Power Player Fast-Tracks His One-Design Dream

As vice commodore of the New York YC, David Elwell was instrumental in bringing the New York YC 42 class to fruition. From our January/February 2007 issue

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Dan Nerney

Like a lot of sailors, David Elwell can picture his ideal one-design keelboat. He knows how long it is, how heavy, and how much sail it will carry. He's also thought out the class rules, how many pros will be allowed, and how many new sails can be purchased each year. Unlike the rest of us, however, Elwell, the vice commodore of the New York YC, can take his dream boat for a sail. In mid-October, Elwell and his three boat partners-a quartet that's been together for more than two decades-christened Conspiracy, hull No. 1 of the Club Swan 42, in Newport, R.I. The design, also known as the New York YC 42, is the result of a New York YC-sponsored drive to fill what Elwell saw as a vacant niche in the sport. With 30 boats already sold, it's apparent a few other owners were thinking along the same lines. When did the idea take shape?Its genesis really goes back to January of 2005. I approached George Hinman, our commodore-we've been boat partners for 20, 25 years-with an idea of creating a new class. I felt there was an opportunity for a high-quality racer/cruiser with very strict limitations on professional sailors. I thought that a high-performance boat that was designed for the IRC rule and had a full cruising interior would sell. We wanted a boat that could be cruised by a couple. That really limited us to 45 feet or less. There was some discussion about a bigger boat and my feeling was I'd rather have 20 boats that are 42 feet rather than 10 that are 50 feet. What goals did you have for the initial order?My feeling was that in order to have the proper nucleus, we needed 10 to 12 boats. I thought if you had less, you ran the risk of having a disappointing fleet at any particular regatta. I've been blown away by the success of the class. I think the proper count at the club is 23 boats.How did you select the design?We went to several designers and, in at least two instances, we were approached by designers that we had not picked. We were approached by Swan; they wanted us to take over the Swan 45 class. We could re-jigger the rules and put restrictions on professionals. We rejected that idea because it's extraordinarily difficult to re-brand an existing product, the product had the reputation of being very professional and very expensive, and the boat was at the upper limit of our size range. My price parameters all along had been to put a boat on the starting line fully equipped at a half-million or less. We had lengthy discussions with the folks at J Boats. They wanted us to take over the J/133 class, but we said no to that, too.One of the most difficult parts of the equation was to find a high-quality builder. We had discussions with New England Boatworks. At the end of the day they didn't want to get into the production-boat business. We had some discussions with Cooksons. Swan came back to us and, through lengthy discussions, we were able to get [a 42-foot Swan] in essence for $100,000 to $125,000 more than [our initial price point]. We felt it was worth going beyond the price point to get the quality and resale of a Swan, and the ability to participate in Swan regattas. One of our parameters was to have a boat you'd be proud to have tied up at the dock.Your first sail must've been a nerve-racking experience.Absolutely. I had not gone over to visit the boat in Finland. I was concerned it was going to feel like a big, heavy boat. It doesn't. It has the lightness and responsiveness you'd feel on a Farr 40. I was absolute thrilled.Why is it necessary to prohibit paid professionals from sailing on the boat?I believe there's an untapped audience of people who have an interest in sailing bigger high-performance boats, but have no desire to have a professional crew to be competitive.But two of the crew can be Category 3 sailors, is that correct?Some owners will have people that take care of their boats that also sail with them. You can pay somebody for taking care of the boat; you can't pay someone to race with you. Now that's a bit of a sticky wicket and there's a provision in the class rules that you can't go against the spirit of the rules. So if somebody says, "I've hired Ken Read to be my boat captain and, by the way, he races with us," you can't do that.Are you limiting an owner's ability to improve himself and his team if he can't bring on paid coaches or professional sailors?That's why we permit two pros on the boat. An awful lot of owners felt they wanted their sailmaker to come along occasionally to improve the level of their game. So I think there's ways of doing it within the context of our rules. I don't pretend there's any perfect answer to any of these things. Do too many people expect to get paid to sail these days?I think in the aggregate, it's hurt the sport. You take a look at the difference between sailing now and sailing in the '60s and '70s and two things, in my mind, have hurt the sport. No. 1, the infiltration of professionals and, No. 2, the fact that so many boats are single-purpose boats. You can't go cruising on the Farr 40.How many boats do you expect by the summer?By Block Island Race Week, I believe there will be 18 or 19 boats.Are you anticipating further growth in the next few years?We are soliciting other yacht club involvement. It's premature to tell if it's going to be successful. If you buy one of the boats and you belong to the Larchmont YC, you can put the LYC burgee on the sail and call it a Larchmont YC 42.That sounds pretty generous.In calling the boat the New York YC 42 there's a disincentive to get other clubs to join in. I'd be thrilled to have a fleet of 35 boats, flying six different burgees, on the starting line.