class and we are expecting a good turn out in Ireland this year at The Kinsale Sovereign's Cup. Ian Travers from Kinsale owns Bandit and he has already had 12 boats confirmed for the regatta and more are expected."
The Class is a part of yachting history and Louise believes that the class owners have a reminiscent attachment to the yachts.
"Kevin George who owned Tom Bombadil remembers the boat from his childhood in Falmouth and I sailed on Espada in 1981, so I think it appeals to sailors because it reminds us of our childhood or our early days of sailing. A Quarter Tonner is like playing with an old toy, they bring back happy memories. But it is an extremely competitive class; the boats are all roughly the same speed, upwind and downwind which means incredibly close racing but the ethos of the class is to have fun. We have a real party atmosphere at events and since the re-birth of the class; there has not been a single protest. The standing joke amongst the Quarter Ton Class is that a protest requires a case of champagne as a deposit and the hearing is always at 3am in the morning!"
For more information on the Quarter Ton Class go to: