SKIFF or sportboat, dinghy or keelboat? Who wants to know, in fact why pigeonhole this exciting new concept which has taken off in the USA and Australia? Just as soon as the production increases, I am sure the VX One will prove a popular success in the UK and Europe too, writes YL boat test editor Andi Robertson.
After being developed and built by Brian Bennett in Rhode Island, the VX One has growing fleets and championships all over the USA, also now in Aus.
Since the boat was launched in 2011 nearly 70 have been built by them. But as demand increased they decided to licence a builder and concentrate on their design, development and sales operation rather than retain the responsibility as sole builder.
Newcastle based Ovington Boats took over the building of the VX One in August last year and are currently turning out one boat each week, most of which are being shipped to the USA where the demand is still considerable. Ovington have just built a set of moulds for Australasia where the boat will be built by MacKay’s in Auckland.
Duncan Hepplewhite of Ovington has already organised a couple of demos in Scotland and has sold one certain and probably two boats. Duncan says we might see as many as four or five VX Ones at the 40th Scottish Series on Loch Fyne.
The day after we sailed the VX One off Largs, the boat we had was being returned to Newcastle to complete IRC One Design measurement.
The boat is built in hand laid FRP over a foam core. The all carbon rig is by Southern Spars with a single set of easily set up spreaders. Cap shroud tension is readily adjusted to control rig power.
It is a big, powerful rig which is easy to power up and depower. The set up is similar to a 49er or 29er or other performance skiffs with the mainsheet (coming directly off the boom), powerful gnav, Cunningham and outhaul as the principal power controls.
The self tacking jib is sheeted to a dished track. The sheet and track controls run to the same pair of cleats in the middle of the boat one on top of the other, while the kite hoist and drop lines are continuous.
It is a strict one design with sailmaker choice open. There is no crew weight limit with the optimum reckoned to be around 200 to 210 kilos and the range roughly 180 to 220 kilos, depending where you are sailing.
In essence that equates to two larger people or three average to slimmer individuals.
On our test we always sailed three up with a variety of weights and sizes. In the lulls upwind we were needing power with a conservative 240 kilos all up at times and would certainly have been quicker with two, but there is certainly enough going on with three.
Many will sail with a separate mainsail trimmer and the usual consensus is more bodies are better than fewer. Then again, with three a certain choreography is required.
The slender L shaped keel has an 80 kilo torpedo bulb which promptly rights the boat if it goes on its side. I’m ashamed to say we were having too much fun to try and capsize it, and being February on the Clyde the incentives were minimal.
The keel lifts easily on the main halyard with an additional tackle.
The VX One is much closer to a skiff than a dinghy. The wide, powerful aft sections give lots of lift downwind, there is a hard chine aft for grip, and the slender bow has enough volume not to disappear too much into the waves.
Our sail out of Largs had an element of the Law of Sod about it, which is to say it started off nice and breezy, up to 16 or 18kts in the puffs perhaps. As soon as we started taking pictures though it dropped away to more like 11-14kts and of course only when we packed the boat away onto the trailer did the sun really come out!
Cutting to the chase…this is as much fun as I have had in any boat for a long time. Upwind it is rewarding to sail it well. There is a relatively powerful main, easily adjusted jib for hard hiking and nice slender foils. So that is enough to be thinking about upwind.
The belief on board was very much to try and sail it lower and fast through the waves and constantly play the main and the jib going for speed rather than feathering and trying to hold height.
The difference in boat speed was as much as two knots at times for losing just a few degrees of height.
With a deep, slender rudder and such a light all up weight, the helm is light and responsive. Certainly there is an initial desire to use it too much, but as the timing and communication with the crew becomes better it is easier to keep it driving fast at optimum power using the main trim and crew weight.
Upwind in 12-15kts we were hitting high six knots most of the time when sailing a higher mode, but that was more like 7.5 and more when you kept the bow down. And even for those used to the modern planing sportboats like the J/80, J/70, Melges 24 and SB20 this is much more dinghy like upwind and much more sensitive to trim and heel.
Downwind in the sustained gusts with a few little waves it was pretty awesome. The bow lifts and it planes fast in probably 13-14kts of breeze. It accelerates easily, lifts quickly but it displays the wonderful combination of being easily worked, responding to the pumps and helm movements and yet it still tracks directly with no feeling you are about to be knocked off balance on the next wave.
And it feels properly fast. Not ‘sit in and watch the world go by’ fast, but with the low freeboard and the crew weight right back, skimming just over the waves, it was simply a case of steering into the big A sail and working with the trimmer to keep at max power all the time. And that seemed to be rewarded. Bringing the bow up and the sheet on, readily sustained the planing for longer.
And when the bigger gusts really hit then it was easy to bring the bow down and the acceleration just seemed to continue. Our best speed for the day was over 17kts but there is little doubt with more breeze and a few bigger waves you’d top 20 with ease.
The gybes were easy enough with a little conviction and practice. With three you need to make sure there is space for the helm to get across. I speared the extension through the mainsheet on one gybe but even that did not prove terminal!
Certainly in most domestic racing round these waters, there are not going to be many non-foiling boats which are quicker. And the fun factor was like nothing I have sailed recently, it is so quick, direct, easy and entirely manageable downwind.
Some will question the value for money. It’s a little over £25k with the trailer and trolley and when it is packaged up behind the car it looks like a big dinghy. You can put a secondhand SB20 on the water for under £10k but they are surely slower and more sedate. The J/70 and so on all have a bit of interior. On the other hand there are sailors out there prepared to spend £25k.