Design number: 19 Year: 1978
Roller Coaster was something of a milestone project. Gordon Hoyle, who had originally purchased a Conquest 23, was behind what became the first Humphreys design to make an international mark. He commissioned a yard in the West Country to produce the mould tools for the Mistral 31, and when these ran late the time available to build Roller Coaster for the 1979 Half Ton worlds was compressed dramatically. In fact the bare mouldings were shipped to Lymington so that Humphreys could co-ordinate the completion, and get his hands dirty as well.
It was a skin-of-the-teeth job and Roller Coaster first set her sails at 3 am on the morning of the first race of the British Half Ton trials – the famous Round-the-Island race. It was an early start that year, around 6 am, and the weary crew only just made the Cowes line in time. It was a very light start to the day and the engine installation had been canned as part of the crisis fit-out plan (the sail area had to be reduced accordingly for the boat to rate).
It was not until half way round the course – off St.Catherine’s Point – that Roller Coaster came on the wind for the first time, and it was a bizzare sensation later to be crossing the finish line with a huge lead on the next Half Tonner, with half the crew unable to keep their eyes open. It had been a hard few days but Roller Coaster proved that she had great promise.
She went on to win the British trials fairly comfortably, and in the Half Ton Cup in Scheveningen, Holland she came extremely close to winning the event. Only 1.5 points separated the Davidson-designed Waverider from Roller Coaster, which amounted to just one place in the final offshore race. Had Roller Coaster finished 90 seconds earlier she would have won the Worlds.
This account was found in Roller Coaster’s file:
After a hectic early season in which the Mistral 31 Roller Coaster was hastily put together for an attempt at the Half Ton Cup, she finished second overall in the world championship, beaten by only 1.5 points by last year’s winner, Waverider, sailed by the same crew that had sailed her in Poole. In order to have taken the trophy Roller Coaster would have had to finish fourth in the final, long offshore race, but as it transpired she was beaten into fifth spot by the French yacht Jaunac II. The Berret design revelled in the blustery fetch into the finish and crossed the line only 90 seconds ahead of Roller Coaster. It must have been the smallest margin by which a level rating world championship has ever been won and lost.
Owned by Gordon and John Hoyle, Roller Coaster’s sails went up for the first time only two and a half hours before the first race of the British selection trials – the Island Sailing Club’s famous Round the Island Race. This was 0330 on the day of the race after an all-night working session, and by the time the boat had two-sail reached up to Cowes on the northerly wind there was no time before the start to bring her on the wind or to try a spinnaker. In fact the first time in her life that she came on the wind was off St.Catherine’s Point, half way round the course! Nevertheless, she went on to beat the second Half Tonner – the Peterson designed Green Dragon – by fifty minutes on elapsed time, gaining hugely as the breeze shut down behind her.
Following this race three inshore races were sailed and the RORC Morgan Cup race formed a conclusion to the trials. With good, consistent results in all these races (1,2,4,1,2) Roller Coaster won the selection trials and took the Chloride Silver Sails Trophy for the best boat in the combined Half Ton and Three Quarter Ton fleets.
Throughout the trials Roller Coaster was still substantially incomplete – among other things she had no halyard cleats and the rudder had not been faired – so for the intervening period she was out of the water and unable to sail. In fact her next sail was her delivery up to Scheveningen, and yet in the world championship she again turned in a very consistent series, this time in generally very much heavier airs than those of the British trials. Of the 38 competitors – representing designers Peterson, Holland, Davidson, Farr, Jones, Dubois, Berret, Joubert, van de Stadt, Vallicelli and Judel/Vrolijk among others – Roller Coaster was the only boat to count every race in single figures.
This feat is due in no small part to the excellent crew. Eric Duchemin steered most of the time and was aided and abetted by Star helmsman David Howlett, Hood sailmaker Harvey Bagnall, foredeck hand Simon Richards and navigator Jim Soutar. It was a talented and happy crew, unflustered by the calibre of the opposition and generally relaxed at all times.
All were agreed that Roller Coaster is a very easy boat to sail, consistently fast on all points and in all conditions. Up to now no evident weak spots have been found so the goal of producing a strong all-rounder – the traditional aim in yacht design – has been met. By the end of the Half Ton Cup series she had still only sailed ten races so with more tuning time it is possible that even more speed could be found.
Yet the Mistral 31 seems equally happy in a cruising role with a family crew. Her easy-going and forgiving nature is very reassuring and although more speed will be found by hanging out legs over the weather deck the design is quite happy when overpressed with the crew sitting in the cockpit, as we discovered when beating into 30 knots on the way back to Lymington after the finish of the Morgan Cup race.
Two or three boats were built from Roller Coaster’s moulds as the Mistral 31 class. One of these was Miss Laureen, the first boat of a very youthful Alain Gautier, subsequently to become one of France’s sailing superstars with his win in the Vendée Globe Race in the early Nineties. Gautier campaigned Miss Laureen in several Figaro singlehanded races, and was later to work with Rob Humphreys on the design of the Open 60 Kingfisher.
After a while Gordon Hoyle leased the Roller Coaster moulds to Trapper Yachts of Poole and the boat became the Trapper 31, the best known being Zephyros which was built for Bob Cranmer-Brown, previously the owner of a Silver Jubilee Half Tonner. Zephyros had a pretty successful couple of seasons, but we do not have her race results recorded.