In any race it is the winner that gets all the plaudits while the runner up is consigned to history.
So it was on the 1931 Transatlantic Race when 8 yachts started from Newport en route to the finish line at Plymouth. The race was won by the 48’ Sparkman and Stephens yawl Dorade but the runner up was the 50’ Philip Rhodes design, Skal, which in so many ways is a more interesting yacht.
To start with she is a gaff cutter which even in 1931 was already an old fashioned rig. However it is a more powerful off-wind rig therefore considered to be better suited to this passage.
Skal and Dorade were more or less level pegging and indeed by 7 days off the finish line Skal had pulled ahead. She then took a more northerly route while Dorade on a southerly route found better winds and finished ahead.
While Dorade is regarded now as having the relatively narrow beam of the classics of an earlier period and indeed proved to be a fast yacht – though her rolling on the Transatlantic Race due to her narrow beam and the huge lump of lead on the bottom must have been disconcerting and uncomfortable – Skal has the extra beam associated with many American yachts and her more cut-away fore foot reduces her wetted surfaces, both features where the US was already ahead of European designers.
After the race Skal remained in UK. Her early days here are unknown but in 1948 she was bought on the Isle of Wight by Naval Officer, Cmdr George Heppel and for the next 40 years she sailed as a family yacht. Her rig was changed to the more family friendly bermudian rig but after Cmdr Heppel’s death she languished at the family home in Cornwall until sold by Wooden Ships in 2004.
In new French ownership she sailed to Brittany for a much needed refit. In the event the refit turned into more of a rebuild making her into a stunning yacht and a true classic example of the period of US yacht.
The original interior was very basic, built as she was primarily for racing but she now sports a newly designed lay-out, all in exceptionally fine joinery by Hubert Stagnol, boat builder in Benodet who was responsible for the majority of the refit work. Her wide beam carried well aft has allowed a totally separate, full head-room cabin either side of the companionway in addition to the forward cabin. The saloon has a wonderful feel to it with a very practical galley in the after stbd corner. Given modern navigation aids when it is rare to require a full size paper chart spread out, the chart desk in the after port corner has been kept quite small but with it’s unique seat is a private space for a navigator to concentrate.
While she still has all her original bronze fittings, the owner has not set out to build a museum piece so has had no hesitation in incorporating the modern equipment on deck and in the rig which no doubt Philip Rhodes would have used had they been available In 1929.
And of course the accommodation has all the services one would expect in a modern comfortable cruising yacht – freezer, cabin heating, well designed lighting, comfortable berths etc.
In 2013 he took her to the Med where she gave him some really exciting, competitive sailing on the classic circuit. However age has it’s penalties and it is now time to let a younger owner take over.
One can only imagine the level of expenditure required to achieve this sort of style and quality but more important for this owner is a caring and appreciative new owner who recognises what he has put into this yacht. As of time of writing, the French Navy is very keen to have her as a sail training yacht, a future which would satisfy the owner but there are still a few weeks left for a private buyer to come in with a proposition.
We have known this yacht since Cmdr Heppel’s day and have been aboard a couple of times recently to confirm the quality and condition for ourselves so we can be sure to give a full up to date report on what is surely one of the most fascinating classic yachts of her size.