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The Lipton Challenge – Questions and Answers

May 2017

The Lipton Challenge – Questions and Answers

The Lipton Trustees have recently been asked a number of questions by one of the yacht clubs with a proud history of participation and success in the Lipton Challenge. It has been suggested that the Trustees’ answers to the questions below might be of interest to other clubs thinking of challenging for the Cup in 2017 and beyond.

Correspondence and other communication between the yacht clubs eligible to challenge for the Cup and the Lipton Trustees is always most welcome.

Ray Matthews
Chairman – Lipton Trustees
1 May 2017


  1. Will the serious Class Rule contraventions on one particular L26, discovered in June 2016, damage the prestige of the Lipton Challenge?

While this incident is highly regrettable we believe that, as a result of the action taken by the Lipton Trustees and the L26 Class Owners’ Association, and the subsequent retirement of the skippers concerned from all Lipton Challenge races sailed in the illegally modified boat, the prestige of the Lipton Challenge will actually be enhanced rather than damaged.

No event, whether a club regatta, the Lipton Challenge, or the Olympic Games, can be diminished by the conduct of an errant boat unless those responsible for the event fail to take prompt and appropriate action.  Once the full facts around the modifications to the L26 007 became clear, the Lipton Trustees and the L26 Class both acted promptly and properly in reporting the matter to the National Authority for action in accordance with the Racing Rules of Sailing.  We all depend on our National Authority to handle such matters in accordance with the Racing Rules and international best practice, and in the best interests of our sport in South Africa.

  1. Does the L26 Class offer the Lipton Challenge a level playing field in terms one-design racing?

The reality is that prior to the L26 era the Lipton Challenge had no history of level playing fields in terms of the boats being sailed.  The yachts that were raced in the early days, 1911 to 1923, were required to rate between 6 and 8 metres under the International Rating Rule of Great Britain, and races were scored on handicap according to each boat’s rating.  The Thirty Square Metre yachts that were raced subsequently, were very different from each other in terms of length, beam, displacement, sail area, and keel shape and depth, but first boat across the line took the race.  Likewise, the boats designed under the Quarter Ton rule and raced in the 1982 and 1983 Lipton Challenges competed on “scratch”, although they were far from equal.

It’s an interesting item of history that the “International Rule” and “Square Metre Rule”, both introduced in 1908, were intended to create a more level playing field for yacht racing across Europe and the U.K., yet these initiatives gave rise to a new branch of Naval Architecture in which the primary objective was to use the rule to achieve precisely the opposite – to tilt the playing field as strongly as possible in favour of the latest proprietary design.  The “arms race” that followed has been well documented in the history of our sport, and winning was for the wealthy.

So, for the first 73 years of the Lipton Challenge the playing fields were anything but level in terms of the boats taking part.  It was only with the introduction of the L26 that a reasonably level playing became a possibility.

However, there’s no doubt that right from inception the L26 was never a perfect one-design in terms of construction.  For example, the keels were factory-fitted in positions with a fore-and-aft variation of some 80mm, and the hull weights before the addition of corrector weights vary by more than 100kgs.  Developments in the L26 Class Rules over the years have helped to bring the boats much closer together than in the past, but the effects of differences at the construction stage are impossible to eliminate altogether.

In spite of this, the L26 has provided an unequalled platform for more than three decades of the most competitive offshore racing in SA, and the Lipton Challenge Cup is still the domestic trophy most young sailors in SA would most like to win for their club.

During the thirty four years since the selection of the L26 for this event, no fewer than ten different clubs have won the Cup, with the winning teams having raced eight different boats so far.

  1. The L26 074 is clearly the most successful L26 in terms of its track record in the Lipton Challenge. To what extent is this attributable to the boat, and to what extent to the sailors?

There is no doubt that this boat has a reputation as a “fast” L26, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that, for no apparent reason, it seems to have a slight edge over all other L26s. It certainly has an unparalleled record of success in the Lipton Challenge.

However, in weighing up the role of the boat (in relation to other boats) compared to the sailors (in relation to other sailors) we shouldn’t ignore the following hard facts:

  1. It is true that in the 13 years (1993 to 2005) during which Rick Nankin skippered or co-skippered 074 she was the most successful boat in the fleet, with 6 wins in 13 challenges for, or defenses of, the Lipton Challenge Cup. But it is equally true that:

A1.  By the time Rick first stepped on board 074 he already had 4 Lipton Challenge victories under his belt, with an even more impressive record of 4 wins in 5 attempts while sailing his previous boat 019.

A2.  During the 13 years under Rick’s command 074 was beaten 7 times, with 4 different boats taking the Cup in those years.  (Greg Davis & Dave Hudson on 058 in 1995 and again in 1997, Martin Schultz & Geoff Meek on 079 in 1996, Pete Shaw & Steve du Toit on 019 in 1998, Greg Davis & Mark Sadler on 058 in 2000, Ian Ainslie on 019 in 2002 and Dave & Roger Hudson on 024 in 2005).

A3.  During the 9 years prior to Rick and his already dominant team taking charge of 074, the boat had competed in the Lipton Challenge in the hands of a number of experienced sailors, but to the best of our knowledge was never close to winning the Cup.

