Bob Perry may be best known for his design work, but we’ve always been most impressed by his writing. For the past decade his design articles have been the only thing worth reading in the ‘dead tree’ press, and his Perry Design blog has become required reading for students of yachting history. His latest piece is Part One of a look back at the beautiful and historic Perry-designed PNW racer Night Runner; the story reinforces our view of Bob as the Steinbeck of yacht writing – and we’re lucky to have him as a permanent part of the SA community. Got questions for Bob about the Runner? Ask here.
-First to finish (in division) – 1984, 1986, 2000 and 2006 Victoria to Maui International Yacht Race
-First in Division – 1989, 1998, 2000, 2004 and first overall 1998, 2011 and 2013 Swiftsure International Yacht Race
-Cape Horn Passage 1996
-First in Division 2009 and 2011 Van Isle 360 International Yacht Race
(And so many more PNW races that I don’t have the space or time to list them here)
Seeds Are Sown
The NIGHT RUNNER story begins when I was 16 years old. I would drive down to Shilshole Bay Marina on Sundays for the winter racing series on Sundays. I’d get there early and treat myself to a breakfast at THE LITTLE PEBBLE restaurant. My favorite breakfast was called the Fisherman’s Breakfast and took two plates to hold all the food and it was expensive, $3.50. But I would have been paid Saturday night for working at the meat market so I was flush and $3.50 was not going to break me. I was working on my breakfast one Sunday morning when I saw a low freeboard, white, very traditional cutter sail down the waterway. I watched the skipper dock the boat under sail with apparent ease. I was impressed.
I finished eating and walked down to the dock hoping to have a chat with the owner of the cutter. The boat was the AFRICAN STAR, a Bill Atkin design. I think the design is designated TALLY HO in the Atkin archives. This was a very salty boat with a very salty owner. His name was Frank Paine. He was gruff and taciturn. We sort of chatted. He said he was going to do a circumnavigation in the boat. I asked if I could come along. He said he didn’t want any crew “That way the cook and crew will get along”. I remember him saying exactly that. Then he said, “I’ll take you as far as Hawaii.” Wow! He suggested we do a “test cruise” together to see if we could get along. I was totally up for that. We arranged to meet on the following Friday night at the boat.
My Dad drove me to Shilshole that rainy Friday night. I had some clothes and a sleeping bag in a black plastic garbage bag. This was back in the day before the docks were locked so I walked down to AFRCAN STAR. No one was aboard and the boat was locked. I sat in the cockpit in the rain. A dodger would have been nice but I had my foul weather gear and boots on so I was a bit cold but ok. After two hours sitting in the rain the novelty of the whole idea was beginning to wear off and I was getting wet. Reluctantly, kind of, I went up to the phone booth and called my dad and asked him to please come and get me. It was a humiliating phone call. My parents were skeptical of everything I did and I was tiring of having my nose rubbed in my failures. But Dad loved me and he drove the hour round trip to get me home and out of the rain. Can’t recall the conversation on the ride home.
I never saw Frank Paine again. I made an attempt to get a hold of him but I could not. AFRICAN STAR faded from my imagination. Years later, not sure exactly when, AFRICAN STAR showed up on the PNW racing scene. “I know that boat!” The owner was then Doug Fryer, a Seattle Maritime attorney of some renown. Doug raced AS in just about every race there was. The boat being so traditional, with big, full keel and outboard barn door rudder was slow but it had a generous rating and the word was that if you could see AS the finish, they had beaten you. Doug raced the boat hard and attracted a very loyal crew. Doug’s ability to keep a crew together is a function of how much fun he is to sail with. He can be last or he can be first but he is always enjoying the race. Races are finished at the dock with “ritual rums” with 150 proof rum. Doug would explain, “150 proof rum is lighter.” I wave wobbled my way down the dock several times after racing with Doug. AFRICAN STAR was a fixture in the PNW racing scene. Doug would later explain to me that Frank Paine had lost AFRICAN STAR in a divorce settlement. I felt bad for the guy. But Doug was happy.
