Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Diamond Mystery Boat

The recent episodes of Dylan Winter’s “Keep Turning Left” - YouTube video diary of his circumnavigation of the UK in a Mirror Offshore motor-sailor; have featured the east coast rivers.

Watching the West Mersea racing fleet catching the early morning tide, I spotted this fantastic looking keel boat. An email to Dylan asking what it was, received a reply suggesting that I contact West Mersea Yacht Club, which I did. A few weeks and a whole email trail, later I received a note from Greg Dunn owner of Black Diamond

Greg’s email -

Hello Max, my name is Greg Dunn, and I am the current custodian of Black Diamond, and your message got to me via the good people listed.

She is a Yachting World Diamond, built in 1962, from the design by Jack Holt, who was commissioned by Yachting Monthly in 1960 to produce a home-build racing keelboat that would be affordable to the common man.

What he designed was quite remarkable in that it was the first planing keelboat (Uffa beat him to it with the Flying Fifteen, but that is generally accepted to be a dinghy). All the more remarkable, as it is basically a Mirror dinghy on steroids, with a pointy bit added.

The design was double chine plywood, but Black Diamond has been epoxied by the fellow who restored her, and is in surprisingly robust shape for her age; especially considering the punishment she gets - a boat which needs a yachtsman’s gale to lift her skirts!!

Holt’s design had some inspired thinking, like bringing the forestay through the deck, three feet behind the bow to allow a spinnaker chute (I don’t have one on BD, but thinking about it !) and a removable keel to allow for easier trailing and storage (she is a monster on the trailer!). All that plus packing a thirty footer in under a tonne, was also quite a feat.

The boats were originally called the YW Keelboat, but changed in 1967 to the Diamond. Boat No 1 was Zest, which I have recently seen in a shed in Southern Holland, totally original and stripped back to the ply for repainting.

There are many hybrids, as most Diamonds have been fiddled with at some time or other, and mine quite a lot. The design had great qualities, but back in 1960, underwater dynamics were not then a fully explored science, the keel and the rudder are, quite frankly, disaster areas! I have put up with my keel, but am planning to take the back edge down to a point next winter.

I did pay a small fortune to have a carbon fibre rudder designed and moved three foot aft of the unbalanced monstrosity she came with. This turned what can only be described as a dog into the last boat in the fleet to drop the spinny, the control is utterly amazing!

I’m not claiming to have had the idea, I went to Australia to research the Diamond, where they still race them in class, with two guys on trapezes, and discovered Saltash 11. The story of the rudder is told at Sailing Anarchy on this link http://www.philsfoils.com/Diamond/diamond.html

I will close with a tale about Saltash 11, the Aussie Diamond that the rudder idea was stolen from. She is owned by a Brisbane boatbuilder called Ian Wright, who is, to be fair, Australian boating aristocracy. They have done a lot to her, higher mast, closer rigging, bulb keel designed by Iain Murray, sugar scoop transom and the rudder pictured, but she is a legendary boat in Oz, having won the Brisbane Gladstone Race (second behind the Sydney Hobart) no less than eight times. I was talking to Ian Wright about that, and asked his fastest time for the 308 nautical mile race. He replied, “a shade under31 hours.”

I said I understood that was the corrected time, but he stopped me in my tracks by saying laconically that the time was the elapsed time on the water!

308 nautical miles in thirty one hour;s in a forty year old, thirty foot boat plywood boat??!! He did say it was a bit windy!! And yes, she is great fun to sail!

I’d like to give a quick thanks to Greg for this great reply, also to Dylan, the West Mersea Yacht Club and all the people who took the trouble and interest to forward my email to Greg, one of whom was Juliet, who writes the excellent blog “musings from a muddy Island” – So Juliet how about a detailed feature on Black Diamond?


  1. Max, I dont know if you knew S'Agapo which was Mark Breton's first foray into yacht ownership ? She was a Bristol MkIII, apparently a GRP cruising first cousin to the Diamond, again 30' long and narrow with a centre cockpit and 'owners' cabin aft.

    We lost the keel off Norris racing one September sunday in about 1990, I still have the T-shirt. She was 'rescued' by the Venturers and dragged across the Shrape upside down which destroyed a lot of the deck gear, not sinking because Mark had filled much of the space between the hull and inner skin with expanding foam in an attempt to keep condensation down.

    Last known of in Eastlands, I think, as a liveaboard hulk.

    Cheers ... Robbie

  2. Just seen this and it brings back memories of a visit to The Boat Show (Earls Court) with my dad about 40 something years ago. I remember standing aboard Black Diamond (I believe there was a second diamond of a slightly different spec on the stand too) with my sceptical dad being sold hard by a keen young yachtsman. I recall his comment that it was a "big Enterprise" as far as he could see. I just remember thinking "I want one" Clearly I had an eye for a decent racer even then! But we were after cruisers and that wasn't even on the radar. Lovely to see they went on to have a life as a class. I hadn't thought about it for years but she was a beauty then and now! I still "want one" what sort of handicap do they attract and are there any in UK still?

  3. Hi Mark,

    There are still three or four about, to my knowledge, and whilst racing in Mersea Week for the last four years Black Diamond has been sailing off a 995 yardstick. The West Solents enjoy 1012, and we generally race boat for boat when I concentrate enough.

    I understand that Iain Attiwell might be selling Ready....Steady..... soon, if you are interested, please get in touch with Max for my contact details.

    All the best

    Greg Dunn - Black Diamond

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