Amazing articles on just about every subject...

International Sonder Class Of Germany, Spain, And The United States

( Originally Published 1911 )

THE Sonder, or Special Class, as it is called, is for many reasons the most remarkable small racing class that we have, as, for the four years of its existence in this country, the critics, experts, and naval architects are still at a loss to decide upon the correct combination of measurements, weights, etc., that would go to make up the boat to win in all conditions of wind and water. In fact, from my own experience in the twelve boats I have designed, I believe it impossible to embody in one boat all the points that would make her successful under all conditions. It would take at least two, and possibly three, boats of entirely different design to cover every condition. This being the case, it is necessary to build the boat to sail in the conditions of wind and water that prevail in that country where she is to be used. A good example of this is the fact that the German trio, in 1906, built for conditions that prevail at Kiel, Germany, met with defeat at the hands of the American boats off Marblehead. And in turn, in 1907, the American trio that went to Germany, being large flat boats with little ballast, lost to the German team of narrow, heavily ballasted boats, under extremely severe weather conditions off Kiel. I will go into particulars as regards these con-tests later on in this Chapter as I had the pleasure of sailing on one of the American boats in both series.

The class originated in Germany, the restrictions being drawn up there, and a great number of boats have been built, for, to begin with, there was a cost limit of only $1224, which now has been raised to $1440 in Germany and to $2400 in the United States. This allowed even the men of small means to own and sail a racing craft, and in order to hold and increase the interest the Emperor of Germany offered valuable prizes to be sailed for each year during Kiel Week, and as many as twenty-five boats sometimes competed for them.

The first boat built in America was the "Uncle Sam," in 1902. She was shipped to Kiel where she succeeded in winning the Emperor's Gold Cup, after which she was purchased by his Majesty and given over to the Navy for the purpose of educating various officers in the handling of this small racing type. This boat is still in existence, which speaks well for the restrictions under which she was constructed.

In the summer of 1906 an arrangement was made between the Kaiserlicher Yacht Club of Kiel, Germany, and the Eastern Yacht Club of Marblehead, Massachusetts, for a series of races for the Roosevelt Cup, given by the Eastern Yacht Club, to be sailed off Marblehead in September. The teams were made up of three boats on a side — the first one winning three first places to take the Cup, and this series, is what gave the Class such impetus in this country.

There were seventeen boats built to compete in the trial races — the designs varying all the way from the wide flat scow to the narrow sharp-ended hull, with heavy lead. The general restrictions were that the length on the water-line, plus the greatest beam plus the greatest draft, should not be more than thirty-two feet. Also that the boat should not weigh less than 4035 pounds with equipment aboard, and that the sail area rated should not be more than 550 square feet in the main-sail and jib. The table of restrictions follows :


L plus B plus D must not exceed 32 feet (9.75 meters).

L equals length on water-line B " extreme beam D " " draft

With complete outfit on board ready for racing, but without crew. There will be no time allowance.


Displacement must not be less than 4035 pounds (1830 kilograms), without crew.

All yachts must be weighed.


The total cost of construction of the American yachts, including two suits of sails, must not exceed ten thousand marks ($2400).


The hull must be built of cedar, mahogany, or heavier wood, copper fastened (this term includes brass or composition bolts and screws).

Double planking not allowed.

The deck may be pine or any other wood. Deck and planking must not be less than t inches (16 millimeters) thick, no diagonal or ribband-carvel planking nor composite building and no centerboards or leeboards allowed. The cockpit must not exceed 8 feet (2.44 meters in length). The restriction on composite building does not prevent the use of a metal plate for a fin or of metals for interior trussing and bracing.


Rig optional. No hollow or built up or bamboo spars allowed. Sail area must not exceed 550 square feet (51 square meters), measured according to the rules of the International Yacht Racing Union. Yachts must carry at least one entire outfit of spars and at least one complete suit of sails on board during each race.


Every yacht must produce an official measurer's certificate stating that she has been built in accordance with the above conditions, a fact which shall be ascertained by the race committee before the beginning of the races.


The crew must be made up of amateur members of the yacht clubs which are admitted to the trial races and shall consist of not more than three persons, who must be citizens of the country in which the yacht was built.


The races will be sailed according to the rules of the International Yacht Racing Union, under the joint control of the Kaiserlicher Yacht Club and the Eastern Yacht Club.