I didn’t really know Doug. Of course you tend to meet sailors in the club after the race so I wasn’t a stranger to Doug. When the phone rang in the office Sally answered it and said, “It’s Doug Fryer Bob”. Great. Doug let me know he was considering a new boat, a custom build. More great. Then he went on to tell me just how much he loved Brice King’s UNICORN ketch, Not so great. Actually it was a “shitski” moment. But Doug was concerned about the hull shape of UNICORN. UNICORN had a very pronounce bustle aft much like the Ericson 39. Doug has heard the Ericson 39 handled very poorly off the wind and he wondered if I would be interested in redesigning the stern of UNICORN to cure this handling issue. By this point in the conversation I am really depressed. ” You want me to “fix” a Bruce King design? No, not interested.” “Besides why would you custom build another guy’s custom design? That’s like using his toothbrush!” Doug’s a bit laconic so I suppose there was some dead air on the phone at that point. Then Doug said, “What would you ;propose?” I suggested he give me a few days and I would do a preliminary design for him. Doug agreed and said he’d be by on Tuesday afternoon, as I recall. I had about 4 days to come up with an idea for a custom 40′ boat for Doug Fryer. No problem.
I remember staring at the big sheet of vellum, most probably striking a confident pose to impress the rest of the office. Damn! What to draw? BINGO! Doug loves AFICAN STAR. He should, it’s a great looking boat. I’ll just draw a 41′ version of AFRICAN STAR and put a modern underbody and keel on it. Piece of cake. I think I still have that very first drawing. It was just a sailplan, a “picture” of the boat. Doug showed up mid afternoon on Tuesday. Doug is kind of imposing. He’s not tall but he’s built like a running back. He has a shiny bald head and a deep baritone voice. He says serious things. He smiles when he talks about boats. He stood there, silently, looking at my sailplan. Finally he looked up, smiled and said, “I like it.” I had given him a look that he was very familiar with. It was a smart design move on my part.
Of course, as mentioned, the overall look for NIGHT RUNNER came directly from AFRICAN STAR. But that’s just the part you see above the water. I wanted the new NR to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. At the time, 1980, I was pretty full of myself, imagine that. My two tonner HEATHER had been dominant to the point that YACHING magazine credited or blamed HEATHER with ‘destroying Class A racing in the PNW”. UNION JACK my quarter tonner “mini HEATHER” was unbeatable above and below the border. I was pretty sure then as now that I know how to draw a fast hull. But NR would not be an IOR boat. The gloves were off for this one. For inspiration I looked to the old Uffa Fox International 14 One Design Class. I knew these boats well from my own early dinghy racing days on Lake Washington. I’m not sure why that particular hull came to mind but it did. I think if you squint a bit you may see some similarities.
The bow is on the full side. I needed a full line to the deck in plan view to get the character I wanted of an old cutter type. The half angle of entry is 22 degrees. That’s two degree finer than a Valiant 40. A modern high performance boat might have a half angle of entry of almost half that. The forward sections ate U shaped but there is some deadrise forward. From this deadrise forward I faired into a midsection with no deadrise. I wanted a midsection that was tangent across the centerline, like an old I-14. My reason for this was I wanted to run the wood veneers unbroken across the centerline. Like the old I-14’s. We will talk about this feature more later. Bottom line is that NR has a very dinghy like mid section. Once I got to around station 6 I re introduced the deadrise. I have ten degrees of deadrise at the “buttwater” ( opposite of cutwater?) I wanted deadrise aft even if it wasn’t the fastest shape. I hate those “suppository” shape transoms and with some deadrise aft I could add a hint of reverse in the transom to give it a pleasant shape. NR’s transom is very pretty. This hull was quite a change to the IOR shapes I had been drawing. Funny thing is that I noticed yesterday, looking at the old, original line plan, that I had laid out fwd and aft girth curves. So at some point I must have worked out an IOR rating for NR. Not sure what it was. NR never raced IOR so it doesn’t matter. In 2006 NR had a PHRF rating of 76.
I received a note from my buddy Matt who has sailed many ocean and PNW miles on NIGHT RUNNER:
Bob, I found an IOR certificate for Night Runner. Back in the day the Vic-Maui required everyone to race under IOR. Doug raced locally under PHRF, she just wouldn’t be competitive in IOR. When she raced to Maui she was giving time to boats much larger.
IOR L is 39.5 feet.
She’s a great all around boat, pretty much the same performance as a J-35 upwind (speed and point). She’s really good in light air, and trucks downwind, so light on the helm and stable. When we crossed line on the Vic-Maui in 2000, we were in flat water (no help from the waves), wind in the mid 20’s and speed around 12. There was quite a trough . But we were pretty happy drinking our rituals from the dog bowls.
