Sunday, 5 June 2011

History in the making as 100-year old XOD class races at Royal Lymington Yacht Club with Edwardian fashion to the fore

XODs at the Royal Lymington being sailed in Edwardian dress. Image copyright Hamo Thornycroft.

by Peta Stuart-Hunt

Any spectators on the banks of the Lymington River on Friday afternoon (June 3rd) would be forgiven for thinking it was the early 1900s as ladies dressed in elegant long navy and white dresses joined gentlemen in reefers and caps and crews in white overalls, all preparing their classic wooden boats, that first raced in Southampton Water on 3rd June 1911, for the start of the XOD Lymington Division’s celebration of the Class Centenary.

A fleet of 31 of these beautiful 21ft keelboats, first raced in 1911, mustered on the start line in the Solent. Lymington’s resident fleet was joined by a dozen or so from the Yarmouth Division and members of the Itchenor and Parkstone divisions also attended.

Competitive across the generations

Despite a stiff easterly breeze, crews were determined to show off their period costumes to the spectators and resisted putting on their oilskins, instead choosing to get a little damp; no great hardship on the hottest day of the year so far.

The Royal Lymington Yacht Club, whose chief race officer Nigel Thomas himself looked rather grand dressed in a naval uniform of the period, set a windward-leeward course for the class across Lymington’s river entrance. Pulling away from the start line very convincingly was the Fleet Captain William Norris in X 178 Beatrix, in close company with William Westmacott, grandson of the X’s original designer, Alfred Westmacott in X 56 Xanthus and the Olympic bronze medallist (from 1968), and consistent top performer, Ado Jardine in X 140, Lucrezia. They exchanged the lead until the first mark, where Lucrezia got ahead, followed by Xanthus and Beatrix.

That order was maintained until the last beat when there was an exciting shift of position as Karl Thorne in X 34 Mersa in fourth split from the fleet and stood out into the stronger tide and better wind so that Xanthus, Mersa and Beatrix rounded the last mark almost together and followed Lucrezia downwind to the turning mark for the River.

XODs at the Royal Lymington being sailed in Edwardian dress. Image copyright Hamo Thornycroft.

“We had a good last beat, and got into a nice breeze,” explained Karl. “We found a favourable windshift, bringing us up into third position then it all came good.” He was referring to a luffing incident with Beatrix just before the River entrance which forced the latter into a 360 degree penalty turn, enabling Mersa to take second over the finish line.

An equally determined and skilful performance put the youngest skipper, Ben Paton, into third place in X 48 XL at the finish. Beatrix was fourth and John Olliff-Cooper’s Xenon, X 175 with Aberdeen Asset Management's Patrick Walker crewing, fifth. No one, however, could get past the evergreen wiles of Ado Jardine, who extended his lead throughout the two-hour race.

“We had an excellent afternoon on the water,” commented winner Ado Jardine. “We were a bit damp by the end but the organisers certainly ordered the right weather!”

The ‘Best Dressed Crew’ award went to the crew of X 119 Lonestar. Thanks go to Danebury Vineyards, a Hampshire vineyard that sponsored the Edwardian Race Day reception.

The Lymington Edwardian Race is one of a series of events taking place to mark the XOD Class Centenary. Celebrations will continue during Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week when the XODs are running their own three-day Centenary regatta within their usual racing programme, also sponsored by Aberdeen Asset Management, from 9th - 11th August. The XOD Class is the largest class to start at Cowes, with a record-breaking 100 boats expected on the start line in this special year.

About the XOD Class

In 1911 Yachting Monthly reported that seven 21ft keelboats of a newly established One Design class came to the start line for their first race, off Hythe in Southampton Water. By 1939, 81 X One Design boats (as they had come to be designated,) had been built. In 1961, the Class’s Golden Jubilee year, there were 52 starters at Cowes Week. By 1979, the XODs were long since established as consistently the largest one-design fleet at the regatta with 81 starters and by the 1980/1990s the numbers were sometimes in the 90s. An entry well in excess of 100 is expected for 2011, the Centenary year. It is generally acknowledged that the XOD class is the most difficult in which to win Cowes Week.

An XOD has two or three crew including the helmsman and weight and/or strength is not a factor when competing, so crews of all sizes can compete on equal terms. The spinnaker can be flown from within the safety of the cockpit, avoiding the need for foredeck work. The XOD is a very pretty classic yacht of just under 21ft in length. She is made of wood but can be easily maintained with modern epoxies. A number of complete renovations have been undertaken successfully.

Quality racing

The key to the Class success and longevity is in the quality of the racing. There are Divisions at Parkstone, Yarmouth, Lymington, Hamble, Cowes and Itchenor. The boats are equal as a One Design so success depends almost entirely on the skill of the helmsman and of the crew rather than on the depth of the owner’s pocket and/or high levels of physical strength and youthful agility. Top sailors in their 20s compete against ex-Olympians in their late 70s, with older boats just as likely to win as newer ones.


Cowes Week 2010 was won by X26, built in 1923. The quality and relative affordability of racing have encouraged many top sailors from other fleets to join the Class. It’s now possible to buy an XOD with a very good recent racing record for between £7,500 to £15,000. Shared ownership is widespread and a good way to keep costs low for competitive racing in a family friendly format.

Design & Build

The continuing success of the class is also attributed to the design of the boat, the management of the Class, the locations and clubs raced from. 195 XODs have been built and of these, 137 (70%) raced at least once in 2010. It is expected that this number will increase in 2011, the Centenary Year, as a number of boats have been undergoing refurbishment in preparation for the great event.

The first builder was Alfred Westmacott on the Isle of Wight and the first XOD ever built, Mistletoe, X1, is now at the National Maritime Museum. X5, built in the same year, 1911, survives and races regularly. Originally, all XODs were gaff-rigged, but the Bermudan rig was introduced in 1928 with the obvious benefits in upwind performance, although a gaff rig remained optional till 1950. Small changes to rig and sail formula have been made since.

X One Design