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Wooden Boat Magazine Reviews The Saga of the International One Design

posted Apr 14, 2013, 7:56 AM by Danielle Lawson   [ updated Apr 19, 2013, 10:13 AM ]
The Saga of the International One-Design: A Celebration of 75 Years, by Alessandro Vitelli, Herbert Motley, Jr., and Dana Jinkins. Published jointly by the IOD World Class Association and Concepts Publishing, P.O. Box 1066, Watisfield, VT 05673; 208 pp., illus., index. $65 plus shipping.
Reviewed by Matthew P. Murphy This review originally appeared in WoodenBoat magazine No. 231 (March/April 2013)

The authors and editors of the history of the International One-Design class took up a daunting task in telling the story of this legendary design.  It’s a rich story, spanning eight decades, six countries, and two continents; it’s populated by some of the most luminous competitive sailors of the last century. The class’s conception and 75 years of success are driven by a globe-girdling social and economic history, and it includes experiments (and failures) in construction technology, design, and sailmaking. Weaving all of this into 208 generously illustrated pages written by numerous contributors is an orchestration of redaction and book design. With so many elements in play, the potential for both lost and repeated notes from that orchestra is great.

At the center of the tale is one of the most thoughtfully conceived, and most enduring, one-design-class sailboats. The first IOD appeared on Long Island Sound in 1936—in winter—when during Christmas week Cornelius “Corny” Shields, Sr. sailed his AILEEN, recently shipped with three sisters from Norway, from City Island to the Larchmont Yacht Club. Shields had spearheaded the creation of the design upon realizing that the then-in-vogue Sound Interclub class—a Charles Mower–designed, Nevins-built 28-footer—was reaching its middle years after a decade of racing. The Sound Interclubs had gathered a great and competitive group of sailors, and Shields anticipated a waning of interest in the fleet, and a dissolving of the group, with the aging of the boats. A fresh design would halt this demise, the logic went.  It was also clear that the spiraling cost of international competition was not sustainable in the 1930s economy.

Racing among sailors from different countries was then held in open-class boats—particularly Six- and Eight-Meters and the 22- and 30-Square-Meter classes.  In open-class racing, boats are developed within a set of parameters—a rule. Because design innovation plays a role in boat speed, the results on the racecourse are not a pure matter of sailing skill. To be competitive, a sailor must build to a fresh design every few years, and that was a tough sell in the financially challenged world of the 1930s. Plus, Shields was a firm believer in the principle that the most meaningful measure of a racing sailor’s skill was a contest sailed among identical boats, or so-called “one-designs.”  

A visit to Bermuda and a sail aboard the new Bjarne Aas–designed and –built Six-Meter SAGA led Shields to request a proposal from the Norwegian. Aas responded with a drawing, to be tweaked by Shields, which would become the IOD. The Long Island initiative was infectious: Fleets were established in Bermuda, Marblehead, San Francisco, Maine, and Norway. The most recent one, formed in 2005, is in Chester, Nova Scotia, and it includes AILEEN—the first IOD—as well as ENIGMA—the latest in wood.  Aas’s business was in dire financial straits at the time of the IOD commission; the IOD not only saved the shop, but it caused it to flourish for years. With the new design came a move from Oslo to Frederikstad, where Aas set up an assembly line to build the new identical boats. The shop cranked out an impressive average of 35 IODs per year from 1936-39—or one every ten days.

I’d have like to known more about the competition and politics surrounding the commission of the new design. In his autobiography All This and Sailing, Too (Mystic Seaport, 1999), Olin Stephens recalled the 34' Sparkman & Stephens–designed GIMCRACK, which his firm built on speculation in collaboration with Nevins.  With GIMCRACK, writes Stephens, S & S lost to Bjarne Aas its bid to design the new Long Island Sound onedesign.  Were there measures beyond hard dollars that favored the Norwegians over such local luminaries as S & S and Nevins? How did GIMCRACK and the IOD compare? Our only glimpse of the final IOD sail plan is in a one-sixth-page reproduction of insufficient file size; it’s rendered in jagged lines and its transom is lopped off by the scanner. I know well the challenges of sourcing archival material in digital form, and so I feel a measure of empathy with the book’s creators; but let it be said that this iconic drawing deserves a full page and clean reproduction. (To be fair: a stunning fullpage Rosenfeld image on the following page, of three hard-charging IODs, mitigates the offense.)

