Since yachting offers one of the slowest forms of locomotion known to man, pure speed is the least of its attractions. It suffers by comparison with anything swifter than the oxcart. When, on dark and boozy nights, crews of the biggest ocean racers brag about speeds of 16 and 17 knots, they are not only stretching the truth but making claims that leave the layman cold. A runaway shopping cart in a supermarket parking lot can do better. Nevertheless, this month in Canada a world championship regatta was sailed that was distinguished, above all, by its appeal to speed freaks. The boats were catamarans of the Tornado Class—60 of them from nine nations. At times skimming the waters of Lake Ontario at a pace that left powerboats in the spectator fleet far behind, Californians Bruce Harvey and Bruce Stewart won the title for the United States. Somewhat surprisingly, six other finishers in the first 10 were also Americans.
In winds that blew high, low and in between, Harvey and Stewart had only one first, but the rest of their performance—a third, a fifth, a second, a 10th, an eighth and a 16th which could be thrown out—was tops. John Weiser of Hawaii trailed the Californians by a dozen points, while the only entry able to take more than a single first, Mr. and Mrs. Brian Palfreeman of Canada, with two, wound up no better than fourth in the final standings.
Since the Tornado is a new Olympic class, this was a foretaste of what should be an unusually exciting yachting competition in the 1976 Games, which will be sailed off Kingston, Ontario. Viewing the Tornado is by no means like watching grass grow. In a breeze the boat is fast enough to tow a water skier. At a recent one-of-a-kind regatta the Tornado gave a bad beating to the Class A scow, a 38-foot monohull that was until then considered the fastest sailboat afloat. Each of the Tornado's hulls measures but 20 feet. The new cat flies no spinnaker; she is too fast for that sail. Indeed, when smoking along on a tight, 20-mile course, as in the Worlds, it takes all of a skipper's skill to avoid ramming clumsy spectator craft or guessing wrong on split-second tactical decisions.
The Tornado owes its speed to stiletto hulls that scalpel waves apart, a tall, aerodynamically clean rig that reminds one of an iceboat and a notable absence of fat. Each hull weighs less than one hundred pounds. The whole cat, which is trailerable, weighs less than 400 pounds.
Tornado sailors tend to be word freaks as well as speed worshipers. At the Worlds there were a Pair Venue, a Split Decision and a Pair Annoy-Ya, the last sailed by race chairman Larry Woods of Hamilton, Ontario. "I sometimes tell people the Tornado will hit 30 miles an hour," says Woods, "but that's a bit high. Actually, anything over 25 you have to work for." While there was no timing apparatus at this regatta, in England a Tornado has been clocked officially over a measured course at 28.6 mph.
With spars and sails, a new Tornado with hulls of foam-sandwich construction is reasonably priced at $3,500. Putting one together from a kit costs much less, and basement builders find that the classic predicament will never apply to them; they can slip a hull out a window. Although the class is barely six years old, it numbers some 1,600 boats in 25 countries.
Along with the pleasures of speed and price, the Tornado sailor must accept a few disadvantages. Because of the wide cleavage between the hulls, the boat is sluggish in light airs. But give it a puff of wind and it springs away like a puma. It is not unusual in Tornado racing to have a boat steaming along on top only to fall into a hole in the wind and be passed by half the fleet. Another concern is collisions. When two of these cats hit, it is not just a sorry-old-chap scrape, it tends to be a resounding crash. Then there is the Tornado's slowness in coming about. Novices attempting to tack often find themselves dead in the water, hopelessly in irons. But practice helps. Britain's Reg White (designer of the Tornado's rig), with trapezeman Mike Chapman, can swing from tack to tack in less than five seconds.
The Tornado's worst trait is its habit of turning turtle when it capsizes, the mast and sails pointing straight down. To get one upright again usually takes a powerboat with a tow line to roll it up, either hull over hull or end over end. Only rarely has a crew been able to right a capsized Tornado without aid. One such occurrence came in the Worlds. In the second race a 35-mph howler of a breeze broke some boats, cartwheeled others and capsized more, including the Screaming Yellow Zonker sailed by America's Tim and Deanna Taylor. How they got Zonker up and going again even the Taylors were not sure about, but right her they did—and were so stimulated that they won the next race.
If the Tornado itself is a relatively unfamiliar breed, so are its sailors. They tend not to be "yachty." They Wear sandals and T shirts, not the Top-Sider moccasins and Breton-red trousers of the traditional racers. Beer is their drink. Some camp out in tents during big regattas.
For Harvey and Stewart the victory in Canada was a jinx-breaker. Though they had won one national championship in the class during the seven years they have sailed together, they usually were among the also-rans. In their only previous world-championship meet, at Eau Gallie, Fla. in 1970, they placed fourth—and narrowly escaped electrocution. While sailing their boat, One More Time, to the starting line they scraped a high-tension wire. "One More Time was 99 and [44/100] burned up," said Stewart, "but we managed to rebuild her overnight for the next race."