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Studio Faggioni - Yacht Design


Ref. Object :  
Title: Astra
Magazine: Mer & Bateaux
Issue: 94
Year: 1994
Attachment (pdf/doc): Mer&Bateaux 94-20130531-202316.pdf
More Info: Link  »» 

Who could imagine, seeing it at rest by the quayside, in the port of Fontvieille, that a sailing yacht of such, almost fragile, finess has written one of the greatest pages in the history of yachting across all the seas of Europe?

Spring 1928, Gosport: Astra was launched at Camper & Nicholsons for Sir Mortimer Singer, the sewing machine magnate and previous owner of the cutter Lulworth. She was built to the new International Rule to be applied in 1928.

Although the agreement between the USA and the UK upon this new rule was limited to yachts up to 14.50m L.W.L., Sir Mortimer Singer was encouraged to build Astra to the new rule because of the clear advantage of having Marconi rig. The Americans, on the other hand, kept to the American Universal Rule, introduced by Nat. Herreshoff in 1890 and adopted by the New York Yacht Club ten years later.

The 1928 season was to show the first real comparison between gaff and Bermudian rigged boats, but, with a rating that appeared far too high, Astra could not achieve the result she expected; in addition in one of the races she had her stern rammed by Cambria when a piece of her rail was ripped out and lodged between Cambria's bowsprit and bobstay.

However Astra, with Albert Stroud as skipper, had proved her superiority in one very important factor: she was much simpler and faster to prepare and to manoeuvre, and that with less crew. Because of previous miscalculations, new ratings were adopted for the season 1929 and all "Bermudian" yachts were allowed to increase the height of their masts by 7.5%.

Astra carried the racing number K2, being the second sailing yacht of the Royal Yacht Squadron, after Britannia (K1) belonging to the King of England.
Astra started the 1929 season with the extraordinary record of four victories over five races, but, before the Clyde race, Sir Mortimer Singer died, and Astra was left at her mooring. After a few months she was bought by Sir Howard Frank who sailed her in the summer of 1930, and then sold her to Hugh F. Paul who intended racing Astra the next season. She was adapted to race under the J Class rule; her draft was reduced to 5m (the maximum allowed) and her mast was changed for a taller hollow wood mast.

Before the beginning of the 1933 season, Hugh F. Paul decided to transform Astra radically, by increasing her waterline length by 2m to remedy the disadvantage of her smaller size during the previous season.

Although this project was technically possible, it was not approved by the Royal Yachting Association who judged this alteration to be overstepping the limits within which an old yacht could be transformed without losing the benefits of the new rule.

Candida, like many other boats, modified her sail plan to get a better handicap; she had 120 m2 less sail area than her first season in 1929. As usual the season began in Harwich. Endeavour and Velsheda started as scratch boats over a 40 mile race: with 2 minutes a mile to Shamrock V; 3 minutes 12 seconds to Britannia; 5 minutes 12 seconds to Astra and 7 minutes 12 seconds to Candida. Shamrock V and Endeavour tried for the first time a quadrangular jib with good results, and were promptly copied by the Americans. The years 1934 and 1935 had been times of large financial investment and technological progress.

After this there was a marked decline in the J Class series. Although the America's Cup was raced in 1937, between Ranger, and Endeavour II no race season took place that year, nor in the following ones, with the shadows of War approaching.

In January 1936 King George V died and his yacht Britannia was sunk shortly after some miles off St Catherine's Point. It was a sad time and only three boats started the season: Astra, Endeavour and Vesheda.

Now in her ninth season Astra was performing better that ever. Admittedly her rating, with her age allowance, was playing in her favour, particularly in light weather where, thanks to the shape of her bow, the waterline length was very much longer when heeled. That year the J Class boats had to give Astra 8.8 seconds each mile, and time after time this proved enough to ensure victory in light winds.

Astra in Italy

In 1948, Astra had a grey diesel installed and her sail plan slightly reduced, becoming a fast cruising yacht.

She remained in England until 1952 when she was sold to Count Andrea Matarazzo, a Brazilian coffee baron. Now based in Naples, he was looking for a prestigious boat to sail around the beautiful islands facing the Gulf of Capri, Ischia, Ponza. Astra arrived in Naples in the spring of 1953. That same year Count Andrea, in honour of his father, the senator Paolo Matarazzo, organized the first Coppa dei tre Golfi.