  1. It is true that during the 9 years in which Greg Davis has skippered or co-skippered 074 in the Lipton Challenge his team has been unbeaten. But it is equally true that:

B1.  By the time Greg first stepped on board 074, he also already had 4 Lipton Challenge victories to his credit, beating 074 each time to take the Cup while sailing 058.

B2.  Today Greg is by far the most experienced L26 sailor in the country, with some 30 Lipton Challenges under the belt.  In addition, he is a multiple SA Finn National Champion, with an international track record of a second place in the Finn Masters World Championships and three other top 10 results in fleets of 200 to 300 boats.

B3.  His only two helmsmen while racing 074, Gareth Blanckenberg and David Rae, have track records locally and internationally that are unequaled amongst the recent fields of challengers for the Cup.

Gareth Blanckenberg :  After winning the Youth World Championships in the Laser Class (becoming the only South African ever to have won an ISAF Youth World Championship in any class), Gareth Blanckenberg went on to become a double Olympian, He reached a peak of 3rd place on the ISAF World Ranking list in his fourth season on the Olympic Classes world circuit, and maintained a ranking inside the top ten (of the 600 or so sailors from more than 60 countries on the ranking list) for all but one month of the following four years.  No South African helmsman has ever come close to this achievement.

David Rae:  Although not a regular J22 sailor, David Rae helmed a borrowed boat to victory in the J22 World Championships in 2015 and a different boat to victory in the 2016 J22 SA Nationals.  He was the only mainsail trimmer on Shosholoza throughout their four-year America’s Cup campaign, and competed with his Shosholoza team-mates in the ISAF Match Racing World Tour throughout that time.  He co-helmed a Farr 40 in the Sidney Hobart race to set a record time for 40 footers that still stands today, and co-helmed the super-maxi ICAP Leopard when she set a new record for the Cape-to-Rio race in 2009.  During the past three years he has helmed the Corby 49 NITRO to by far its best three seasons in this boat’s seven years on the Cape IRC circuit, and co-helmed the Kerr 47 Black Pearl in the Annapolis-to-Newport Race, the Fastnet Race, and three high profile offshore races in the Mediterranean season.

B4.  The crew on 074 under Greg’s command have been drawn each year from the most active and highly regarded keelboat sailors in the Western Cape, and have included a number of National Champions in other classes.

  1. It is true that while racing the L26 074 in 2012 and 2013 PYC produced their finest results for many years, winning the Lipton Cup after the boat they tied with in 2013 was found to have been illegally modified and retired. But it is surely also true that with Vernon Goss’s enthusiastic support PYC mounted the most determined campaign and assembled a team of the most talented sailors that we’ve seen from PYC for a very long time.

Taking all of this into account, and accepting that there might indeed be inherent marginal differences between the potential of different L26s, we have difficulty attributing the dominance of the current holders of the Lipton Challenge Cup to anything other than their meticulous boat preparation, intensive training, and the racing skills they’ve all demonstrated far beyond the L26 fleet.

As Lipton Trustees, when we look carefully at the substantial “expertise gap” between the defenders of the Cup today and the various challengers in terms of (a) experience and L26 knowledge of the skippers, (b) track record of the helmsmen, and (c) teamwork of the crew, it seems clear to us that this gap is far more significant than whatever difference there is between 074 and the various other properly prepared L26s.

Looking to the future, the Trustees are encouraged by the number of talented and super-keen young sailors who are today setting their sights on knocking the “old guard” off their perch, and taking the Cup home to their own club.  We’ve watched them systematically doing the hard work that will get them there, and it’s exciting to see the year-by-year progress these youngsters are making.  In the meantime, it’s the shortage of teams with a proven level of sailing expertise to match that of the current defenders that is, in our view, the most serious threat to the vitality of the Lipton Challenge today.

  1. Wouldn’t a change of class be good for the event?

The Lipton Trustees are mindful that the L26 is a design from a bygone era.  There’s no doubt that a change to an exciting contemporary design, provided sufficient boats were available and reasonably affordable, would be very good for the Lipton Challenge.  Every year without fail we invite the Commodores of all Lipton recognised clubs to give input on a possible change of class, and we will certainly recommend an alternative when this becomes feasible and beneficial to the Challenge.

It must be borne in mind that the decision to conduct the Lipton Challenge in a different boat is not within the power of the Trustees.  We can, and will, strongly motivate a change when we believe it is the right course of action, but the Deed of Gift requires that such a change be supported by a majority of the clubs eligible to compete in the Lipton Challenge.

When an opportunity to recommend such a change presents itself, and the Trustees look forward to that day, we might well have to strike a balance between two conflicting objectives.  On one hand we would like to see the contest take place in a boat that is modern and exciting enough to add to the prestige of the Challenge and to attract the very best sailors in Southern Africa.  On the other hand, the boat chosen should ideally still make the contest accessible to as many clubs as possible.  A much more expensive boat than the L26 might make the field of play a lot less level than it is today.

