Many predicted the demise of the Royal Windermere 17 restricted class through the 1970′s as race turnouts dwindled, and mass-produced glassfibre boatbuilding boomed. Indeed the National Trust conserved a couple of yachts in sailing order as an important Lakeland icon, fearful that the heritage would be lost. The yachts could be hired from Fell Foot Park by the half day.
Then in 1981 David McCann asked Ian Howlett to design a new 17 for Richard Pierce to build. Freedom, no 44 won her first race, and absolutely dominated the fleet in her first season. Not only was her hull form a significant development in the class, her construction revolutionised the structural integrity (and maintenance needs) of wooden racing yachts, and revitalized the class.
Freedom’s launch heralded an unprecedented decade of excitement, growth, and development. A flurry of yachts were brought out of retirement and restored, some half a century old, and just a year after Freedom’s launch Brian Ellis ordered Falcon, no. 45 during the excitement of the 1983 America’s Cup. The class hastily (and sadly… rp) ruled against winged keels when it was rumoured that the new yacht would sport this feature!
Throughout the class history America’s Cup designers have been called to draw Windermere 17′s. Alfred Milne, David Boyd, Arthur Robb, and Olin Stevens are all represented, and until the late 1960′s Windermere 17′s hull forms resembled 12m yachts of the day. But at this point RWYC sadly ruled against the newly emerging bustle. This feature would have reduced the building cost and maintained the handling character of older yachts.
Un-noticed by most, the reason for Freedom and Falcon’s superiority was largely down to a reduction of wetted area, achieved by moving the rudder post forward and thus shortening the keel. While significantly reducing skin resistance, this had the unfortunate consequence of increasing the likelihood of stalling the rudder with attendant loss of control. Ian’s later designs incorporated a skeg behind the rudder which helped alleviate the unfortunate characteristic, and Freedom and Falcon were modified in due course.
The 1984 season opened with the launching of Falcon, sadly disqualified from her first race for a pre-start port & starboard incident involving a boat from another class that unsportingly strayed into the the starting area and forced its right of way. But thereafter Freedom’s absolute superiority was challenged and the remainder of the season was hard fought between the two new yachts. The photo shows a typical finish at the Henholm line after several hours of close fought racing!