Are you trimmed in? helmsman Hank Halstead called from the after cockpit aboard Victoria of Strathearn. She sailed naked of her dodger and bimini tops as we diced for position at the start of race three of the Classic Yacht Regatta off Antigua.
Even absent these accoutrements of cruising, Victoria hid her head sails behind the massive main, out of sight from the centerline helm. Hand signals and verbal communication were very important. On many thoroughbred racing boats, the helmsman would simply slide down to leeward for a look at the head sail. On Victoria, circular seating imprisons the helm. She is, after all, a cruising yacht, and her owner might like to share time with his guests while he steers.
The apparent wind scoured the decks at 31 knots, and Victoria accelerated to 16.3 knots, as though she were trying to outrun the wind. Reaching on starboard tack, we began to overhaul the J-Class yacht Velsheda, also on starboard tack and a boat length to leeward. Although these boats are of similar size and LWL, Velsheda's high-aspect sloop rig lets her sail significantly closer to the wind than Victoria. She began to crowd us.
We cracked off a bit and crossed her stern with inches to spare. Sheets started, we accelerated alongside and slowly left her in our exhaust.
Victoria of Strathearn raced in a category known as Spirit of Tradition Class A, which is open to modern yachts designed to resemble their traditional siblings. Victoria was Bill Langan's first commission as an independent after he left his post as chief designer at Sparkman & Stephens. Built by Alloy Yachts of Auckland, New Zealand, she splashed in March 2001, set sail for Tahiti and worked her way east through the Panama Canal to the Eastern Caribbean. Articles about her have appeared in a few marine publications, but Langan's invitation to race with him and the owner made me the first journalist to sail aboard.
Even in a gaggle of stunning classical yachts, Victoria of Strathearn stood out. Langan combined the delicacy and grace of line from the early 20th-century yachts with the powerful presence of a globe-circling speedster from the new millennium.
At rest, Victoria is pure lady, the thrust of her bow overhang suggesting the slightly elevated chin of British aristocracy. Her sheerline sweeps most gracefully aft, ending in a coquettish rise to one of the prettiest counter sterns since Ticonderoga. In a direct profile, the counter is slightly concave. Large, round portholes dot the topsides, lending a ship-like quality to her profile. They look even better from inside.
In keeping with the traditional styling, Langan drew an upright doghouse forward of the mizzenmast. Its sharp angles and flat windows perfectly recall the Golden Age of Sail. Forward of the house, a raised portion of the deck anchors a gorgeous butterfly hatch and a forest of Dorade vents. Light and fresh air from the hatch bathe the saloon.
I arrived at the boat after a deluge soaked Antigua. Relative humidity just short of 100 percent drenched everyone on deck.
When I stepped through the power-operated companionway hatch, I entered a world of air-conditioned Edwardian elegance. Andrew Winch designed Victoria's interior to feel like an English gentleman's home in the country or his private club.
Although Victoria has an aluminum hull, she appears to be wood belowdecks. Winch specified varnished walnut for the interior joinerwork, finished satiny bright. The woodwork is so beautifully crafted that I couldn't help touching it.
Vaulted overheads of tongue-and-groove panels painted a warm off-white reflect the ambient light, so the interior never feels truly dark. The tan carpeting in a basket-weave pattern over a sky-blue background also reflects light. Even more important, the carpeting is thick, easy on bare feet and among the best nonslip surfaces I've experienced inside a yacht.
Mirror-image guest quarters occupy the space immediately forward of the saloon, and the galley and crew quarters take up the rest of the volume forward of that. Throughout the five days of the Classic Yacht Regatta, the galley and crew mess became the gathering place for guests and crew alike.
When I was aboard Victoria, the guest quarters were made up with a double berth on the port side and a pair of singles on the starboard side. The inboard single mounts on rails and slides outboard to create a double berth.
At the other end of the boat, the opposite concept prevails. This is the master stateroom, and its location abaft the pilothouse and machinery space provides it with the most privacy anyone can expect in a 130-foot sailing yacht of traditional proportions; i.e., relatively narrow for her length.
