12 Metre World Championship: A living History of Yacht Racing


On a weekend in early June, 21 yachts on both sides of the Atlantic pulled at dock lines and tugged on moorings in anticipation of regattas comprising the Road to the Worlds Waypoints series, the run-up to the 2019 12 Metre World Championship. A nine-boat fleet was set to race on Rhode Island Sound at the New York Yacht Club’s 164th Annual Regatta. It included four America’s Cup winners—Columbia, Courageous, Freedom, and Weatherly as well as American Eagle, Nefertiti, Challenge XII, Defender, and New Zealand. In Glücksburg, Germany, at the Robbe & Berking Sterling Cup, Anita, Anitra, Chancegger, Flica II, Heti, Kiwi Magic, Sphinx, Thea, Trivia, Vanity V, Vim, and Wings were ready to face-off in the Flensborg Fjord. Three-quarters of a century separated the oldest and youngest competing yachts: Kiwi Magic, New Zealand’s “plastic fantastic” 1987 America’s Cup Challenger, and Heti, a graceful 1912 gaff-rigger. 

But wait…a gaff-rigged 12 Metre? Yes, the “First Rule” Twelve Metre yachts competed at the Olympic Games from 1908 to 1920. Unlike the United States’ fleet, dating primarily from Newport’s America’s Cup years (1958 to 1983), the European fleet twelves are considerably older and the age spread is much wider. Vintage division (pre-WWII) yachts were built from 1918 to 1939, and while some have been updated (within limits) with mod cons and materials, these gleaming wooden yachts are truly an inspiring sight to behold under sail.

SallyAnne Santos

Next summer, from July 7 to 13, approximately 30 of these uniquely beautiful and historic yachts will converge at Newport, Rhode Island, to compete in the 2019 12 Metre World Championship. Although the projected list of participants reads like a Who’s Who of yachting history, this gathering will not be a stately parade of antiques. Rather, it’s shaping up to be a keen competition of interest to seasoned skippers, rail riders, history buffs, and land lovers alike. In June 2019, 12 Metre yachts from Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and Norway will converge in Narragansett Bay joining the U.S. fleet for a season of racing to include two Road to the Worlds Waypoints and pre-Worlds regattas, the 12 Metre World Championship (hosted by the Ida Lewis Yacht Club), and a 12 Metre Jubilee at the New York Yacht Club’s 175th anniversary celebration. 

Perhaps you are wondering how these disparate boats, varying in age by as many as 77, years compete among themselves fairly without handicaps? This is due to the ingenuity of The International Rule—a developmental formula for yacht design that, put very simply, enables experimentation along certain lines as long as “the numbers add up to 12.” The world’s foremost naval architects—Olin Stephens, Clinton Crane, William Fife III, Philip Rhodes, Johan Anker, Ben Lexcen, and others pushed their designs to the very limits of innovation. The resulting boats represented the pinnacle of yacht development for the highest levels of international sailing competition: the Olympic Games and the America’s Cup.

SallyAnne Santos

The competition began last summer with the first of a series of Road to the Worlds Waypoints regattas held in the United States, Northern Europe, and Southern Europe. The winner of the Road to the Worlds series will claim the premier Waypoints Trophy and international bragging rights as the 12 Metre with the best three-year cumulative racing performance. In 2017, Baltic-based Vintage yachts won the top five spots of the tightly packed leaderboard with two-time America’s Cup winner Courageous in sixth place overall, but ranked first among the Modern division.

“Even though the regatta is one year away, the excitement surrounding one of the largest gatherings of the fabled 12 Metre Class is electric,” notes America’s Fleet Captain and 2019 12 Metre World Championship event chairman Peter Gerard. “The thought of 30 of the world’s most beautiful yachts racing on the waters that hosted the America’s Cup for much of its history can only make classic yacht sailors smile.”