North Sails NEWS
Story Contributors: Pete Redmond
THE CAPE 31 IS CAPTIVATING SAILORS WORLDWIDE
A Project Fueled by Passion
Named after its place of origin, Cape Town, South Africa, the worldwide growth of the Cape 31 fleet all started with one man’s vision; Highland Fling owner and avid racer Lord Laidlaw. Eager to stimulate the industry and create a class for young talent, Laidlaw commissioned Mark Mills to design the first five Cape 31 hulls, of which he soon found buyers. “The promotion of events in South Africa was integral to get the class on its feet and make it attractive for people to buy and sail these boats,” Mills remarks. “Now the fleet is self-propelling, and Laidlaw has taken a step back to leave it running as a commercial operation.”
Cape 31s are 31-foot high-performance keelboats targeted at the highest level of regional/club sailing. They represent the most advanced form of production keelboat without getting into high-cost, complete carbon construction. Designer and Irishman Mark Mills of Mills Design is one of the most successful yacht designers of recent years, and he has taken the Cape 31 hull design under his wing. To date, 19 boats have been built, with 10 actively racing in Cape Town, and a growing fleet of eight boats confirmed for the UK. “I think a vacuum has been created after the peak of the Melges 32,” Mills explains. “The Cape 31 is my favorite design because it is happy in all wind ranges – great in the breeze and sails both upwind and downwind incredibly, so it will naturally succeed wherever it goes. We are seeing the result of this now in the UK.”
After witnessing the fleet’s success in South Africa, father and son duo Mike and Dave Bartholomew brought the first Cape 31 over to the UK in a container, naming her Tokoloshe III. As she whizzed around the Solent, winning all but one event in IRC last season, it did not take long for people to catch on. Volvo Ocean Race, World Match Racing Champion, and IRC/ORC World Champion Dave Swete spotted the hype and jumped onboard in October 2020 when he ‘fell in love with the boat.’ “I think there was always a gap in the market for a smaller boat that ticks all the boxes; a fantastic One Design boat which wins under IRC with a supreme boat builder behind it,” he says. “Between myself, Dave Bartholomew, and Suzy Peters, we decided to launch the class in the UK. We are proud to have got the regattas and class rule right, and all of these ingredients seem to be combining well as we are already welcoming the eighth boat to the UK fleet!”
Ever since the fleet’s activation in South Africa four years ago, North Sails has proudly been the sailmaker of choice. Our sail designers invested a lot of time to develop the sails from how they started as paneled class sails. North Sails Cape 31 Class Expert Pete Redmond confirms that “3Di is the optimal product for boats racing in the UK and in an IRC arena. The lightweight and durable components of 3Di allow the 31-footers to compete against a quality fleet of 40-footers in an upwind beat and dominate them downwind. The sail plan needs the ability to change depth drastically to get the most speed from both light airs and big breeze, and 3Di mainsails and jibs allow this to happen.’’
Mills adds, “For a lightweight 31-footer to win in IRC is extraordinary—and to win in a class of boats up to 9 feet bigger is historically unprecedented.”
With inquiries about the boat throughout Europe, it is no surprise that the US market is also gaining momentum with the first boat already sailing in Louisiana. Swete’s vision is to get a core group of owners together, to grow the fleet in one hit. Discussions between the UK and US fleets involve ‘meet-up’ winter events in Florida and/or the Caribbean. “Dave has enough energy to take on the US, and that gives owners a single target person to deal with,” comments Mills.
“The sail plan needs the ability to change depth drastically to get the most speed from both light airs and big breeze, and 3Di mainsails and jibs allow this to happen.”
One of the Cape 31 fleet’s original concepts is that all the boats will be bright and colorful, which the South African fleet represents well. “I’m on a mission to get the new boats, firstly in the UK, but hopefully in America afterward, to hang on to that ethos,” Mills explains, adding that it would make a nice change from more white hulls on the start line.
The Cape 31 season on the Solent will be a busy one, with six class events and three IRC events. All will offer competitive Grand Prix racing with a focus on fun both on and off the water. First up on the 21st – 23rd May is the Vice Admirals Cup, where there are enough boats to make up a class. Next is the Royal Southern Yacht Club June Regatta, where the fleet will mix with the Performance 40s. Other highlight regattas include the inaugural Royal Thames Yacht Club Invitational Regatta, and Tattinger Royal Solent Yacht Club Regatta. The season will come to a close with the UK Nationals at the Royal Yacht Squadron, but 2022 events are already in the works.
The boats are set up to sail with a crew of seven or eight, with a limit of three professionals and a weight limit of 595kg. The option to sail with eight people encourages lighter sailors onboard, thus encouraging women and families to get involved.