Design number: 73 Year: 1988
It’s over thirty years now since the Ultra 30 story began. Rob had been commissioned to design Flyer, an Annapolis-built competitor in the exciting American Ultimate Yacht Race circuit, which had three or four good years before it started petering out. The boats were designed to a restricted class rule and the circuit was entirely professional, with prize money awarded. Over the life of the event Flyer, skippered by Mike Hobson, was the biggest prize-money earner, so it was a good result for the HYD office.
At about the same time in the UK we were all coming out of the back of the Deed of Gift America’s Cup challenge event between Dennis Conner’s catamaran and Sir Michael Fay’s leviathan, with the UK’s frustrated role in this manifesting itself in Blue Arrow, a foil-stabilised monohull that was intended to be able to compete with the cat but, technically, be a monohull. It’s a long story for another day, and despite Peter de Savary’s best efforts at getting Fay to allow us to race against him for the right to challenge Conner, the New Zealand team would not ultimately take us on.
That left a lot of people - the top end of UK’s sailing talent really - looking forward to a pretty quiet time. Rob and Derek Clark, Design Coordinator for the Blue Arrow Challenge, spent a lot of time discussing this and felt what was needed was a version of the Ultimate Yacht Race for the UK. But the general feeling was that the open aspect of the Ultimate Yacht Race wouldn’t work in the UK as well as a one-design would, with a strong element of cost control. The Ultra was based on our Flyer design, but whereas Flyer was of fairly exotic carbon construction, the Ultra 30 was designed to be of much lower cost in order to widen the point of entry. The laminate design was by Giovanni Belgrano, with the brief being to make sure that these could be crash and burn boats without much potential for downtime. We felt this was what professional sailing, and accompanying television, needed.
How to get a new concept off the ground is always challenging. What Derek and Rob did was to host an evening for potentially interested parties in a meeting room of a Brockenhurst hotel, and they had the great and good of British sailing expertise within the four walls, with lots of enthusiastic discussion. However, we were all concerned that it shouldn’t end up just being a talking shop and finally it was a case of trying to flush out those who might make it happen. Silence, for quite a while, until John Caulcutt showed huge leadership by popping his hand up first with words to the effect of, ‘Sod it, I’ll have one’. It wasn’t long before we had about six hands in the air, with Peter Newlands and Ossie Stewart following John. It was a rare moment when one, fairly spontaneous, three-hour meeting nurtured a whole decade of the most exciting televisual sailing.
With momentum assured, Ian Ridge was tasked to press on with the tooling, funded by Derek and Rob, and a full calendar of events followed the next season.