(The Three Gulfs Cup), a regatta still taking place today and, in accordance with his wishes, one of the buoys on the race course is placed right in front of S. Marco di Castellabate, the home village of his grandfather.

The late Marcello Campobasso, a member of the International Jury relates how Astra was sailed with owner, guests and crew all dressed in dinner jackets, and that they all dined properly while racing.

In 1954, during the second stage of this regatta, Astra broke the upper part of her mast; as it fell, it caused serious damage to the planking even below deck, with risk of the boat sinking in 1.000m of water. Repairs and a new mast in silver spruce were

executed by Basilio Postiglione of Naples who took care of her until 1962. From then until 1983, Astra was based in Salerno at Gatto Shipyard which built a special cradle and shed in order to maintain her and prepare her, each spring for the Fiestain S. Marco di Catellabate. The Italian Navy, on behalf of Admiral Dequall tried, in 1971, to purchase Astra in order to transform her into a training ship for young officers, but nothing came of this. In 1973, she was taken around Italy up to Hannibal Marina in Monfalcone (Trieste) where, regrettably, she became a ketch: the main mast was then 6m shorter and the mizzen 18 m high Most probably Count Matarazzo had had enough excitement in the past!

At this point Astra was no longer the tallest mast in the Gulf of Naples. In 1979, she was purchased by a company whose chairman, Giovanni lemma, decided to shorten the main mast two metres more, in order to sail very short-handed.

After a couple of seasons spent cruising, Astra was finally hauled out at Gatto shipyard. Dismasted and hidden under a big shed that had been especially built for her in previous years, Astra waited then for a new owner.

1982-1993: Back to beauty and speed

The return of Astra to her original beauty and speed started in spring 1982 when Gian Carlo Bussei discovered her hull in Salerno. Mr Bussei, the heir of an Italian fortune, had been in love with boats since childhood, inheriting his passion for the sea from his father Ettore Bussei, whose inventions are kept at the Naval History Museum in Venice. Understanding what he had found, he decided to start a complete restoration.

Gian Carlo Bussei appointed Ugo Faggioni as naval architect, Beconcini as the shipyard, Erik Pascoli as technical consultant and Giovanni Moro as procurement co-ordinator, himself being the custodian of the aesthetics, and responsible for the historical research on Astra.

The hull was towed from Salerno to La Spezia and work soon started. Every part was closely checked, repaired or replaced when necessary. Interior accommodation, following the original plans, was completely renewed with fine woods and decorations; new machinery was installed for speed under power, electrics for all services and a watermaker.

Difficulties arose when the team had to specify the new rigging and deck layout. The problem was to combine the original racing trim with the owner's cruising requirements.

The project was the first of its kind: a mast and boom of that size had not been considered since the early thirties, and the very few people with proven experience in the field had died or were in their eighties.

A major consideration was to reduce the crew to eight people whilst allowing safe sailing in spite of her big sail area; this was attained thanks to a new aluminium mast and a careful choice of all hardware and its positioning on deck. The mast followed the looks of one of the first aluminium masts built in the thirties and the old wooden mast was donated to the Costa Smeralda Yacht Club and now stands tall in Porto Cervo in Sardinia.

With Astra close to re-launching, in 1986, Gian Carlo Bussei together with Elizabeth E. Meyer, who had recently begun the restoration of Endeavour, founded the J Class Society, for the promotion of nautical events among these big boats and to foster renewed interest in classic boats in general.

Astra went back to sea in July'88 and moved under power, to Antibes where her mast, over 50m high and built by Thierry Petitjean, was waiting. The boat was fully rigged and tested, then started her first cruising season in the Mediterranean, from the French Riviera to Greece and back to La Spezia where she spent the winter.

The following year Astra made the Atlantic crossing to meet Endeavour and Shamrock V in Newport (R.I.). On her way, she stopped in Miami, the Bahamas and New York. In the Classic Yacht Regatta run in Newport, she was awarded the prize for the best restoration.

Gian Carlo Bussei kept the boat for two more seasons, and in 1993, sold Astra to Giuseppe Degennaro, a well known Italian yacht racer from Bari, owner of Larouge, the Two-Tonner, winner of several regattas and twice selected as Italian entry in the Admiral's Cup.

Eager to sail his new boat, the new owner made just a few changes in the owner's quarters, ordered new sails, and participated in the Veteran Boat Rally in Porto Cervo and in the Nioulargue at St. Tropez.

And this year again she will be one of the most admired yachts in the classic meetings.
Erik Pascoli et Christian F?vrier

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