The view of the Trustees on this difficult question of priorities is referred to in the article in the 2016 Lipton Challenge brochure:  Changing Times – A Steady Hand on the Helm.  An edited copy is attached below.

  1. Ever since the first Lipton Challenge in 1911, the winning club has had the right to defend the Cup in their “home” port. Wouldn’t it be better if the event were rotated between all suitable ports along our coast?

This suggestion has been made at a number of Lipton Challenge “wash-up” meetings in recent years.

On one hand, it might well enable more clubs to take part in the Challenge, even if only when it takes place at their home port.  On the other hand, it would be a deviation from one of the central provisions in Sir Thomas Lipton’s vision for this unique contest, and would remove one of the key elements that sets the Lipton Challenge apart from other national regattas.

It’s well known that Durban sailors dominated the Lipton Challenge during the seventy three years before the start of the “one-design era” in 1984.  Consequently, following the inaugural contest in Table Bay, nineteen contests took place in Durban and only eight in Cape Town.  This inspired the Cape clubs to go all out to bring the Cup back to their home waters, which in due course various Cape clubs did.

The current Lipton Trustees are strongly in favour of preserving the uniqueness and heritage of the Lipton Challenge.  It simply can’t be allowed to become just another national regatta.

At the same time, we recognise that the world of sailing is changing rapidly.  Even Sir Thomas, commenting back in 1925 that “the conditions of yachting…..are liable to change from time to time”, added a new condition to the original 1909 Deed of Gift giving greater flexibility in conducting the Challenge than was the case initially.

This question will remain on the table for discussion as the Lipton Trustees do their best to navigate their way through the challenges that lie ahead.

CHANGING TIMES  –  A STEADY HAND ON THE HELM.  (This is an edited version of an article by Dave Hudson in the Lipton Challenge magazine 2016).

During the long history of the Lipton Challenge, the Lipton Trustees have, from time to time, made bold decisions in the interests of this great inter-club contest.

Another such time is clearly approaching, and with this in mind it’s worth taking stock of what makes the Lipton Challenge special.

First and foremost, it is Southern Africa’s only inter-club offshore sailing challenge.  Its history dates back 109 years to the decade in which the the world’s first global yacht racing body the International Yacht Racing Union was founded in Paris, and the decade in which sailing first appeared in the Olympic Games.  Not surprisingly, the 64 Lipton Challenges over the years since then embrace much of this country’s sailing history.

At the heart of this event is the opportunity for each challenging club to pit its best sailors and best boat against those of the current holders of the Cup in a “winner takes all” contest.  There is no second prize, no silver medal and no formal record of the “runner-up”.

Throughout its entire history, the quest for the Cup has always been a contest between two, three or occasionally four clubs.  During the Eight Meter Class years of 1911 to 1923, there were never more than 3 boats on the water.

It was only after the introduction of the Thirty Square Metres in 1952 that it became possible for larger numbers of sailors to join the event just for the fun and experience of doing so.  There’s no doubt that this has been good for sailing in SA and accords with Sir Thomas Lipton’s wish that his Cup would encourage yachting in Southern Africa and “especially in the way of friendly contests of sailing and seamanship in deep sea yacht racing.”  However, if it becomes a choice between mass participation and the prestige of the challenge for the Cup, the Trustees will surely take bold action to ensure the latter.

As a teenager I was able to watch many of the Lipton Challenges off the beaches of Durban, and the sight of the fleet of Thirty Squares was memorable. But what inspired me to dream of representing my club one day was the tremendous tussle each year between our heroes and role models, the big names in sailing in “Natal” and the Cape, not the fact that there were another ten boats trailing the leaders round the course.

The Royal Natal Yacht Club played a leading role in the success of the Lipton Challenge in the post-war years, and were the driving force behind the revival of the event in 1952.  It was a prominent RNYC member Jack Finlayson who contacted Cape Town’s Gordon Burn-Wood and got the Lipton ball rolling again, this time in Thirty Square Meters, after the Cup had apparently spent 29 years in a bank vault!

Amusingly, while the energy for this revival came from SA’s two “Royal” yacht clubs, it was the humble Point Yacht Club that got hold of an old Thirty Square, “worked like slaves to get things right” to quote the late Gordon Neill, entered the contest as ten-to-one outsiders, and successfully defended the Cup with a race to spare.  All they had to do in the final race was to finish the course, and the story at the time was that they did so with a stiff Gin cocktail under the belt!

PYC’s victory in 1952 preserved their record as the only club to have held the Cup during the 41 years since the inaugural contest.  It also got the attention of the country’s top sailors.  As a result, the next decade saw maiden Lipton Cup wins for RCYC, ZVYC, Redhouse YC, RNYC, Clube Naval in Mozambique and Henley Sailing Club.  RNYC went on to dominate the Challenge with eight wins between 1958 and 1973.

This period of fierce competition laid the foundation for the subsequent move to the L26 Class in 1984, and for the epic battles between so many of SA’s top sailors representing their respective clubs since then.  This is the real meaning of the Lipton Challenge, and is the heritage the Trustees are bound to build on as the world of sailing changes around us.


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