April 2016. Since last night, Rocquette, a 43 foot sloop, is on the Hamble River at the visitors pontoon of the Royal Southern Yacht Club. She arrived by the Needles and the Solent in direct route from Douarnenez, in Brittany, a fishing port well known to British sailors for its Maritime Festival and Port-museum.
However, the moment is far from being a mere call.
In fact, when the maritime myth exists, it is always tempting to try to give it more reality. This creates pretty adventures. That’s – is not it ? – one of the sailor’s vocations !
Rocquette, a classic racing yacht, is perfect for this kind of adventure. On the Hamble, Rocquette, after more than forty years of navigation, comes to pay a visit to the one who created her !
She was acquired by Yves Tanguy in 2010. The yacht prides itself in having had as a parent and owner Peter Nicholson himself. Rocquette was going to be designed in 1963 in response to the daring challenge that Olin Stephens had created building Clarion of Wight.
The affair is of course slighty more complex and saw a great deal of animated discussion. This went on for some time from 1963. These discussion produced ideas that would greatly affect future yacht design. Rocquette is one of the more iconic of these boats.
The Admiral’s Cup, born in 1957 from a challenge between Great Britain and the USA. It takes place every two years and consists of four races. Each nations is represented by three boats. The British team won the first two editions but the arrival of other nations and especially the loss of the cup in 1961 for the benefit of the Americans ignited the small world of ocean racing based in Cowes.
At the same time, the practice of cruising and regatta sailing became more popular, and emerging television contributes to its media visibility. As everyone knows, the best of yachting competes every year in regattas in the Solent around the Isle of Wight but also on offshore courses like the Fastnet Race, born in 1925, and other competitions of the RORC as Cowes-Dinard.
After the defeat of 1961, the 1963 edition saw things back in order, of course, from a British point of view ! The British team of three boats, from different architects, won the event: Clarion of Wight (Olin Stephens), Outlaw (John Illingworth & Angus Primrose) and Noryema III (Peter Nicholson).
However, Clarion, winning the most prestigious event, the Fastnet Race, and with a considerable points lead over the other two, strongly reminds the British that if the boat and its owners are English, the architect is American!
So begins the real story of Rocquette …
At that time, Peter Nicholson took over the Camper & Nicholsons shipyard at Gosport, near Portsmouth in the Solent. Talented architect, he has already designed his first GRP hull (polyester) four years before in the form of a Nicholson 36. According to Chichester who built his Gipsy Moth 4 at about the same time, he described Nicholson as being one of the best helmsmen in the world.
The all-wood construction applied to the racing yachts was then at its peak and Peter Nicholson put all of his talent towards the creation of Rocquette. Mainly because he was not prepared to accept the unbearable challenge from the American Stephens and his Clarion of Wight.
The architectural debate of the years 63 and 64 revolved mainly around the lightness of the boats.
The RORC rule favored heavy boats (scantling allowance) and Lloyd’s standards set minimum scantling sizes. However Outlaw, boat of the year in 1963, was probably the lightest of her category. The pitfall to avoid in this process is of course to build fragile boats, unsafe and unsuitable for cruising and racing. Aluminum and composite were also already competing with the best performing timber species. The Southampton region was important for both yacht and aircraft construction. The forums of the Yachting World magazine give voice to the architects:
«Within limits, I can see nothing wrong in stripping out an ocean racer to make her go faster !»
Peter Nicholson, Yachting World , oct 64.
«The RORC rule… allows us to compete … with the new materials that are coming in.»
Angus Primrose, Yachting World , oct 64.
Rocquette was designed and built during the winter 63/64 and launched in early June. The stated objective is clearly to beat Clarion of Wight and it is became a personal matter for Peter Nicholson since he will be her owner and skipper during the year 64.
Updated : 2018-02-07