The authors (Alessandro Vitelli, Herbert Motely, Jr., and Dana Jinkins) spare no accolades for the IOD, but not everyone shared their enthusiasm: We learn in the book that Bermudian sailor Eldon Trimmingham, SAGA’s owner, reportedly sailed an IOD only once. He did not like the boat, and never sailed one again. So strong an opinion from such an informed critic begs for exploration and interpretation.

The Saga of the International One-Design opens with a “chronological history” of the class. It begins with the Shields initiative, the construction of the initial fleet, a thumbnail profile of Aas, a walk through the class’s early years, and a discussion of the postwar years of IOD sailing.  Essays follow on the evolution of the class, and a discussion of the boats today. Following this are short profiles of each of the IOD fleets, and then discussions of construction, rig modification, and repair. The fleet profiles are contributed either in whole or in part by outside authors, with little purging of redundant information from chapter to chapter. Thus we learn on several occasions, for example, that Herman “Swede” Whiton was the first World Champion. 

Certain aspects of the rig discussion are illuminating.  One in particular was Marblehead sailor Jon Wales’s jumper-shroud arrangement that could be adjusted from deck level. Jumpers are typically preset by turnbuckles before the mast is stepped; they’re fixed for the season, save for rough adjustment from a bosun’s chair, prerace. The modified jumpers allowed unlimited adjustment during the race, for critical fine-tuning of the mainsail draft.

The peccadillo that led to the adoption of aluminum masts by the Long Island Sound fleet is spicy. The class president, Bill John, demonstrated an aluminum mast in a season’s racing, agreeing to not be scored in case the spar had a clear and overwhelming advantage. He finished in the middle of the pack that season, and aluminum was duly adopted by the rest of the fleet—who later learned that John had been “sandbagging his performance”; aluminum was, indeed, much faster.

To a student of boat structure, there are some challenging construction details. I’d like to know more, for example, of the mechanics of Bjarne Aas’s assembly line, rather than being told in a photo caption that it’s self-evident in the image. And I found this passage particularly difficult: “As originally built, all the IODs were planked with full-length boards of Oregon pine over oak frames.  The planks were cut, shaped and spiled over jigs, while the same set of molds was used to form and install the frames. The system guaranteed a series of truly one-design hulls; so one-design, in fact, that all the keels were slightly curved to the left! This was due to the windows along one side of the shop, which caused the oak to warp.”  This construction system, as briefly described, doesn’t seem to differ from standard carvel construction. And if the boats were indeed asymmetrical, laying blame on the shop windows seems specious to me, for several reasons: First, the Aas-built IODs were turned out on average of one boat every 10 days, so they didn’t languish for long in front of those windows. Second, in most of the boatshops I’ve visited, natural light is de rigueur. Third, a competent crew such as Aas’s should notice, especially over the
course of several boats, that a keel is off its marks. Also—presumably some or many of these boats were built over the Norwegian winter, whose days are lit for only a handful of hours. If the keels were consistently bent, wouldn't the likely culprit be a tooling error?

The IOD is one of the great classic one-design survival stories. Cornelius Shields and his colleagues put considerable thought into it, laying the groundwork for a noble structure. We can gain
more insight into that history and the culture that gave rise to it in Shields’s book, Cornelius Shields on Sailing Prentice-Hall, 1964). It’s out of print, but readily available
online from antiquarian booksellers. There’s more IOD foundation material in the story of the Sound Interclubs, the most complete profile on which is William W. Swan’s essay in Edwin Schoettle’s classic compendium Sailing Craft (MacMillan, 1945). The IOD’s continued survival is also partially due to the thoughtful adoption of fiberglass: Careful attention was paid to overall weight and its distribution, so that ’glass boats could compete on an equal footing with wooden ones.

The book includes a detailed, annotated 16-page Register of IODs; the research required to compile this list deserves special mention. There are also albums of World Championship and Gold Cup photographs. The Gold Cup Album is a showcase of exciting action images of logo-emblazoned, Bermuda-based fiberglass IODs match-racing in a contemporary running of an event first sailed in 1907; it’s a stirring reminder of what the boat was, and what it has become.

Matthew P. Murphy is editor of WoodenBoat.