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Festival of Sails 2014 - Sporties on the edge

by Lisa Ratcliff on 25 Jan 2014
Mark Buchbach’s Raptor - Festival of Sail 2014 Teri Dodds/ Festival of Sails © http://www.festivalofsails.com.au/
The Festival of Sails 2014 is currently underway in Geelong, Australia. What do you get when you cross a yacht with a dinghy? It’s not a joke but rather the definition of a sports boat offered by one of the enthusiasts competing in the eclectic division at the Festival of Sails.

The parameters for a sports boat is a maximum length of 8.5m and width of 3.5m. Other than that it’s pretty much an open book when it comes to design, giving the inventors a chance to develop and implement their ideas.

For a fraction of the cost of campaigning a big boat with large crew numbers, sports boat sailing offers ripping fun say devotees.

Sports boats started emerging among the trailerable fleet in the 1980s and became more specific in the 1990s when cabin tops and fitted out interiors disappeared. In 1994 the Melges hit the market, an out-an-out racing machine that found a niche.


Now there is a variety of sports boats available; Thompsons, Vipers, Shaws, Stealths, Elliotts, J70s. Something to suit all ages, weights and wallets. Pushing the boundaries of the class is Mark Buchbach from Queensland. His full carbon part Nomex Stealth 850 called Raptor fully rigged and with the outboard ridiculously weighs less than 500kg.


With two days remaining of the Festival of Sails Maui Jim Sports Boat division series, Raptor is leading on SMS corrected time by one point from veteran Noel Leigh-Smith and Viper. 'We had a 7m Stealth and struggled to be in front,' said Buchbach. 'To professionally build an 8.5m version would have cost hundreds and thousands of dollars so I decided to build it at home with mates who are boat builders. 'My garage wasn’t big enough so we knocked out the back wall and bolted a shed to the house. Then I had a 9m shed to work in.'

Buchbach is a livewire. He happily tells of the time they set the Stealth’s floor panel on fire heating the garage to 125 degrees.

'When we were making the flat panels we got a bit carried away. I left the room for a few minutes and when I came back down the shed was ablaze. We were picking up bits of burning carbon and throwing them into the backyard.'
Then there was the experience of the floor of the house contorting as the boat cooked underneath. 'Because of the resin we were using we had to post heat it, which meant sealing and heating the garage up to 65 degrees using heaters. The whole floor of the house was moving.'

Upwind Raptor’s sail area is 45 square metres upwind and downwind it’s less than 90. Because it’s so powerful the Stealth doesn’t need much sail. And they rate well, which wasn’t intentional given it was all about being the leader.
Raptor’s optimum is five-six knots of wind and flat water. There’s loads of horsepower in the low range says the owner, but it makes turning the corners tricky.

'At low speed at the corners we are a bit sketchy,' admits Buchbach. 'We are tacking with more crew weight than the boat weighs which means moving a huge mass from side to side. We don’t really have a bulb so our righting moment comes from our crew weight.'

Raptor, named after a Stealth aeroplane of the same name, was launched in June 2012 following a 20 month build.
Buchbach took the Brendan Egan hull design and tweaked the boat to exactly what he wanted. He was working with the sailmakers at North Sails on the deck layout a year prior to the boat hitting the water.

The first Stealth 850 has won trophies at the QLD states, Airlie Beach Race Week and Mooloolaba winter nationals.
For the Festival of Sails Buchbach has gathered a top six-man crew including well known Etchells sailor Mark Bradford and other big boat sailors from Peter Harburg’s Queensland 70-footer Black Jack.

'I’m lucky all my mates are good sailors. You can’t just invite people from the bar to go sailing on this boat,' adds Buchbach, who since the boat build has started working in industrial composites.

He’s looking after traveller and running the boat and Bradford is driving. 'I like talking a lot so it’s easier for me not to drive,' Buchbach says, smiling.


Darren Spence is sailing with Cam Rae’s Geelong based Shaw 650 Monkey Business and is former president and now digital director of the Australian Sports Boat Association. He also owns a share in Melges – Asia Kaito, the best placed Melges 24 at the Australian Open Nationals, also on at Geelong, with Olympic sailor Nathan Wilmot at the helm.

Spence says ‘sporties’ are a mixture of guys like Buchbach who build a radical boat right on the edge, then there’s guys buying production Vipers and going for a sail while the J70s tend to draw the more mature boat owner.

From a sailor’s point of view, sports boats are a bit of everything but the easiest explanation is a cross between a dinghy and a yacht says Spence. 'The class is built on the philosophy of going fast for minimal dollars; we can buy a boat for $18-20 grand and go out for a blast.

'There used to be a yobbo element amongst the sporties, but now the boat builders and sail makers are paying attention and spending time with the fleet. It’s developing into a group who still go to the bar at night but we have decent sailors, and owners are mobile and prepared to travel the events we are creating.'

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