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These racing yachts of the International 5.5 Metre Class (established in 1949 by the IYRU - today known ISAF) are sailing in three divisions, allowing to group boats in an appropriate way, to appreciate the differences of age in this construction class, which has gradually developed over the decades.
Most boats are one-offs, a few series have been built, but whenever you see a silhouette of any 5.5m boat, you will join that Swiss owner who named his boat "Divine Proportion".
Check it out!
The Class is divided into three divisions:
(2014: The newest 5.5m boat, SUI 227, on the Lake of Geneva - Photo courtesy of Alain Marchand)
The Modern division in 5.5m racing is offering pure regatta excitement, which the current World Champion is commenting as ".. Having sailed a lot of different sailing boats in my life the 5.5 mR is probably the best of them all. All the sailors in the class are fantastic people! The speed is more or less the same in all the modern boats. What makes the different is trimming the boats constantly to keep the speed up. The boat is also very tactical and sensitive how you steer and maneuver it. This is how it should be!..."
The Modern division includes all the boats with original measuring certificates dated after Januray 1st, 1994. The lines of the hull have been stretched to their maximum, the keel has become very small and includes a trim tab to generate a higher lift. The rudder has a larger surface to compensate that reduced of the keel. This is a new balance between these two appendices. The carbon fiber mast and boom are a must, the ballast keel has winglets and a trim tab. Most modern boats of recent years have been designed by Seb Schmidt (Geneva), other designers involved in producing fast lines for Modern boats are Doug Peterson and Ian Howlett. More designers are standing by to offer their ideas.
Why 1994? A major breakthrough took place in 1990 when Chlika-Chlika SUI-169 hit the water in Geneva. Designed by Sébastien Schmidt and Philippe Meier, this boat was the symbol of a radical change in conception and approach. The hull had a different shape, the keel had winglets and a trim tab, every detail had been checked and optimized. With different crews Chlika-Chlika won many World and Swiss championships. As the Modern boats have developed further since, the Class has proposed to pass the earliest date of Modern boats to 1994.
The Evolution division includes boats whose original measuring certificate is to be dated between January 1st, 1970 and December 31st, 1993. Most boats where designed by Britton Chance Jr., Ben Lexcen and Warren Muir. The hull is a radical change from a Classic boat, it is less deeper and the wetted surface is decreasing drastically. The rudder is separated from the keel. The naval architects also explored new combinations allowed by the rules with lighter boats (1750 kg) therefore very short at waterline.
Synaril Z-130 a boat designed in 1981 by Britton Chance Jr. and built by Hermann Egger distinguished herself by winning many World Championships and other titles.
Warren Muir designed "Firestorm", a two time World Champion and many other lightweight boats.
Most boats where built using plywood. Some Australian boats made in fiberglass appeared in the 80’s. Then the American Melges Boatyard produced an important series of boats all in fiberglass based on Warrior III a hull designed by Waren Muir and Ben Lexcen.
The mast is mostly made of aluminum, some boats have changed to carbon fiber masts, though.
From a performance and handling point of view there is not such a great difference between the Evolution and the Modern boats and therefore an Evolution boat is considered the perfect entry boat to experience 5.5m racing.
The fleet of the Classic division was built between 1949 and 1969, the number of boats built during this period was about 650!. Charles Nicholson, Yacht designer and owner of the famous Camper & Nicholson boatyard, had initiated the new 5.5m Class and in 1949 presented the Prototype 5.5 K-1 "The Deb". Already in 1950 the IYRU acknowledged the International status of the Class as well as its Olympic future. In 1952 the first Olympic Sailing regattas in Helsinki were showing ample 5.5m participation. The 5.5's remained Olympic Class until 1968 and a great number of famous architects designed them: Arvid Laurin, C. Raymond, Hunt, Alfred E. (Bill) Luders Jr., the Ohlsson brothers, Henri Copponex , Olin Stephens and of course Britton Chance Jr.
All the boats did not make it into the new century but those still sailing are coming to life again as they take regularly part in the World Championships since 1994. In Europe there are large fleets of classic 5.5's like in Holland, Germany, France, Italy or Finland where they have been sailing again as a class since 1986. In the USA, some classic boats have recently been restored on the East Coast and are expected to race again and then, a significant active fleet of sister class boats 5.5 Columbia race in the Bay area of SF.
Within the Classic fleet some boats are modified and some not. The most valuable and 'real' classic 5.5s are not modified. They can be called Vintage Classic and they are characterized by a longer keel to which the rudder is attached. Their main feature is the originality and there are no separate rudders. In this group you will find Banaan, Dalgra III, Geisha, Chaje 3, Grifone, Remi, Struten, Teresita, Subbnboana, Rush VII and Web.
Modified classics have a separate rudder. Famous modified classic 5.5s are Topaze, Chaje 2, Willy Lehmann, Caeskop, Cibele II, Manuela VII and Swift Swiss. Most of the modified classics are from 1967-68. A rarity are boats which have separate rudders right from original plans and which back then did not fit the Olympic 5.5 rules. These are Leda III and Aero.
One can find economically priced 5.5 Classics for sale, usually they require some repairs... but this is also part of the joy of owning a classic boat. When you have a classic 5.5, you own it besides for her performance, for the beauty of her lines. But then again there is always a fierce competition in the classic division during a World Championship and the Classic Cup.