New Sunbeam launched to join 96-year-old fleet

Minty with Harriet Patterson and Roger Wickens. Image: Solent Sunbeams

The 96-year-old Solent Sunbeam class has welcomed a brand new yacht to its fleet with the launch of V70 Minty at Itchenor, the base for this historic classic keel-boat fleet.

Harriet and Simon Patterson are the proud new owners of Minty, which sports a glacial-green hull. They are keen sailors with children who are very active junior members of Itchenor Sailing Club. Now their children are sailing so much they wanted to get back on the water themselves. The new owners are planning to sail as a couple, often with their children joining them as crew. Commenting at the launch they said: “The Sunbeams are fabulous boats, combining beautiful classic lines with exhilarating sailing and competitive racing. The class is very welcoming and gracious with help for sailors new to the boat!”

Following Minty’s launch the fleet now on the water and racing this season grows to 27, with the new GRP hulled yachts and the original wooden versions, dating back 96 years to 1923, racing side by side on an equal basis.

The origins of the GRP addition to this classic fleet arose 10 years ago when some of the class members realised that the fleet number at Itchenor was in danger of declining below the critical mass needed to run a successful class. Enthusiastic local Sunbeam owners Alan Stannah and Roger Wickens wondered if a GRP version of the boat would attract new entrants to the fleet with the lower build and maintenance costs.

Image: Solent Sunbeams

Although a number of new wooden Sunbeams had been commissioned since the 1970s, their very high build costs meant there was a limited market of buyers for them. In 2009 the class gave permission for a trial GRP Sunbeam to be built. In order to preserve the integrity of the Fleet’s racing, much time and effort was spent to ensure that the GRP Sunbeams would sail exactly the same as the original wooden boats.

The philosophy behind the introduction of GRP construction to the fleet was to reduce necessary annual maintenance, lower the build cost of new boats, and to include watertight bulkheads in order to make the yacht unsinkable. The first GRP trial boat V61 Betty was built from scratch in 21 weeks and then raced extensively throughout its first season. Everyone agreed that Betty raced equally against the wooden fleet, the Solent Sunbeam Class accepted her as a Solent Sunbeam, and a green light was given to building new GRP boats.

The introduction of the GRP boats to the historic Sunbeam fleet has encouraged many new entrants into the Fleet,  including the owners of the newest Solent Sunbeam, V70 Minty.