The 5.5m Jean Genie is the first British boat to win the prestigious Scandinavian Gold Cup, also winning the 5.5m World Championship this year.
Cowes-based businessman Peter Morton, widely known as Morty, is a serial winner who has enjoyed a long career on the podium in everything from the Admiral’s Cup to the Half Ton Cup , through the Quarter Tonners and the Fast 40 fleet. However, with much of the world restricted by Covid restrictions, Morton was busy setting up a complex two-boat campaign to take on another highly competitive class.
“I’ve always thought the 5.5s are fantastic, stylish boats,” he told me, “but it wasn’t until the Worlds came to Cowes in 2018 that I took a closer look. .” He liked what he saw and when a 2003 boat came on the market during the championship, Morton made a deal to buy it.
“I thought it would be a nice little taster,” he says. “We started by looking at some of the systems and thought we could improve them. So we made some modifications over the winter, then took her to Lake Garda in the spring of 2019 and won the Alpen Cup, sailing with Ben Cornish and Andrew ‘Dog’ Palfrey.
Then came the 2019 Worlds in which they finished 5th, followed by a 4th place at the Worlds in Sydney in January 2020, but this time just three points behind the boat ranked 2nd overall. It was time to look for a new boat.
The 5.5 meter class originated in 1949, based on the meter rule, and allows for unrestricted development and a wide range of design interpretations, as long as each boat fits the 5.5 meter formula (a calculation length, displacement and sail area of the boat). Today the class races in three divisions: Classic, Evolution and Modern, the latter including all boats from 1994.
Since 2000, almost all new 5.5 meters have been built by Wilke in Switzerland, to designs by Sebastian Schmidt. Morton was tempted to do the same, but felt that if a 16-year-old boat was still competitive there might be room for more development in the class.
“So I decided to look for alternatives,” he recalls. “When I got home at the start of Covid, I was talking to a few local yards, who were all very quiet, so I decided to build a new boat.”
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Designer David Hollom had already made a presentation for existing owners, with Velocity Predictor Polars (VPP) looking promising. So Morton spoke to Palfrey and Sydney-based naval architect Steve Quigley of One2three. Quigley designs fast ferries, including Red Jet cross-Channel ferries for Wight Shipyard, the Cowes-based company of which Morton is CEO, and is also part of the famous 30m Maxi team wild oats, race on board and responsible for much of the optimization. He performed a CFD analysis on four different 5.5 meter hull shapes from Hollom against scans of the lines from Morton’s original boat.
America’s Cup legend Tom Schnackenberg, with whom Morton first sailed almost 50 years ago, later captained the VPPs. These showed that all of the Hollom shapes would be faster than the existing boat and one was definitely a click better than the others above eight knots of breeze.
The seeds for the two-boat program were beginning to sprout, with Quigley also designing a 5.5m. Acquiring a 2012 boat that had never performed well provided a donor deck, keel and rudder for the Quigley boat. It was built by David Heritage in Cowes, from western red cedar planks to keep costs down, and became Girls in the cinema, GBR41. Meanwhile, another Cowes yard, Gavin Tappenden’s Composite Craft, received the order to build the Hollom boat, which became the Jean GenieGBR42.
GBR41 is the more conventional of the two, partly due to the need to use an existing keel and rudder. But GBR42 is very different, with almost 20% more righting moment thanks to a big keel with all the lead in the bottom. During the tuning process, they also discovered that it didn’t need its trim tab – it could be kept locked in the center position – which simplified navigation and greatly reduced the risk of error.
The Jean Genie is also an interesting design in other respects: the hull is longer than typical for a 5.5, but it has less sail area and is lighter. The mainsail and spinnakers are smaller than usual, but the jib, which unlike most boats in the fleet is not self-tacking, is slightly larger than the established class standard.
The build of GBR41 was finished first, so the team took it to Garda in October 2021, where, “To be honest, we won pretty easily,” Morton says. “Winning this regatta also gave us the best tool we could have,” adds Palfrey, “a trial horse that we knew was fast.”
Following the launch of GBR42, they carried out extensive two-boat adjustments from Cowes, assisted by a group of top sailors including Graham Bailey, Andy Beadsworth, Laurie Smith and Jochem Visser. “The VPPs were incredibly accurate,” says Morton, “42 definitely having legs when it was breezy, while 41 probably had the edge when it was lighter. Morton couldn’t make it to Garda for this year’s Alpen Cup, so Palfrey sailed with Ruaridh Scott and Etchells sailor James Howells, where they again won convincingly.
The two-boat tuning program last winter was “massively beneficial”, according to Morton. This included multiple sessions, each lasting three or four days, just going upwind and downwind for four or five hours a day. In addition to capturing performance data, this has also improved boat reliability. Although this year’s World Championships are a generally windy event, there were no breakages. “It’s absolutely a benefit of time on the water,” says Morton.
Palfrey says the data captured during the tuning process was “fairly simplistic” compared to an RC44 or TP52 campaign and included boat speed, rudder angle, trim tab angle and forestay load. This was analyzed after each day afloat using Njord Analytics.
At this point, the team also wanted to develop the carbon rigs, which were all complex setups with backstays, stays, etc. Heol Composites in Brittany imagined two mast sections. The first was a fairly conventional section, while the other, which was ordered later, has a subtle wing mast shape with a long chord.
When the rigs arrived at Cowes, the first task was to bench test them. “We were alarmed by the stiffness of the former compared to the masts we were sailing with,” says Palfrey. This rigidity made it possible to lower the skids and shrouds, while obtaining the same forestay loads, which considerably simplified the handling of the boat. The second rig proved to be particularly good at this, with extra backstay tension going straight into the forestay, instead of bending the mast. Palfrey estimates that the advantage of eliminating runners is on the order of several boat lengths in each race.
The program has benefited from the luxury of time, thanks to many events canceled due to Covid, as well as an exceptional collection of talent. By the time the two crews headed to the world championships – Peter’s wife Louise Morton sailed GBR41 with Annie Lush and Hannah Diamond – the technical WhatsApp group had grown to over 30 people, all at the top of their game.
Unfortunately, Morton couldn’t make it to this year’s Worlds, so he sent the boat out with British Olympic sailor Elliot Hanson at the helm, with Palfrey and pro sailor Sam Haines as crew.
The team knew GBR42 was fast and confident in their radical new rig, but the results speak for themselves. GBR42 won the Scandinavian Gold Cup, becoming the first British boat in its 103-year history to win the trophy and then the Worlds, earning the rare distinction of winning all three high-class events in the same season. “They just got faster and faster,” Morton says. “In the last race they couldn’t even read the sail numbers on the boats behind – they had a huge lead.”
5.5 Meter Specifications
LOA (typical): 9.5m / 31ft 0in
Beam (minimum): 1.92m / 6ft 4in
Draft (maximum): 1.35m / 4ft 5in
Hull weight (minimum): 1,700 kg / 3,700 lbs
Hull weight (maximum): 2,000 kg / 4,400 lbs
Upwind sail area (minimum): 26m2 / 285ft2
Upwind sail area (maximum): 29m2 / 312ft2
Spinnaker area (typical): 50m2 / 538ft2
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