The master reminds me of a studio apartment I rented in Boston 30 years ago. My apartment wasn't anywhere near as elegant as this, but it was a cozy, self-contained space-bed, head, built-in stowage, comfortable seating, fireplace and galley-style kitchen. Victoria's master lacks the kitchen and fireplace, but it more than makes up for the deficit with a superb desk, a hideaway settee in the portside corner and a grand sofa.
The owner told me his yacht is very comfortable to live aboard for extended periods of time. In addition to the obvious-pleasant décor, useful spaces and comfortable furniture-she has all the stowage a couple and four guests need.
He followed with a sigh of resignation and confessed that he gets to spend only about eight weeks a year aboard. Nigel Burgess Ltd., which was partly responsible for my being aboard in Antigua, will manage Victoria's charter activity.
During my tour of the interior, four women occupied the corner settee in the master stateroom-the owner's wife, two friends and Lauren Hutton giving them a lesson in applying makeup. Later during the race, Hutton scampered over the decks like Puck, taking photographs and cheering for our side.
The course ran north and south 6 miles each leg, starting outside Falmouth Harbour, keeping the marks to starboard. Four laps of reaching equaled 24 miles of racing. At the 10-minute gun, the sea became a mass of confused waves, and the fleet of behemoths tacked and jibed to gain the best position at the start.
If you never sail another day, you have to witness the start of a superyacht race from the deck of an entrant. Tacking and jibing Victoria requires rolling up the yankee (leading head sail) to the first reef so it will cross the inner forestay to the new tack or jibe. The staysail is cut more closely to the deck and tends itself on a traveler. Tacking takes about 40 seconds, from the first turn of the wheel into the wind to accelerating on the new course. Furious hand-over-hand action at the wheel follows the announcement "helm's a'lee. The steering isn't hard, but spinning from one lock to the opposite requires a lot of turns.
Hydraulics power all the winches, and tacking requires two people per winch-one to push the button and the other to tail the line. Sometimes a third person rests his foot on the load side of the line to prevent an override on the winch.
Langan and the owner patrolled the yacht, acting as members of the afterguard. Langan played at tactician, and the owner seemed concerned but happy. Total population of the boat came to about 35 people, fully 25 of whom were baggage, including yours truly. Most of us succeeded in keeping out of the working crew's way, sipping bottled water and nibbling at sandwiches.
Although I longed to have that elk-hide covered teak wheel in my hands, I dared not ask. Even though the rules suggest a gentleman's pastime, this was a race by the simplest definition. More than once the banter took on a sharp edge, and advice from the tactician sounded like commands.
Victoria of Strathearn is an extraordinary yacht, as lovely below the waterline as she is above. Her sections amidships show relatively firm bilges, shallow underbody and zero flare. The buttock lines from the center to the quarter beam are parallel and sweep gently aft, clearing the water at the rudder post. No wonder she's able to average double-digit speeds in seas of 6 to 8 feet without taxing her crew.
We raced in seas of similar size, often taking the brunt of the wake from another superyacht's arguing for position. Victoria shouldered aside these seas, using her mass, fine entry and rounded canoe body. Her huge rudder makes the best of the helmsman's every input, and she tracks like a freight train. Her keel is long of chord and fairly shallow, ending at the tip in a modest flare that's wider aft than forward.
A yacht of this stature is the personal statement of her owner as interpreted by the designers. She's only perfect in the eyes of her owner, and only until he changes his mind. Her ketch rig, for example, reduces the size of individual sails and permits a shorter mainmast than would a sloop, but the owner has given up windward performance. No matter, ketches love to reach, and most cruising sailors don't cruise to windward.
I don't like a central helm on a boat this size because I can't see the telltales on the head sails. I prefer two wheels, each outboard of the centerline.
On the other hand, if I wanted a traditionally styled sailing yacht, Victoria of Strathearn would top the list.
Contact: Alloy Yachts, (011) 64 9 838 7350; fax (011) 64 9 838 7393; www.alloyyachts.com. Langan Design Assoc., (401) 849-2249; fax (401) 849-3288; email@example.com. Andrew Winch Designs, (011) 44 208 392 8400; fax (011) 44 208 392 8401; firstname.lastname@example.org. Nigel Burgess Ltd., (011) 44 20 7766 4300; fax (011) 44 20 7766 4329; www.nigelburgess.com.