E-Mail from Matt – Just received 10/4/14
I think the thing about Night Runner that makes her truly exceptional is she really doesn’t have any vices. She stays balanced with a light easy helm in every condition I’ve experienced. When close hauled and the wind builds, first start out with a little more cunningham and then a flattening reef when you start feeling just a little too much tension in the wheel. Even when there’s tension it’s not overwhelming, but it’s easy to dial out, fast, and feels so nice to have her perfectly balanced again. I mentioned she’s about the same speed as a J-35 upwind in breeze, we’ve dragged raced those guys (back when they were a strong class) and we have essentially the same speed and point. That’s not bad company for an old cruising boat.
Downwind she is a dream. We’ve had her out in blue water with full sized ounce and a half with winds in the low 30’s and there’s still no crankiness (note: this still doesn’t eliminate anxiety in the helmsman). You can get some cross swell that would make other boats squirt off in different directions and Night Runner will just roll it off and continue straight. If you don’t want to sail on the edge in these conditions or if it’s a little reachy, the reaching chute is the ticket.
She’s not the type of boat that’s going to roll into the mid teens off a swell or squall. But she keeps a high average speed, not slowing down too much. You know as sailors we are always trying to compare ourselves to the other boats. For the Vic-Maui in 2000 I was talking to one of the other boats about the first nights conditions and they were bragging about how they got the boat up to 19 knots! Hmm, I thought to myself we never touched 13 but we still put 20 miles on you guys the first day (cue smug smile).
That nicely balanced, forgiving boat gives you the confidence to drive hard at night on these ocean races, when there are big gains to be made. She’s really stiff too, what with 11000 pounds of lead 8 feet below the boat. I think her RM at one degree is pretty close to 2000 foot pounds.
She’s really a blistering boat in light air. I know people aren’t going to believe a big heavy boat can do it but she really creates her own wind. I think a lot of it has to do with the big foretriangle and the area that allows, tall rig, momentum to carry through the lulls, and a slippery hull. Our rivalry with Jim Marta was fun, he ended up nicknaming us Lazarus because every time he thought he had us put away we would come clawing back. “Here comes Lazarus” he’d grumble.
Case in point, we were doing my favorite race, Protection Island which is about 90 miles starting from Seattle, heading out past Port Townsend and around Protection Island and home, typically on one of the longest days of the year in June. We had decided to head out into the Straits as night fell to pick up a more consistent breeze. Right next to us was Bandito, a C&C 44. The boats are pretty similar sizewise, the rig heights within a few inches, waterline within a foot, the C&C having an advantage in weight by about 3000 pounds and Night Runner having a longer J dimension. So the breeze is fading fast on a nice sunny evening, we both have our half ounce chutes up reaching as close to the wind as we dare. Unfortunately for Bandito they let their spinnaker collapse and it was game over for them. Last we saw they had a baggy drifter, mast straight up. Doug told Frank Shriver (who was driving) to hold course and nobody trim the sails. We were just dialed in and left them at the whim of the current. We managed to cut Protection Island a little too fine and ran aground. After about 45 minutes of trying to use the spin pole to pry us off and failing at that, we got the boat spun around enough that we could hoist a chute to heel us over and get us off. We got around the island finally and headed home, about two hours later we saw the second place boat, I think it was a Santa Cruz 50, still heading out to the Island. That was a pretty epic race, I think we finished about three or fours ahead of everybody else despite the reef detour, and all on account of her light air performance.
Don’t believe me about the light air performance? How about Swiftsure, Sunday morning in the light air coming home. We walked past a Cookson 12 meter by at least a knot that morning. Light air performance is pretty nice in the open ocean too, you’ll never see jerry jugs lashed to the rail on Night Runner when she’s out passage making. That’s for candy asses as Doug would say.
I know Doug and Bob go back and forth about Night Runners forward sections, I think they had some pretty animated discussions during the design. Bob thinks they could have been fined up. It would sure help reduce the upwind resistance. But Doug points to the dry foredeck when we’ve got the full sized spinnaker in 30 knots and there’s no worry about going down the mineshaft and thinks he’s right. Where do I land on this? I think of Vic-Maui 2000, when I actually drove the boat hard enough that about a whole bucketful of water came over the stem. Once. In a 2300 mile race. And the crew commented on it like it was some incredulous thing. So I say yes a little finer. But not too much Bob, it’s nice to have some margin when it’s dark and windy and you’re cold and beat and not on your best game.
