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The Ultimate Boat in a Box

Classic Yacht Regattas are springing up all over the place. People are scouring the backwaters of Europe and North America looking for that rotting gem into which they will pour money to the point of bankruptcy (and beyond) until the yacht can sail proudly once again. Rebuilding, let alone campaigning, a classic yacht is enough to give the wealthiest sailor the shakes. But one man has come up with an idea that could see you mixing it up on the start line with the likes of Ranger and Velsheda: a classic boat in a box.

The concept behind the Universal 40 was described to me by the builder, Chris Bowman, owner of Malabar Boat Works, who shipped his boat in a box across the seas from Sri Lanka to Australia and finally St. Maarten this season.

Bowman knows how much it takes to sail a classic from regatta to regatta. The costs of a delivery crew alone are astronomical. Loading the yacht onto a yacht transporter is one alternative, but again costs are high and transporters often unload hundreds of miles from a regatta venue.

The answer: Design and build a classic yacht that would fit exactly into a forty-foot container, hull, keel, mast and all. Shipping a container is cheap and, if you don't launch at the port of destination, the container can be trucked to the regatta and the yacht launched there.

With the transport problem solved, what of the boat itself? Here we need to look at a classic yacht regatta. In Antigua, genuine classic and vintage boats abound, but the number of entries would be low indeed if the regatta hadn't created the Spirit of Tradition Class. This innovation, started in Antigua, and now accepted all over the world, allows the "new" classics – built along the lines of the old – a chance to sail alongside their sister ships.

One would think that limiting the beam of a classic yacht to the width of a container, in this case seven and a half feet, would make for some design difficulties, but Bowman knew better. "I thought about what boats in sailing history were long and narrow, and they were the types built in the early 1900s by Herreshoff and others. The meter boats," says Bowman. "I looked around to find the one closest to the parameters that I wanted. Back then the Universal Rule was in use. You've heard of the J class, well there was also the M Class, the P Class and others. The closest that came to what I wanted was the R Class."

With the R Class in mind, Bowman drew the lines of the Universal 40, and built the first boat TARU in his yard in Pelana, Sri Lanka. "The hull is strip-planked cedar on laminated ring frames, glassed with 840g Quadraxial cloth inside and out," notes Bowman. Like all good classics, the deck and cabin side are teak, and there is plenty of varnish. In order to fit the mast into a shipping container, the U40 carries a gaff rig.

Traditional she may be, but the U40 holds a big surprise. Her underwater profile owes more to the present than the past and her bulb keel and spade rudder wouldn't look out of place on an Open 60. How this yacht will be received by classic regatta aficionados remains to be seen and I'm sure friendly arguments over ratings lie ahead.

The Classic Boat in a Box is a terrific idea that works and I share Bowman's enthusiasm. "I shipped this boat to Australia for a year and then I put it in a container and shipped it to St. Maarten," he says. "This boat is easy to put together, you could send it to Europe; you can send it anywhere."

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