Unleashing the Beast
Unleashing the Beast
After two years of disappointment, Rambler 100 (ex-Speedboat) looks like it might actually live up to its hype. "Gaining Bearing" from our April 2011 issue.
I just finished sailing Rambler 100 in two great offshore races—the Pineapple Cup, from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Jamaica, and the RORC Caribbean 600. This 100-foot, canting-keel monster started life as Speedboat and essentially spent the first few years of its existence at a dock or in a cradle waiting for an opportunity to strut its stuff. The original goal for owner Alex Jackson was to break the transatlantic speed record for a monohull, but things never came together. Twice, Jackson and team attempted to break the record, but both times the boat broke down within a few days of leaving New York. Speedboat sailed in two Newport Bermuda Races with the hope of obliterating the course record. Both races were light-air beats, and no record will ever be broken in those conditions.
It’s hardly the first supermaxi to fall short of lofty expectations. It seems like there’s no middle ground with these boats—either they fail to live up to the billing and slowly fade away, or they become bigger than life, shattering records and outperforming expectations along the way.
All these programs start with a goal, and Speedboat was no exception. The problem was Speedboat’s goal was too specific. Whenever I speak to owners, or potential owners, of raceboats, I talk about what a boat is capable of doing besides the primary goal. I do this before the designer even puts pen to paper. What else can it do when it isn’t doing exactly what it was designed to do?
All raceboats are the same in one respect: the owner wants to use them. So, the objective should always be to create a boat that isn’t completely one-dimensional. A sweet spot is great, but don’t design it so far into a corner that it has no other place to go. Speedboat began its life stuffed pretty hard into a corner—transatlantic record setting—and had a hard time getting out.
The rig and sail plan prevented the boat from being competitive under IRC. The deck layout was so optimized for long-distance sailing that inshore racing wasn’t really an option. Getting the giant asymmetric spinnakers up and down at the marks made going around the buoys a serious challenge, nevermind trying to beat anyone on corrected time.
The fact that it was built to sail across oceans meant that its structural integrity was far more robust than a boat built to race along the coast or around the buoys. That extra weight was a big handicap in light air. So, in effect, the boat couldn’t race. It could only sail by itself, trying to break records. That’s why it spent so much time at the dock.
Speedboat isn’t the first boat to suffer this fate. You need only look around the major boatyards or the charitable foundations set up to receive donated raceboats to find maxis that never lived up to their pre-build expectations. Typically, the management team hung it out in a corner, and didn’t have a Plan B.
This winter, Jackson and George David—a veteran owner of numerous raceboats, the latest of which was the 90-foot Rambler—teamed up to give the boat a second chance, and Rambler 100 was born.