So I’ve been waxing about Night Runner’s wonderful sailing characteristics but I would be remiss not to mention that the few times when something has gone wrong, any of the crew turned from atheists to believers in short order. We broached during a Smith Island race once (when the replacement skeg, which wasn’t faired very well, stalled). It was a nasty broach, we were in the midst of starting to gybe and Doug called to release the sheets. Well since we had both sheets and guys loaded for the gybe, we had about a 50% chance of releasing the wrong one and we did. The sheets flew and wrapped around the shrouds at the first spreader so we were kind of stuck. I was holding onto the shrouds and standing on the mast, the spin pole came down the track at about 100 miles an hour and pieces of hardware went flying everywhere. The mast end of the pole started back up, spinnaker collapsing and refilling, pole slamming on the end stop again and again. Helm unresponsive and we’re going deck first through the water at about three knots (that’s hull speed when oriented that direction). Now that 2000 foot pounds at one degree of heel gets to a be a little more when you’re at 90 degrees, the boat is totally loaded up. I got a little nervous when it occurred to me that if the shroud broke it could be bad for my survival, so I decided to drop down to the lee side (underneath the angry spinnaker pole) and haul the number 3 back onboard. I don’t remember how long we spent that way until we came back up, but we were a little sheepish the rest of the way. I have a lot of respect for boats with lots of righting moment as a result.
I’ll leave with one last vision of Night Runner sailing, the first couple days of Vic_Maui 2000. We have a moderate westerly, slight haze in the air, close reaching SSW on the rhumb line with a jibtop and genoa staysail underneath. Three to four foot swells nicely spaced, she’s totally dialed in doing 7.5 to 8 knots, two finger helm pressure and just sliding over the seas for about a day and half. That was fourteen years ago and I relive it like it happened yesterday. Pretty much a perfect sail in a perfect boat.
Yes, I did give NR a skeg hung rudder. I was still big on skegs back then. I also think that considering Doug was coming off the mother of all full keelers, AFRICAN STAR, a spade rudder would have been a hard sell. I honestly don’t remember discussing it. When, many years later cruising up the coast of Mexico the skeg feel off Doug called me and asked for some drawings so they could get it rebuilt. I asked him how the boat handled without the skeg. He said, “Better.”
NIGHT RUNNER has gone through three keel mods. Originally the boat drew 7′. A couple years later we added a 12″ deep timber shoe to increase the draft. A couple years after that the wooden keel shoe was replaced with the same volume of lead and that amount of lead was removed from the top of the keel and a timber spacer was put in place. The fin is a NACA A010-12 foil in the middle of the span tapering down with the same half breadths towards the root and tapering up with the same half breadths towards the tip. In other words at any waterline, at any chord location, say 40%, the thickness of the foil would be the same. This had worked well on HEATHER and UNION JACK. My thinking was that a fin stalls first at the tip so why not have a fatter foil there. And, with the hull providing an end plate of sorts at the root why not have a thinner foil there? I was very scientific.
The rig was designed to have that old cutter look with a big foretriangle for carrying genoa and staysail. The J of 22′ is a bit excessive and I probably should have moved the mast forward or shortened the bowsprit but the resultant look might have been a bit odd. Short tacking NR with that huge 150%+ genoa was a bit of a chore. But the boat went to weather fine and loved a good power reach.
The interior layout was based on Doug’s requirements and has port and starboard pilot berths and a nice galley. I used an indented, offset companionway to open up some room in the aft cabin where I tucked in a double berth for Doug. This worked very well but with that companionway moved forward of the aft end of the cabin trunk a dodger is impossible. At the 30 year anniversary party for NR I talked to Doug’s wife and she complained about not having a dodger. I told her that I could fix that easily with a nice new 50′ version of NR. She said she had suggested that to Doug but his response had been, ” They will have to carry my dead and lifeless body off NR before I get rid of it,” Damn! I always dreamed of a 50′ ULDB version of NR.
J.J. Cale sang:
“After midnight we’re going to let it all hang out.”
Well, it’ 12.02am so I’m going to “let it all hang out”.
He also sang.:
“After midnight, all’s going to be peaches and cream.”
I have to tell you that it wasn’t peaches and cream when I had to deal with Cecil Lange, the builder of NR. Not sure what the problem was. Probably it was a case of the old smart ass versus the young smart ass. I didn’t even like the way Cecil shook hands. I’m a guitar player and I have an intimate relationship with my fingers but Cecil’s hand shake could leave indentations on a yellow cedar 2 by 6. I like a firm hand shake but really? The good news was that while the old Kiwi Cecil ran the yard it was his son Bob Lange who did the actual building and Bob for sure is a peach.
