Most sailors know that 12-Meter yachts were sailed in America’s Cup competitions between 1958 and 1987. Less well known is the fact that the Meter rule also applies to a range of yachts of different sizes, all built to what is formally known as the International Rule. First established in 1906, the rule has survived more or less intact for over a century. Last July a picturesque assemblage of Meter yachts of all sizes gathered in Cowes, on England’s Isle of Wight, to celebrate the rule’s centennial. The racing fleet off Cowes included 5.5-, 6-, 8-, and 12-Meter boats, along with several 15- and 19-Meter boats that were built not long after the rule was first created.
A confusing number of rating rules were in use when Brooke Heckstall-Smith, secretary of the English Yacht Racing Association, organized an International Conference on Yacht Measurement in 1906 to discuss a common design standard that could be used anywhere in the world. The conference led to the creation of the International Rule, which quickly gained acceptance. Six-, 7-, 8-, and 12-Meter yachts competed in the 1908 Olympic Games. The 6-Meters remained an Olympic class until the completion of the 1952 Games, and the 5.5-Meters kept their Olympic status until 1968, when they sailed their last Olympic regatta in Acapulco, Mexico.
The Cowes regatta in July was also a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 1908 Olympics, and the very same Olympic racecourse, which was laid out in front of the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, was set this year in the same location and with the same configuration.
While yachts built to the International Rule appealed to some American Olympic hopefuls, the rule’s acceptance in the United States was fairly limited. There was little interest in the details of the rule until the New York Yacht Club resumed America’s Cup competition in 12-Meters after World War II. In fact, before the 1958 Cup matches, only fifteen 12-Meters had ever been built. Six-Meters were a lot more popular, and by 1940 sixty of them had been built in the U.S. Among the designers were Burgess, Herreshoff, Paine, and Stephens. More recently, Gary Mull, Brit Chance, Doug Peterson, Pelle Petterson, Peter Norlin, Bruce Kirby, and many other designers have been involved with the 6-Meter class.
There still are many Sixes sailing in this country, with fleets in New England, Michigan, Washington, and Canada. In Europe there still are many major regattas for the Meter classes. Racing fleets now distinguish between classic Meter yachts and more-modern designs; the transition year has been established at 1965. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the modern yachts will sail away from the classics; a well-sailed older boat can be competitive with the newer designs. In the Cowes regatta, the 6-Meters Erica and Thistle, built in 1938 and 1947, respectively, were up at the front of the fleet