Extraordinary boats: Cape 31 – Yachting World

The Cape 31 is a one-design yacht originally created for racing in South Africa, which quickly grew with fleets around the world. Andy Rice reports

Thirty-foot keelboats come and go all the time. Most arrive with a short-lived fanfare, only to gradually fade out of sight and memory. This is not the case with the Cape 31, which seems to be the “must have” boat for the foreseeable future. With 25 boats sold in England and Ireland in just over a year, this Mark Mills one-design seems to have hit the happy medium.

Dave Swete is part of the small team promoting Cape 31 from a small office in Port Hamble, UK. Swete is a Volvo Ocean Race veteran and the only professional sailor on Sunrise, the JPK 11.80 of Tom Kneen, winner of the Fastnet. Asked why the sailing world needed another 30-year-old keelboater, Swete replied: “I think it’s because he ticks a lot of boxes. We believe this is the only class boat that wins on IRC and other ranking systems at the moment.

“You can take this boat straight out of the box and go and win races. The Cape 31 won the general classification at Les Voiles de St Tropez last year, as well as many local events in the Solent.

While some 30ft keelboats would like to describe themselves as a “big dinghy”, Swete insists the Cape 31 is “a small keelboat”. He explains: “You can take this boat out in 25 knots of wind against tide in the Solent and have a really nice day and then come back and the boat is in one piece, it’s not filled with water. We haven’t come ashore and nose dive all day, we’ve just been bow, making 20 knots downwind and 7.5 knots upwind. It’s fair to say that this is a real yacht.

Working with R&D partners KND/Sailing Performance, Mark Mills has produced a hull with a low freeboard and aggressive chines designed to maximize shape stability in the breeze while maintaining a low wetted area when under pressure. standing in the lighter stuff. The forward chine of the bow helps produce the distinctive attitude of the Cape 31’s bow at downwind speed.

Bow up, crew weight aft and potential for downwind speeds of over 20 knots. Photo: Rick Tomlinson/Cape 31 Class

For some, the speed upwind of the Cape 31 – even more than its electric pace downwind – is the most impressive statistic.

“What turns heads is that it’s a 30ft boat that goes upwind at a similar speed to a Performance 40. Then you turn it to leeward and you really hammer in the hammer,” says Swete.

Having previously owned a Corby-designed cruiser/racer, Lance Adams was looking for something sportier when he entered the Cape 31 class. He had considered the J/70 but hadn’t taken it on; and had watched the Fast 40s battle around the Solent but had no desire to embark on what looked like an arms race. After a conversation with Swete, Adams bought a Cape 31 without ever having sailed one. “It looked like the boat the Solent had needed for a while,” says Adams.

His katabatic was the second boat in the country and Adams raced her regularly throughout 2021. One of the big attractions for Adams was the strict one-design rule. He was looking for close competition and was not disappointed. “At Cowes week last year I think we had five different winners after five days. It’s a sensational race.

Tokoloshe III was the first Cape 31 in the UK and immediately racked up winning racing results under IRC. Photo: Rick Tomlinson/Cape 31 Class

He also likes that the boat does, in his own words, “leather hell” downwind. “We peaked at 21 knots last season, but 2021 has been quite a light year for the wind. I think the boat has the potential to go a bit faster.

Created for Cape Town

The origins of the Cape 31 stem from Cape Town, a sailing location where prolific Maxi yacht owner Sir Irvine Laidlaw enjoys spending time. Laidlaw wanted a new design that could be sailed in the famous “Cape Doctor” winds and swell off the Cape. “His concept was for a 30ft ‘no limits’ to provide maximum enjoyment,” says Swete. “It was definitely not designed to be an IRC weapon. It was designed simply to be the best possible boat in Cape Town, which actually transferred well on the Solent with the wind against the tide and the difficult conditions we can have here.

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The Cape 31 is primarily intended for bobbin racing or occasional long-distance racing, such as the Round the Island race. “We have planned a 90 mile Cannonball race between Antigua and St Maarten,” adds Swete.

Mark Mills was commissioned to design the boat in 2017, and although he was initially successful in South Africa, it took him a few years to gain a wider reputation. “Some international teams had been invited to Cape Town to race the boat, which had gone pretty well,” recalls Swete. “It wasn’t until we brought the boat back [to the UK] and started winning races on IRC that he got noticed properly, and that’s where things really started.

Cape 31s have a crew weight limit of 595kg, which usually translates to seven on board, with an owner-pilot rule and no more than three professionals. Photo: Rick Tomlinson/Cape 31 Class

The Cape 31 class’s center of gravity has now shifted firmly to the UK, although its handicapping performance has given other owners the courage to order boats in different parts of the world.

“The class is now very established in the Solent, to the point that we are attracting international teams here. We have an American team that flies for our local regattas, and a Dutch team too. But we will soon start traveling in class. Next year we are going to the Caribbean and we are looking to organize races in the Bay of Palma. There’s a fleet starting up in Australia, and the beauty of those boats is that they go in a container.

The aggressive hull shape maximizes shape stability in the breeze. Photo: Rick Tomlinson/Cape 31 Class

Cap 31 – owner friendly

Along with the boat’s high performance and handicap appeal, Swete and his partner, Dave Bartholomew, have worked hard to establish a strong class ethos that focuses on fun above all else. It is an owner-pilot class with a maximum of three professional sailors allowed in the crew, although Swete encourages teams to sail with less.

“We want to match on-water fun with off-water fun, and we’ve brought that back to yacht clubs.”

The clean ramp deck offers ease of movement of sails and sailors. Photo: Tor Tomlinson/Cap 31

To keep the fun going, avoid an arms race where teams might be tempted to modify their boats to – or beyond – the limits of the class rule. Swete says there’s a solid policy in place to keep this under control, and he’s not afraid to kick the wrong kind of owner out of the fleet if it threatens the overall fun and sportsmanship ecosystem. good and clean corinthians.

“We are investing to keep people online. We have a rules manager, Mike Richards, who is an IRC measurer. He’s been involved in everything from Swan 45s to Fast 40s, Farr 40s and Mumm 30s. We got him involved early on because he can sneak in where people want to take advantage of new class and rifts.

A 15 hp Yanmar diesel engine confirms the Cape 31’s “yacht” credentials (not a dayboat or dinghy). Photo: Tor Tomlinson/Cap 31

Swete acknowledges that launching a new class is in some ways the easy part. The biggest challenge could be maintaining longevity well beyond the honeymoon period the Cape 31 currently enjoys. “It’s about looking after the bottom third of the fleet and keeping them happy. We don’t really want teams all sailing with three pros. When you see team coach boats on the water, I think that’s a really bad sign. It’s not something we’ve banned, but it’s strongly discouraged.

Cap 31 Specifications

LOA: 9.56m / 31ft 3in
Beam: 3.10m / 10ft 2in
Draft: 2.45m / 8ft 0in
Shift: 1,770 kg / 3,902 lbs
Mainsail : 39m² / 420ft²
Foresail: 25m² / 269ft²
Gennakers: 116m² / 1,248ft²
CRI classification: 1.15


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