A Theory of IMS Evolution

Carlo Borlenghi/rolex

"In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment."
--Charles Darwin, Origin of the Species

It must be a relief to European owners of boats built to the International Measurement System that the rule has lost so much traction in the rest of the world. Rather than schlepping their boats and crews to colonial outposts like Newport, R.I.--the last place, other than the Mediterranean where an IMS Worlds was held, in 2000--they get to enjoy great racing in places like the southern Italian island resort of Capri, where last May, the Rolex IMS Offshore World Championship was held. This was the second year in a row that the Worlds have been held on the Gulf of Naples in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius and shouldn't be the last. A venue like Capri, coupled with hyper-competitive racing, tends to attract not only owners who play the game well, but also the superstars of the sport.

The fleet was fascinating to look at even when static. Advertiser's logos, extreme graphics, and trick deck layouts were eye candy for raceboat aficionados walking the docks. Yacht racing is a popular sport in Europe and racing teams know that a flashy, well-sailed boat will attract sponsors. One of the more striking examples was X-Sport a Grand Soleil 56R racing in the IMS Division 1. Designed by Botin & Carkeek, a Spanish design firm, marketed by the Italian production boatbuilder Cantiere del Pardo, and built by Green Marine in England, X-Sport carries the latest dictates of the IMS rule to the extreme. It's slab-sided, flush-decked, and has no overlapping headsails. "These are specific boats," says Marcelino Botin. "To start with, they're very narrow, very flat in the bow and the stern, and they tend to pound going upwind. Until recently, IMS designs were pretty regular shapes, but what we see now is boats are getting more and more specialized all the time."

Nipping at X-Sport's heels all week was the latest Farr IMS 50, Orlanda, a 53-footer that the Farr office acknowledges as a direct descendant of Esmeralda, the first of the IMS boats to begin the march towards the outer edges of the rule.

"The biggest difference between Orlanda and its predecessors is beam; it's a fair bit narrower both on the waterline and overall," says James Schmicker, a senior naval architect at Farr Yacht Design. "The last few generations of boats designed expressly for the Med are specialized for windward/leeward racing in light to moderate conditions with little consideration given to good reaching performance. Therefore, the boats are getting heavier and heavier, with just enough sail area to get downwind." To understand how the IMS Rule has gone to this extreme demands a small history lesson:

In the early spring of 2000, a new IMS 50 destined for the grand-prix circuit emerged from Eric Goetz's boatbuilding facility in Bristol, R.I. Designed by Bruce Farr, the dark green 52-footer looked nothing like other IMS raceboats of the day. The tall, vertical freeboard, a nearly flush deck, non-overlapping headsails, and a boxy, covered transom made it look as if it had been designed to a rule that had no love for aesthetics, but Esmeralda was fast and had a racer/cruiser rating that made it tough to beat. Owner Makoto Uematsu staffed the boat with a pro team led by Ken Read, and Esmeralda quickly made mincemeat of American IMS fleets on both coasts. Soon after winning the 2001 Acura SORC, the boat was loaded aboard a freighter bound for Japan. However, Spanish sailor Fernando Leon needed a ride for the 2001 IMS Worlds, made an offer, and the Farr boat headed for Europe where, as Cam, it promptly won Division A at the 2001 Rolex IMS Offshore Worlds.

Soon, super 50s like Esmeralda roamed the racecourses of the Mediterranean. Some, like the Farr-designed Bribon, raced by King Juan Carlos of Spain, were clearly second-generation Esmeraldas, while others were closer to the racer side of the equation--such as Tau Ceramica, another Farr design--with open transoms, larger cockpits, but still boasting the high freeboard and non-overlapping headsails favored under the IMS. Since 2001, as is wont to happen when any species is confined to one ecosystem, an extreme type-form has emerged--a design window so narrow that it may well restrict these thoroughbreds to southern Europe. "In the Mediterranean, IMS works well, but I'm not so sure that you can export that to many other places in the world now," says Botin "The problem is they're not good offshore boats. The design is extremely refined and they're hydro-dynamically very efficient. If it weren't for their heavy displacement and their lack of stability, they'd be the most efficient boats I've ever designed."

Schmicker doesn’t necessarily agree with Botin’s statement about seaworthiness, but definitely understands the problems with the IMS rule as it stands now. "The best current IMS boats typically feature narrow beam [both waterline beam and overall beam], high freeboard, moderate to high displacement and rather boxy sections," says Schmicker. "These characteristics are related to each other and in total represent a typeform that excels under IMS. The boats are seaworthy, but could certainly be faster, especially downwind and reaching, if the excess of internal ballast were reduced in line with displacements. Some boats are approaching internal ballast-to-displacement ratios of 50 percent. It reminds us of the last years of IOR when boats had structural lead slabs above keels with wooden tips."

Italtel, a Grand Soleil 42R, was the overall winner at the 2003 Worlds and is a state-of-the-art Mediterranean IMS 600 design. Designed by Botin & Carkeek immediately after X-Sport and Caixa Galicia, it was created from the research and design that went into the 56-footers, and as Botin freely admits, is simply a scaled-down version of the larger boats. Italtel benefited greatly from being designed to rate well in IMS; during the 195-mile distance race held during the Worlds it struck a rock early on in the race and lost the bottom half of its keel. On most boats, that would have spelled the end of the race and most likely the regatta, but because Italtel carries all its ballast high, and only lost the hollow fiberglass shell that makes up the bottom half of the keel, it was able to complete the race. After a new section was fitted during the layday that immediately followed the distance race, Italtel went right back to work and won the event. Two weeks later, at the IMS Mediterranean Championship, big sisters Caixa Galicia and X-Sport found their pace and finished 1,2, respectively, while Italtel took third, a clean sweep for Botin & Carkeek.

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| Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex|

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| Older IMS designs, like the American entry Idler (Bow No. 55) found it near impossible to keep pace, on corrected time, with the newest IMS rockets.* * *|

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As designers, owners, and various international bodies strive to find a new grand-prix rule the rest of the world can live with, those racing in Southern Europe continue to enjoy high-end racing in beautiful spots all over the Mediterranean with their highly-specialized trick ponies. But there are drawbacks. There are few, if any, boats outside of the Med that can compete with the IMS fleet there now. The 2003 Worlds included boats such as the English maxi Enigma, the Australian Sydney 62 Bumblebee V, and the American Nelson/Marek 50 Idler. All are well-sailed boats that win in their home waters, but all were soundly thrashed by the Italian and Spanish boats at this event. The IMS fleet in the Mediterranean has become the fittest in their environment, but as the rest of the world seeks a rule that doesn't punish speed and stability, sailors in the Med may soon find themselves sailing in a vacuum.

The author sailed aboard the IMS 50 Idler_ during the Worlds in Capri._ Idler_ placed eighth of 19 in IMS 1 and 15th overall in the 63-boat fleet._