Andrew York’s masterclass in sailing fast one-design keelboats

It is no accident that Andrew ‘Yorky’ York finds himself entrenched in the upper echelons of sailing – it’s in his DNA – but the son of famous yachting parents Michael ‘Mick’ York OAM and Jeannette York OAM has moved on from his yachting days, instead making a name for himself in sleek, fast one-design keel boat racing. 

Yorky was blooded into sailing early on and followed in Mick’s footsteps when he represented Australia at the America’s Cup –  as a main trimmer and navigator respectively in 1983 (Advance) and aboard Kookaburra in Fremantle in 1985-1987.

The Sydney sailor also contested Sydney Hobarts and podiumed in a variety of other classes, such as Dragons, Etchells’ and Lasers.

Five odd years ago though, in his fifties, Yorky became an adrenaline junkie after discovering the sexy, fast VX One in 2012. More recently developing its newer slightly longer offshoot, the REO 7.2, Yorky has won four national and two NSW titles across the two boats.    

Described by devotees as “the most fun you can have on the water”, the VX One’s speed and ease of use captured Yorky’s imagination.

Brett Whitbread, a big driver of attracting people into the VX One in his local Brisbane, interrupted Yorky’s winning streak, taking the national title at the Festival of Sails in Geelong, while Yorky was relegated from second to third place on countback.

Yorky has sailed with a variety of crew, including old school friend and Laser adversary Anton Lynar and 15 year-old Felix Prince at the 2017 VX One Nationals. Tom Siganto (a talented 29er champion) finished second, while former Laser Olympic campaigner and now RQYS coach Ashley Brunning, crewed by 2016 Laser Olympic gold medallist, Tom Burton filled out the top three, indicating the high calibre of the fleet.

“My sports boat racing started back in 2012 when I bought a VX One. It was just the third boat in the country, so the only place to compete was in ASBA events,” Yorky remembers comparing his smaller 5.8 metre boat to the rest.

“They were bigger, so for us, it was hard to be competitive,” says Yorky. “The boat is a lot of fun, fairly wide, so it’s stable, has a shorter keel than the other sports boats and a low freeboard.

“It’s exceptionally quick off the breeze. I can’t remember the number of times we’ve done over 20 knots.”

Completely enmeshed, Yorky took the boat on the road. “We went to Hamilton Island, Perth Adelaide and everywhere to promote the class,” he says.

“My wife Julie and I averaged 1000 kilometres a month; 24,000 kilometres in first two years. Mostly it was to show the boat off at sports boat and class regattas.”

The time spent paid off: “We’ve now got 17 VX Ones in the country and we’ve had four national championships to-date.” 

Yorky drafted the constitution and ensured the class was affiliated with national body, as he is the Australian VX One Association class secretary.  

Experimenting with boats is one of Yorky’s character traits. And so he did with the VX One. The first person in the world to put masthead kite on the boat, he says: “The rig was designed to take one, so it was easy to convert.

“While I love the one-design racing in the boat, I wondered from an early stage how a bigger version would go, because I knew the concept of using form stability instead of a deep heavy keel, the boat would have a lot of potential.

“Over six months in 2015, I built a bigger hull and used a modified VX One rig. From my experiences in the sports boats I knew a bit about the SMS rule, so my idea was to design a boat to the rule,” says Yorky, the first person to take this approach.

“I had a long boat with a proportionally small rig on it, because I figured we’d mostly sail in 15 knots of breeze in Australia over summer. The boat I built is 1.4 metres longer than the VX One and the masthead kite is twice the size, but the mast is only 400 millimetres longer – it rated well,” Yorky explains.

“When I first put it in the water and sailed it at the Sports Boats Nationals in 2016, I could see the mast was too flexible and we couldn’t power up. Each day of the Nationals I made modifications to the rig to improve performance.”

The final day of racing it blew 15 knots and Yorky’s crew scored 1-2-1 results to claim the title, but later found a clerical error with the boat’s rating, and dropped to third. Nevertheless, Yorky was pleased.

“I’ve sailed it in 25 knots and got up to 19 knots boat speed, but I knew I needed to put stiffer mast in boat, so this year I rigged a second hand 18ft skiff mast  to fit the boat. We went sailing, took photos for the sailmaker who cut a main to fit, then took it to the Nationals in April.” 

On Day 1 in a light 6-7 knots, Yorky and his crew of Fred Kasparek (President of Australian VX One Class Association) and Andrew Maher (a Laser sailing friend he has known  for 29 years) headed up the second beat and caught weed on the keel to finish 13th from 20. In the second race that day he ended fifth, but the next day in 13-16 knots, which suited the boat down to the ground, they won all four races.

“After that first day I thought, ‘Aagh, it’ll be hard to pull this out of frying pan, but the second day was great. Going into the third and final day we were leading by six points and in 6 to 7 knots, won the first two races.

“We were doing well in the final race until the breeze shut down. Half the fleet came down on top of us, as did the 40 footer fleet sailing on the same course. We fared badly out of that and finished 10th, but we won the Nationals by seven points.” 

“I was amazed by our performance on the final day considering it was light air; we were doing 7 knots upwind on a 7 metre boat. We have better VMG upwind than the Melges boats, which have always been the boats to beat in light air.

“One of the Melges’ finished second overall, the other one fourth. Graham Sherring (Retuned, a Leech 750) was third (21 boats raced). Like us, he lost out in the breeze shutdown of the final race.

“The performance of REO Speedwagon at these Nationals confirmed my opinion that light boats with form stability are the way to go,” says Yorky, who admits, “I’m pretty competitive and analytical.” 

At around 18 years old, the idea of designing, building and campaigning a boat had formed in the back of Yorky’s mind. 

“It only took me around 40 years,” he says laughing.

It was worth it. After Yorky spoke to Brian Bennett, the trademark holding designer of the VX One, about his plans for the REO 7.2. Bennett and his design team drew the lines for Yorky, who drew the sail plan, positioned the keel correctly and looked after the engineering for keel and keel and shroud reinforcements.

“I built the boat in my factory where I build portable buildings,” Yorky says. 

The REO 7.2 looks like the VX One, it’s just bigger. Yorky named it REO Speedwagon and there is the possibility of a development of this design coming out in the future.

For those into numbers, the VX One can be sailed two or three up – around 200-225 kilos worth of crew. REO Speedwagon sailed at the Nationals with 260 kilos of crew (three up).

Yorky’s plans for the year include taking REO Speedwagon to Airlie Beach Race Week where he will sail four up (300 kilos) in the Sports Boat division. It has a self-tacking and furling jib, like the VX One. The furler makes crewing easy and has the added bonus of being a good safety feature.

“I also plan on sailing REO in the Saturday winter series on Sydney Harbour and at sports boat regattas, while I’ll sail the VX One in major class regattas.”  

There are VX One boats in Melbourne, Brisbane, Airlie Beach, Perth, Adelaide, Canberra and Sydney and Yorky is happy to organise a ride for interested parties in any of those locations, such is his passion for the class.

“If you want to have a run in either of these boats, you can call me on 0400 180 095,” Yorky says, adding: “Nobody in Australia makes any money out of importing and distributing the VX One. We all do it because we love the boat and the class. We just want to get more people sailing them.”

See REO Speedwagon in action:

By Di Pearson   

Race Yachts
Race Yachts
Cyclops Marine