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.

Sailing World

Rambler 100 KRead

No longer just a horse for a distance-record course, Rambler 100 notches up its first distance-race record, and a win, in the RORC’s Caribbean 600.Tim Wright/photoaction.com

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.

One of the most valuable things George brings to a program is an established management team. He’s a hands-on owner who participates in the goal-setting process. He also understands that no amount of money can guarantee a victory or a record. Maxiboats are, by nature, hit-or-miss. Some races or events set up perfectly for the big boat in the fleet, and some don’t. That’s the way it is.

Many maxi owners never understand that concept. They’re told from Day 1 that if you build it, the wins and the records will fall into your lap.

Alex and George decided early on that_ Rambler 100 _would go racing and not wait around for the right conditions to break records. The next steps were to optimize the boat for IRC and put in place a schedule for the next year. The part of the process I’ve most enjoyed has been adapting the boat to the new set of goals without sacrificing any of the tremendous speed potential—just in case there’s a record out there waiting to be broken. Overhauling _Rambler 100 _according to this new game plan required the design team to be on the same page, and designer Juan Kouyoumdjian, Steve Calder from North Sails, and Steve Wilson from Southern Spars all bought into the new program. We moved the headstay forward 10 feet, lopped 6 feet off the upper roach of the mainsail, tossed all the masthead genoas, built a new inventory of IRC-optimized jibs and spinnakers, and locked in the mast rake, which had been variable from 1 to 5 degrees off vertical. From the deck up, the boat became a new animal. But would it compete?

That depended on crew selection. From Rambler came an accomplished, big-boat SWAT team that could adapt easily to the new ride. The Speedboat team had a few guys with whom I'd been sailing for years; they fit in well. And then I brought along the entire PUMA team. Altogether, it was just the sort of crew that could handle this beast. And I mean BEAST. It's safe to say that no monohull ever created has seen higher loads or more water coming across the deck.

Thanks to the effort of the shore team, the boat had all its major modifications done in time for the Jamaica Race, and off we went afer five days of practice.

The boat worked great, but the wind gods did not cooperate. Afer working out to a nice lead, we hit a weather wall, stopped for six hours, and watched the entire fleet sail up to us. So, no record, and not the result we were hoping for. But there was no panic. The boat had potential; our day would come.

Two weeks later, it did. The course for the RORC Caribbean 600 twists through the Caribbean islands around Antigua and normally features solid trade winds. There was an opportunity for a decent finish in IRC and a race record. It also allowed the boat to sail, for the first time, against another 100-footer, Mike Slade's Leopard.

Rambler 100 did not disappoint in any way. On the first leg, a six-mile beat, we were slightly higher and faster than Leopard. As soon as we cracked off on our first 40-mile reach, the boat took off. There were a lot of smiles onboard, as we were only 50 miles or so into the race and already had a six-mile lead on Leopard. All we had to do from that point was keep the not-so-old girl in one piece, which was hardly a foregone conclusion, given its history of breakdowns.

We finished in just over 40 hours, smashing the course record. We smoked Leopard by more than five hours on elapsed time, and once all the boats were in, we finished first overall on corrected time, under IRC and the Caribbean Rule. It was quite a sweep, and a relief to a lot of people, especially for Alex and George.

However, a supermaxi can’t live off one result._ Rambler 100_ will have to build upon this momentum, and we must continue to make the boat faster. The best news is that the boat no longer looks bound for the maxi scrap heap, like so many others before it. The schedule for the rest of the year is long and arduous, but Alex and George are on the same page and doing what the owners of any boat, Sunfish or supermaxi, want to do—race.