These restrictions mean that a boat could be any length over-all, and that you could use any combination of water-line, beam, and draft, so that naturally a wide difference of dimensions and weights resulted. One of the boats that year weighed over 5000 pounds and others were down to the given 4035. One, as per plans No. 38, was of the long exaggerated overhang, narrow beam, hard bilged, flat shoal scow, and this boat was chosen to be one of the American Defenders. Another, of the same general type, only wider and deeper, with less bilge angle, and smoother lined, proved easily to be the fastest of the fleet in light, smooth weather; mainly, I think, on account of her very light ballast and wonderfully prepared surface. Her condition was as nearly perfect as it is possible to get, having a mahogany skin, highly polished by trained piano polishers. She was also chosen, and the lines are shown under plans No. 37.

The third boat on the team, and which eventually won the Roosevelt Cup, was of an entirely different type, being narrow with sharp ends, heavy displacement, and a comparatively large quantity of ballast—about 2500 pounds, as compared with 1700 on the scows.

This did not, however, deter the believers in the scow type from continuing to build them, for in 1907 two scows were chosen, with one sharp-ended boat, to go to Germany to represent America. In the races at Kiel, which took place that summer, severe conditions of wind and water were met with, and the German boats, with their low sails, small narrow hulls, and very heavy lead, or ballast, were easily victorious. The only American boat to make any showing was the one with the smallest hull and sharp ends. And here I might add that the sails were very much against the success of the Americans, as they were too full for such severe conditions. The German boats having flat sails had a tremendous advantage, as the wind attained a velocity of forty miles an hour during some of the heavy squalls. The full sails of the American boats were all aback, while the flat sails of the Germans were carried full most of the time.

Another surprising point was that on a broad reach in the heavy sea, the narrow, sharp boats carrying full sail were forced through the water at a greater speed than the scows with single reefs, which was all they could carry. Under a less weight of wind pressure the scow would outreach the smaller boat.

On leaving Germany my mind was made up that the little hull with plenty of lead was the type to win with in the Sonder Class, and I have not changed my mind to any great extent since, as far as Kiel conditions go, unless it be in favor of the big scow, weighing 4800 pounds, with 2600 pounds of lead. This type has not been thoroughly tried out, al-though she is considered by many to be the correct idea. She would, however, be absolutely useless in other than very heavy conditions, and so it would be a difficult matter to get her selected during trial races, especially at Marblehead. In 1908 only one powerful boat was built in this country, the plans being shown in design 41.

She was very narrow, heavy displacement, excessive draft, and she proved to be the best of the American boats during that summer in a strong breeze and sea, going to windward in a remarkable manner, but slow reaching and running before the wind.

On the other hand, in 1908, the races showed the sharp-ended boats to be of little value in conditions at Marblehead, as the only boats to win in the Class were two extreme scows with light ballast and the boat last mentioned. The winner of 1906 and her sister boat did not get a first place.

The outcome of the 1908 races again set yachtsmen thinking as to what really was the correct type, and as yet this question has not been answered. The tendency, however, is to the broad flat boat for the 1909 trial races.

Designs 46 and 51 show the modified wide scow with reverse overhangs and low ends ; also the refined narrow scow with less reverse ; generally a compromise in an attempt to get a good average boat. These boats are being built for the 1909 races.

Having, in a general way, covered the German and American types I shall say a few words about the Spanish Class that again puzzles the minds of the various designers.

The American team of the year 1907, after leaving Germany, went to Bilbao and San Sebastian, Spain, for a series of races with the Spanish boats. The outcome of this series was a victory for Spain and the winner was an exceedingly narrow, sharp-ended boat with a heavy dead rise on the sections. The races at San Sebastian were drifting matches with an old ground swell rolling in from the Bay of Biscay. As I mentioned earlier in this book the sharp boats easily outdrifted the flat ones, especially in a rolling sea, again showing that the narrow, sharp-section boats were better in a slight roll, with no wind, although apparently fluky winds had something to do with the races being very unsatisfactory as a test of speed.

The following plan shows a sharp boat with a round, easy form, a boat that should be well adapted to foreign conditions, either in a light or heavy wind. (See design No. 42.)

Now, having given in a general way what this Sonder Class has actually done, I will say something as regards the makeup of the different types, the American boats having shown a great diversity in design.

From a first glance at the Sonder Class requirements, it would seem that the boat should be rigged as a cat boat, because the sail rating is the actual sail area of the main-sail plus the area of the fore triangle. This fore triangle has for a base line the intersection of the headstay with the deck and the fore side of the mast; and for a perpendicular, the intersection of the jib luff and the mast, or actually the highest jib halliard or spinnaker block. These areas added together must not be more than 550 square feet of area. This means that there will be a certain amount of area lost in the actual jib, as it would be impossible to completely fill the fore triangle with the jib. So it works out that there are actually about 525 square feet in the working sails, if the boat is rigged with mainsail and jib. This being so, I decided to try cat rigs on my boats in 1906, and planned the hulls accordingly.

