THE NEW DESIGN
From sloop to ketch rig
Marabu when she was with the sailing club
In the early 1950s, with advice from leading offshore yachtsman Captain John Illingworth (1903-80), Marabu was altered from a Bermudan sloop to a ketch rig, to the design submitted by Uffa Fox (1898-1972). Prior to Marabu’s crossing of the Atlantic in 1952 the forestay had been moved 3 feet forward to allow the use of a larger genoa and spinnaker. More controversially, a 'doghouse' was built to improve shelter, add space and so provide a dryer passage for the crew across the Atlantic. After the Transatlantic Race, in the winter of 1952/3, a mizzen mast was added, the tiller was removed and Marabu was changed to wheel steering.
The aim of these changes at the time was to improve performance and reduce weather helm and make Marabu into a competitive ocean-racer – at the expense of her sleek lines. However, for sail-training purposes, the ability to drop the mainsail and press on under foresail and mizzen must have been an asset for an inexperienced crew. Marabu is an early version of the ’ideal sailing yacht’ of its day, described as combining ’the right proportions, speed, seaworthiness, habitability and beauty’.
Despite being dismasted in the 1954 Channel Race from Southsea to Le Havre, Marabu went on to win the Fastnet Inter-Services Cup for the RNVR Sailing Club (beating the Household Brigade and the Second Tactical Air Force) in 1955 while skippered by Rupert Thorpe (RNVR Commodore, 1954-5).
In 1956 she was recorded as doing very well racing at Cowes. She created a stir by entering Cowes with the foredeck crew in white flannels and the afterguard in wing-collars! Of course, without auxiliary propulsion she always had to berth under sail – no easy task if the wind was astern. On one occasion Marabu was becalmed off the Nab Tower, east of the Isle of Wight and had to be rowed into Portsmouth Harbour!
Marabu at Cowes Regatta, 1955
Marabu in the 1954 Poole Bar Race