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The Kiwi 35 before it was modified
The Kiwi 35 before it was modified

Those Magnificent Men and Their Sailing Machines

Yacht designers have come up with some radical hulls over the years and the Kiwi 35 is about as radical as they get. These strange-looking light weight boats have a reputation for being difficult and even dangerous to sail. Fitted with very little ballast, they rely on the weight of the crew sitting on ‘wings’ bolted to the hull to keep the boat upright.

Most people would shy away from buying such a boat, but Ben Jelic is different. When Ben was looking to buy a boat he saw the Kiwi 35 a challenge.

“The dilemma was to buy a Melges 24 or Kiwi 35,” said Jelic. “The cost was similar but the challenge of having this extraordinary looking boat, with its history, was something I could not resist.”

The Kiwi 35 was one of six built by O. H. Rogers in Tampa, Florida in 1985. Then called Anne Spence, it first saw service in the BVI as a day-charter boat complete with a viewing port in the bottom of the hull. She was then bought by Barney Crook, managing director of BVI-based TMM Yacht Charters. He re-rigged the boat, changed the name to Wild Thing, and raced her, winning a few trophies along the way. Sold on, the boat was shipped to Europe and then, remarkably, sailed across the Atlantic to St. Maarten, a voyage that almost cost the owner his life.

Having acquired the boat and renamed her Wild Devil, Ben, and his life-partner Sabine, began racing her in St. Lucia and the southern Caribbean.

“It didn’t take long for me to understand that she was not suitable and competitive for local wind conditions and regattas,” Ben explained. “With the huge wings and the windage they produced, combine with drift and minimum stability, she was a real danger. I have seen crew flying from one wing to another during a tack or just fight for life with water up to the necks if they are late to move from one wing to another. There were situations when I raced with 12 crew! What a mess on deck.

“Here was a boat crying out for help, like it knew I was its last chance to race again,” said Ben. He added, “modifications needed to be made.”

A designer, boat builder and racer with thirty years’ experience, Ben Jelic was the right man for the job.

Modifications started with the keel where, on removing the fiberglass from the keel bulb, they found less than 250 kilos of lead. Ben designed a new bulb with 600 kilos of ballast and built it in his friend’s workshop in Martinique. He also changed the lifting keel for a fixed keel. New stringers and mini bulkheads were built inside to support the weight. At the same time several transversal and longitudinal stringers made of PVC pipe were carbon fibered into place forward of the mast. These were injected with foam to stiffen her up when punching through the waves.

When the wings were removed, they were found to weigh 200lb each, that weight was also factored in when designing the new keel bulb.

The mast was a weak point. Ben found a broken carbon spar from a Mumm 30 in the States and repaired it with a custom made carbon sleeve wrapped with UD carbon from the outside.

The repair was cured using vacuumed bags and halogen lamps. “It works fine,” said Ben.

New bulkheads were fitted to support the modified chain plates and rig configuration.

Ben then turned his attention to the shape of the bow. This he modified, giving it a forward rake (also known as negative angle). This keeps the waterline the same but controls the water flowing past this part of the boat and distributes a controlled flow on the sides of the hull.

“We designed this in a unique way, giving it a little bit more than a regular curve, making water flow to accelerate. When we checked it in practice, it worked!”

The changes greatly improved the boats rating bringing podium places well within reach. “We started achieving good results last year with a plan for next year to push full throttle and organize good crew for major regattas.”

The latest modification is transom hung, high aspect carbon rudder and this is under test at the moment.

Ben and Sabine also own a custom J120 that they have modified. Sabine has a PHD in physics and is very familiar with numerical simulation of water flow, subjects necessary for boat design. “I am never short of new ideas,” said Ben.

Currently, they are working on a radical new monohull project. “An idea,” said Ben, “that has never been seen before and will be revealed when the first 28ft prototype hits the water.” Drawings for the new boat are the result of four years’ work and a 1:6 scale model will be tested in the US soon.

Until then, look for Ben and Sabine and Wild Devil—a boat once described by a famous racing friend as ‘useless’— adding to their collection of sailing trophies.

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