Two of the boats that year were worked out under that rig with a great deal of care, but in the end were adjudged failures and their rig changed to jib and mainsails. One reason for this was that it was necessary to have the mast stepped well out on the forward over-hang, thus making it very difficult to hold the mast in place. Another reason was that the weight of the mast gaff, etc., being well for-ward, spoiled a sensitive hull and would not allow of free action, that is, the rise and fall of the hull in a seaway, which killed her life. The boats instantly showed more speed on being shifted back to the other rig, and one of them was later the first choice on the American team. The other steadily improved, until in the summer of 1908, with a somewhat different balanced rig, she proved to be by far the fastest boat of the fleet in light weather. The lines are shown below (number 40), and her dimensions are 38 feet over-all ; 19 feet 3 inches water-line; 5 feet 5 inches draft; and 7 feet 4 inches beam, with very low flat ends and weighing 4090 pounds. I am pleased to say that she was sailed by the youngest amateur in the fleet, he having had but three years' experience and he sailed against some of the best amateurs in the country.

The boat that proved to be the best all-round boat in 1906 was a moderate formed, round, easy-lined, healthy type of little racer of the following dimensions : 35 feet 6 inches over-all, 19 feet 9 inches water-line, 6 feet 8 inches beam, 5 feet draft.

With a low rig and heavy ballast the entire craft weighed about 4500 pounds, and depending on her lead for her stability she was a good all-round boat. She used very flat English cut sails, setting to a nicety, and her painted hull was beautifully smoothed.

In 1907 there were comparatively few boats in the Trial Races for the selection of the team to go to Germany, and a sister boat of the " Champion " in 1906 was badly defeated. Two light weather scows and a 1906 boat were finally selected, none of which were first class in any way, though the best obtainable at the time.

In 1908 one new boat was built on the following plans : Her dimensions were 35 feet over-all ; 19 feet 3 inches water-line ; 6 feet 10 inches beam ; and 5 feet 10 inches draft, an excessive draft for these little boats, as proved by the season's racing, the deep fin seeming to be a drag in any conditions, excepting a heavy blow to windward when she seemed at home. Under these conditions nothing could beat her, as she would hold on and go up across any bow in the fleet with apparently little effort, but she was slow across wind, or before it. She had a long, easy bow, especially adapted for a seaway, and her weight of 4450 pounds made her powerful, and although the center of gravity of the ballast was high up the combination was good for a breeze. (See design 41 a.)

Another boat in the 1908 fleet was the crack of 1906, but either the other boats had improved or she was not in as good condition, for she was usually beaten by from one to three boats in the races which she entered. And so again the balance of favor for the new boats of 1909 was toward the developed scow form, less brutal perhaps than the old scows, but of the scow type. Designs 46 and 51 for 1909 show the modifications :

Most of the American boats are equipped with fairly full sails — that is, sails with considerable draft or flow in them, as these seem to give the best results in our ordinary mid-summer conditions. In the early spring and fall, however, hard flat sails are essential, as was proven last year (1908), when one of the large scows, that had won practically nothing up to that time, came out with a flat suit and easily defeated the fleet in three heavy blows, winning thereby the Quincy Challenge Cup, raced for now by the Sonder Class. This win was accomplished mainly by the fact that she was able to point very high and still hold her headway, even though the hull was not especially good under the conditions. It is fair to add that the boat was almost perfectly handled by one of the finest amateurs in the country.

The balance of these boats is almost as necessary as a good hull and helmsman, as they balance on a narrow fin, are long over-all, with the rig well inboard, and turn in a very short radius. Of course, in light weather the helm will be carried amidships, or possibly a little lee helm is felt in very light drifts, but the minute the boat feels any wind pressure the helm should be in the center line, or slightly to weather. Then when it blows hard, the balance in a measure should remain about the same, anyway to windward.

It is in reaching that the boat will gripe, then being very hard on her helm, and to offset this trouble, trim the jib more or less flat and ease off the mainsail slightly and she will at once show better speed.

