Question of the Month with Designer Ted Brewer (#2)

Earlier this month I asked Ted to share his top 3 favorite personal sailboat designs (Click here for his previous response or simply browse the Sailboat Reviews page and read Ted's other guest posts). What follows below is Ted's response for his number 2 all-time favorite design: Black Velvet II

Black Velvet II by Ted Brewer

I moved to Maine in '67 and designed a couple of fiberglass production sloops and a number of larger custom wood yachts including, amongst others, the 64-foot Traveller II, (her ending is a story in itself!). Bob Wallstrom joined me in Maine in '69 and we were doing fairly well with custom work. Then, in the spring of '71, I was approached by a Quebec client, Fred Chevrier, to design a modern 43 footer for use on Lake Champlain with occasional trips down the Hudson River to the sea and points south. Fred stressed that the boat had to be weatherly since, when sailing on Lake Champlain, the winds always seemed to be on the nose; no matter if you were heading north or heading south, the wind was against you.

Black Velvet II line drawings

The design for a fast, center cockpit cutter took shape quickly and, by autumn of '71, the yacht was under construction in a small yard just north of the Vermont/Quebec border. Black Velvet II was solidy built of strip planking on bulkhead framing, and fiberglass covered. Her characteristics are as follows: LOA: 43'2", LWL: 35'4", Beam: 12'9", Draft: 6'4", Displacement: 24,800 lbs., Ballast: 10,100 lbs. lead, Sail Area: 895 sq. ft. This gave her a moderate Displacement/Length ratio of 251, Ballast/Displacement ratio of 40.7%, and a good Sail area/Displacement ratio of 16.8, all of which contributes to good performance in a cruising yacht. Indeed, the sail area would have been about 915 sq. ft., except that I had raised the boom to the maximum allowed height above deck in order to reduce the rating under a popular handicap rule. The new yacht was launched the next spring and certainly performed up to her owner's requirements but, to my surprise, only one more wooden BV II was ever built, although I had been certain the design would appeal to the cruiser/racer crowd. 


Black Velvet II

Still, we had a nice painting made of the BV II's sail plan by my old friend Dick Telford and displayed it at our booth in the 1971 Annapolis Show that fall. There it attracted the attention of Kurt Hansen of Whitby Boat Works and, after some negotiation and discussion, resulted in the commission to design the new Whitby 42. To my dismay, Kurt insisted that the new design have a shallower draft with full length keel and a ketch rig, but the resulting boat certainly seemed to appeal to the cruising sailor. Eventually some 500 boats were built by Whitby and Fort Myers, with a number of variations, including a fin keel/centerboard version and length up to 44' LOA. The one improvement over the BV II design that I made in the Whitby 42 was to work out a below decks passageway, along the starboard side of the engine room, from the saloon to the aft cabin, to save going up and through the cockpit in heavy weather. As far a I know, the Whitby 42 was the first boat to have that feature and it has proved popular on my own designs, and many other designs in later years.

Black Velvet II motoring on Lake Champlain

Then, in '72, another builder saw Dick's painting at that year's Annapolis Show, and we were soon working on converting the BV II's wooden construction to fiberglass for Cape Yachts in Hong Kong. There they were produced as the Cape North 43, in both ketch and cutter rig, and with a passageway to the after cabin. One of these CN 43's did very well in a China Sea Race, from Hong Kong to Manila, beating the famous Windward Passage on corrected time, while other CN 43's have proven their worth in local events in Asia, North America and Britain. Indeed one of the boats finished 1st overall in an 80 boat fleet in the Swiftsure Race out of Victoria, BC, unfortunately without me aboard as I was down with the flu that week. Shortly after the first center cockpit boats were built, we also designed an aft cockpit layout for the CN 43, and these proved popular as well.

Cape North 43 in aft-cockpit ketch-rig guise

Over the years, the success of the Whitby 42 and Cape North 43 brought us even more business for production center cockpit yacht designs and, eventually, the Olympic 47, Olympic 42, Olympic 38, Constellation 44 and Dolphin 43 were cruising the world's waters. It all started with the Black Velvet II so, perhaps, you will understand why I have a soft spot in my heart for the original design. And, by the way, BV II was still sailing north and south on the waters of Lake Champlain when I last heard of her, almost 40 years after she was launched. I still feel she, and her successors, are yachts that will take you anywhere you want to sail in the world's oceans.

Cape North 43 model as displayed by CN at the
London, England Boat Show in the mid '70's

For more perspective from Ted Brewer, check out his book: Understanding Boat Design.

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