My first trip to the yard during the actual build process was to check the lofting. This was 1980 and computer produced and faired lines were still a ways off. NR’s lines were drawn by hand at ¾” tom the foot scale. To get this to full size for pattern making required the age old skill of lofting, i.e. drawing the full lines plan on the floor full size. This is necessary because at ¾” to the foot even a highly skilled draftsman is going to have some error. I learned lines drawing from a true master of the arty, Yves-Marie Tanton, when I was at the Carter office. I knew my lines were as fair as any but full sized lofting was still required.
I pulled my big Mercedes into Cecil’s parking lot and even before I could get out Cecil walked over to me and said, through the window, in his Kiwi accent, “Now don’t get excited Bob but your wife just called and she thinks she’s going into labor.” Great. There I was in Port Townsend and my wife is going into labor in Seattle with our first child. I went in to check the lofting. Years later when Chuck Schiff was lofting MERIDIAN he called me and asked, “What’s the tolerance for lofting?” Tolerance? Tolerance? There’s not tolerance in lofting! You are either spot on or you are off and you must correct so that all intersections agree, in all views, plan, profile and sections. Cecil’s lofting of NR was a mess. It was clear that while he had drawn all three views full size he had not bothered to resolve the small intersection differences required to produce a fair hull. I carefully explained to Cecil exactly what I wanted to see and how to go about it. Cecil nodded. When I got in the car to drive home Cecil walked over to the car and said, through the window, “I’m not going to draw more lines on the floor just to be drawing lines on the floor. I’ll fair the hull with battens after I have the mold frames up.” I knew this was one way to do it but I also knew it gave Cecil some license that I did not want him to have. I wanted all the control over the shape of the hull. But I lost that argument. To his credit Cecil produced a very fair hull faithful to my lines as far as I could tell.
A kind of funny moment, kind of occurred when Cecil was interviewed for a magazine article. The article was highlighting his New Zealand origins and his “old world” approach to boat building. NR was under construction at the yard at that time so Cecil took the reporter out to the yard and commenced to show her the “old school” way of establishing the centerline of the cabin trunk top. Cecil would have to do it the old way because he “did not have enough details from the designer”. I read this and went bat shit. I called Cecil up and said, “What the hell are you talking about. I sent you a drawing, deck lines, with dimensions all over it for the cabin trunk.” Cecil responded,’ “I know Bob but I had to do something to show her my boatbuilding skills.” Something like that. And that is why to this day the cabin trunk on NR has never looked right to my eye.
The next head butting episode was over the number and thickness of veneers in the hull. I wanted eight thin veneers. Cecil wanted four thicker veneers. His was saved labor. He won that argument. The Cecil announced that he would not wrap the veneers across the hull as I had spec’d. Too much labor spiling both sides of the boat separately. His way you only needed to spile ( shape) the veneers on one side and duplicate that spiling on the other. I lost that argument too. Many years later Doug would tell me that my way was probably the better way.
But these minor hiccups faded away as the beautiful NR took shape. The boat was launched and it floated right on it’s designed lines. Everyone was happy, especially Doug. If memory serves I think the build cost of NR was a bit over $150,000. Times have changed.
I just got this email from Doug:
Yes I got it. I’ve actually been out on NR since last Thursday. The earlier race history has pretty well faded into the past. I know we won our class in Tri island several times and in Center Sound did well. One first in class Grand Prix. Probably the best is Swiftsure 1st overall 1998, 2011 and 2013. 1st in class 5 times, a 2d overall in 2000, 3d overall 2004. 1st div II Van Isle 360 in 2009. 1st to finish in division Victoria Maui 1984, 1986, 2000 and 2006.
Her sailing qualities are best illustrated by a delivery trip, not a race. In 1986 four of us sailed her back from Hanalei Bay, Kauai, in the Hawaiian Islands to Port Townsend Washington a distance of about 2500 nautical miles in 12 days, 17 hours at an average speed of 8 knots. We had five day runs of 200 miles or better. The best day was reaching with a double head rig and two reefs in the main and we averaged better than 9 knots for 24 hours. . The bow hawse pipes were whistling. She is easily driven and has the most responsive yet gentle feel at the helm of any vessel I have sailed. If I were to build another boat I cannot think of anything I would change.
In my next blog entry I’ll talk about sailing and racing NIGHT RUNNER. Please visit my website for more stories about design.