The rig on several of the boats, such as halliards, main, and preventer backstays, lead below deck, thus offering less windage and making things more trim and snug. This, however, is carrying things pretty far unless the owner or skipper understands this sort of rigging pretty thoroughly. Wire rigging is quite generally used and all the halliards have tackles so that the sails may be set up during a race if necessary. In most of the boats the cockpit is amidships, thus bringing the crew over the center of buoyancy where they should be allowed to sit well down in the bottom, as practically none of the boats now use water-tight cockpits, some going so far as to leave out bottom boards or slats entirely, the crew sitting or standing, as the case may be, directly on the inside of the planks and floors. This is done to save weight, as the bottom of the fin is the place for all ballast in these racing machines.

As regards structural strains, etc., I have found the best method, and in fact the only one to stand the strain of three years' racing, to be three sets of longitudinal trusses placed between deck and bottom, this only applying to the extreme flat-ended scow, as she is necessarily hard on herself in a seaway, and if the ends drop any the boat will go badly over length. She is only one foot and a few inches from deck to bottom for the greater part of her hull ; has 2000 or more pounds of lead hung in the middle ; and with the low flat ends the pounding in a seaway is very severe, so it is necessary to thoroughly brace her. Plank on edge trusses, with lattice work and uprights, tie rods, etc., are very essential for this form, and it has always seemed to me to be the most satisfactory bracing, as well as the lightest. These trusses are shown on the construction plans very clearly.

I think that the best combination of rig is about 425 square feet in the mainsail and 100 square feet in the jib ; this, with the short base to the fore triangle allows of a good height for the spinnaker block, which greatly benefits the effectiveness of the spinnaker, as was proven by one of the boats in 1908, when her change in rig put her from a medium good boat to the best in the class, to my mind. This was due almost entirely to the raising of the spinnaker block clear of the mainsail, so giving the spinnaker head a chance to do good execution. It was not bothered in any way by the mainsail, so I have adopted this plan for the six boats I have designed for the summer of 1909.

I looked over the German boats very care-fully in 1907 and they certainly have a great advantage in construction over anything that I have yet seen built in this country. The Spanish cedar used by them has been drying out for years and many of them were built with flush seams, having no calking whatsoever. This insured a good surface under any conditions, as there was no putty to squeeze out; also, instead of using rivets with bungs, of which there are about 4000 in one of our boats, they use small brass or copper nails, small headed, and flush with the outer surface. The skin was varnished above the water; with paint or potlead below the surface, and was polished to a high point of perfection. Their planking is very light, and on account of the small sharp-ended hulls they require very little interior bracing. These facts allow them to carry a very large percent-age of lead to total weight, about 60 per cent, which means about 2600 pounds of ballast — a very great advantage. They were also fairly heavy ; weighing 4300 to 4600 pounds — another advantage in their weather conditions, and so they were able to lug their rigs far longer than the American boats.

Their dimensions were very moderate — about 33 to 36 over-all, 4 feet 8 inches draft and 6 feet 6 inches beam, allowing thereby a long water-line of about 21 feet. They had very easy formed high ends, the angle of rise being twice as much as that of the Americans. There were no reverse curves in the profiles, but the overhangs ran straight from the middle body. Their sections were very round, with a heavy dead rise, and forward the sections worked into a "U" shape, while the stern transoms were narrow and the lines on the whole exceptionally graceful, depending on the ballast for stability, having practically no initial stability in the hull.

The sails used in 1907 were a great improvement on those used over here in 1906, being well-cut and of good proportions, but of fairly heavy duck and very flat (little draft). They used roller booms for reefing, which are necessary under German weather conditions, as it will sometimes come up and blow thirty or forty miles an hour without any warning, and to be able to reef quickly is a distinct advantage. In one race it was necessary for us, on the boat I was sailing on, to lower our peak, ease the mainsail well off, and reach across the wind for ten or fifteen minutes, while the German boats rolled in a reef and went about their business, gaining many precious minutes in the operation.

As before said, the German craft of 1907 were the finest constructed boats of this class I have as yet seen. There is tremendous interest in this Sonder Class, mainly on ac-count of its international character, and as nearly as I can estimate there have been built, and now exist in the three countries, including the 1909 boats, between 90 and 100 of this class, at a total cost of close to $150,000, which, if incidentals are considered, would bring the cost up to $200,000. Quite a sum for a small class.

It may be of interest as showing the friendly feeling that exists between Germany and the United States, that after the races in 1906 the architects of the American team forwarded their plans to Germany, to be published and used by anyone who might be interested, and to help along the sport. In return the Crown Prince of Germany in 1907 sent me a set of plans of his boat "Angela IV" for use over here. I know of no other international sport where such an open-handed policy prevails.

Home | More Articles | Email: