Cod’s Head & Mackerel Tail

Ted Brewer, a designer who did much of his work in my own state of Washington, recently retired and moved back to British Columbia. His training material for amateur builders and beginning yacht designers, now in its 4th edition, portrays the typical hull form used on sailing craft from the 1800s known as the Cod’s Head & Mackerel Tail, as inappropriate for contemporary designs. It is even stated that such a hull form “would sail better backwards!”. This opinion is based on work Brewer did with America’s Cub boats in the 1960s.

Shortly before Brewer began modifying AC boats, the New York Yacht Club, having suspended AC racing during the World Wars, successfully petitioned the Supreme Court of the State of New York to modify the Deed of Gift governing future AC races. The modifications approved by the court allowed boats to cross the ocean on transports rather than their own bottoms. They also limited the size of the racing vessel to 65 feet under a 12 meter rule.

The British appeared to have an edge in sailing 12-meter sailboats, which were not raced in the U.S. at that time, and sent the 12 meter yacht Sceptre to compete in 1958. Sceptre lost every match. Brewer, and others, including English designers, concluded that the shape of Sceptre’s hull, the Cod’s Head and Mackerel Tail, explained what Brewer describes as the fiasco of four straight losses and no wins.

The folly of 1958 probably was the removal of the requirement that challengers travel to AC races on their own bottom, because it allowed designers to skip over seaworthiness considerations, considerations Sceptres designers were unwilling to ignore. But this foolishness was compounded by those wishing to attribute the designer of the boat that beat Sceptre with most of the glory. Olin Stephens had designed what was arguably the fastest 12-meter in the world, Vim, prior to designing Columbia, the boat that beat Sceptre. He was well recognized owing to that and the AC win.

But more important than design is the fact that this was Sceptre’s first race. Columbia’s crew had been well seasoned during an exhausting set of matches with crew on Weatherly the vessel that Brewer eventually modified, and in 1962 won the cup 4 out of 5 matches. Because many AC races were determined in contests where the challenger didn’t win a single match, prior to 1958 and after then, rejection of a hull form respected for hundreds of years truly was foolish. This was especially true with the introduction of fiberglass which allowed the construction of much more ridged hulls necessary for larger boats that could plane, like the Santa Cruise 40s and 50s. Tasar race crews (possible familiar with Brewer’s disparaging remarks involving the cods head and mac hull form) have objected to characterizing their race boats that way. The form is subtle in the Tasar and in the Mac26x and is preceded by what is called by brewer a fine entry bow.

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