I just had a serious case of deja vu all over again. I was flicking around online when I saw a photo of a recently launched boat sailing in Dutch waters. I had to give it a second look because it was a photo of a boat that I knew for 100% certainty had been massively remodeled back in 1981. I was there. I saw these huge blades cut from sheerline to sheerline just aft of the keel and lob 20 feet off the stern. We also removed the mizzen and cut off a hideous coachroof that was designed to protect the crew from the cold Southern Ocean water. Once we were done with the refit the boat that emerged from the shed did not look at all like the the boat that arrived at the yard a few months earlier.
So how was it that I was seeing a recently taken photo of an old boat that no longer existed? Let me explain. In 1981 I did my first Whitbread Round the World Race on an American boat by the name of Alaska Eagle. It was a Sparkman and Stephens design, a 65-foot aluminium sloop built at Huisman Shipyard in Holland. ’81 was at the tail end of S&S’s glory days as the world’s top yacht design company, and ’81 was also the beginning of an amazing few decades where Huisman Shipyard stood atop as the world’s premier boatbuilder. Alaska Eagle was the last “tiny” boat they built; they were soon building some of the most exquisite SuperYachts ever launched.
We had bought Flyer, the boat that won the 1977/78 Whitbread race. Flyer was originally commissioned by the Dutch businessman Cornelis van Riestchoten. Connie wanted a boat modeled on a Swan 65 because four years earlier a Swan 65 had won the Whitbread race. van Riestchoten wanted a souped-up Swan and he got a pretty good boat that allowed him to handily win the ’77/78 Whitbread. Two years later the boat was renamed Flying Wilma and with Gerry Dykstra as skipper went on to win the Spice Race from Jakarta to Rotterdam.
Then along we came and hired S&S to help us modify the boat, to update it for the ’81/82 Whitbread race. The design team at S&S, led by the late Bill Langan, were adamant that the pinched in IOR stern had to go as did the ketch rig so we took the boat back to Holland and into the original shed where it was built at Huisman Shipyard. Flyer underwent a fairly substantial refit and emerged as Alaska Eagle, but unfortunately the name given to it by the rest of the fleet, Alaska Beagle, was more appropriate. We turned a great boat into a dog. The wetted surface went up, the sail area went down, the rating went up and the boat speed went down. It really was a dog and we thrashed it 27,000 miles around the world trying to keep up with the other boats. The refit had been a disaster.
After the Whitbread was over Alaska Eagle was donated to Orange Coast College in California where it was used as a crew training boat. Fast forward three decades and enter Diedreick Nolten and Gerard Schoostra, two sailors from the Netherlands. Nolten is a successful Volvo truck dealer and Schoostra the skipper of the old Swan 65 King’s Legend. They got to wondering what ever happened to Flyer and coincidentally found that it was up for sale.
The two Dutchmen flew to California and immediately bought the boat. I had heard that they were taking it back to Holland but never gave it another thought. That was until I saw a photo of it sailing again as Flyer.
Nolten and Schoostra had taken Alaska Eagle back to the same shipyard where it was originally built and refit, only by this time the shipyard had received a royal designation and was now the Royal Huisman Shipyard. Over the course of the following year Huisman returned Alaska Eagle back into an identical replica of the original Flyer. Once again a saw was taken to the stern and the piece we had added was lobbed off to be replaced by the pinched up IOR stern that was the original design.
The mast was chucked away and a new mainmast and new mizzen were installed. Below decks the boat was refitted to the identical interior of the original design right down to the finer details like some of the older navigation instrumentation. They even added the hideous aluminium dodger back aft. The boat that emerged from the shed was identical in almost every way to the boat that was originally launched four decades earlier.
I am not really sure how I feel about this. Granted Alaska Eagle was a total dog of a race boat but Orange Coast College put roughly 10,000 miles on the boat each year for over 30 years and hundreds sailed aboard her. Many people had great affection for Alaska Eagle with many memories tied up in the name. I was in my early 20’s when I raced around the world on Alaska Eagle and it’s strange to think that the boat no longer exists. Alaska Eagle was a large part of my life and I have my own fond memories, some of them not printable, all tied up with that name. Well life goes on I guess. I just hope that I get an invite to go for a sail on Flyer.
– Brian Hancock.