Rival Owners Association
Three of a kind: Rival 31, 32 and 34
By Peter Poland
Receiving an invitation to sail a Rival is a bit like getting a chance to meet a living legend. There is an element of folklore about these boats - a folklore that has its roots back in 1967 when Peter Brett designed his first cruiser for fibreglass production.
Brett persuaded Eric White - whose company was already churning out Trident 24 cruisers in Southampton - to mould his dream boat. White then introduced him to three young tyros who had just set up the Southern Boatbuilding Company - and thus Brett, Marcon and Southern Boatbuilding combined forces to put the Rival brand on the map.
Brett's first Rival - the 31 - featured a transom-hung rudder on a raked stern. But he found that this induced more weather helm than he liked - especially when reaching at high speeds in heavy winds - so he took the bold decision to change the moulds and fit a vertical internal rudder stock trunk. This transformed the boat and - having produced over 20 31s - Brett retooled the model by adding a short but graceful counter. And so the Rival 32 was born; of which over 200 were built.
By the time a new 34 replaced the 32 in the early 1970s, Rivals were on a roll. The signature keyhole bulkhead in the main saloon, graceful sheer line sweeping up to a high (and therefore sea-kindly) bow, sensible heavy displacement hulls, long-ish keels and elegant counter sterns had become well known to (and coveted by) the discerning yachting public.
The 34 also upped the ante in the performance stakes, thanks to new thinking at her back end. Brett took the original model made for the 31 and deepened the afterbody - following the practice of contemporary offshore racing yachts. The model was tank tested and showed a reduction in resistance (compared to the 32) of 6%. Brett said that the longer overhangs on the 34 did not, however, result from the tank testing. He added them to improve steadiness when sailing upwind in a seaway and to give her an even more graceful appearance.
The Rival's growing reputation for shrugging off heavy weather was put to the test in many long distance events. The inaugural AZAB (Azores and back) race included four Rivals (a 31, two 32s and the first 34) in its entry list.
Then young naval officer Geoff Hales borrowed Brett's own Rival 34, Wild Rival, and entered the 1976 OSTAR (Observer single handed transatlantic race). “It was one of the roughest OSTARs on record,” Hales told me. “ Out of 126 entries, only 76 finished. Wild Rival, a deep keel version of the 34, took it all in her stride and we finished 23rd.
“We won overall on handicap - even beating Eric Tabarly, who was first to finish in Pen Duick 1V. Wild Rival was so well balanced that she frequently sailed herself - without needing to use the Aries self-steering gear - and the high bow really proved its worth in the heavy head-seas.”
Given a Rival's reputation for seagoing comfort and an ability to tackle heavy weather with ease, it was ironic that a puny breeze and flat seas should greet me as I trotted down a Hamble pontoon to join Andrew Gardener (the Rival Owners Association webmaster) and his Rival 32 St Brigid.
Andrew bought St Brigid 12 years ago and has lavished much care and attention on her, replacing old or tired gear as and when he could afford it. As a result, she did not look her age - a venerable 37 years. One of the first things Andrew jettisoned was the old Volvo MD15A, replacing it with a beefy and smooth running Yanmar 3GM that just squeezes into the space under the companionway steps.
Then the original mattresses were re-upholstered, the heads replaced and the saloon headlining renewed. On deck, St Brigid still has her original gold anodised Sparlight mast and boom. A removable inner forestay was added to take a blade or storm jib and new Andersen 40ST stainless steel winches make sheeting in the large masthead genoa a doddle.
Then - having sailed about 27,000 miles with the previous sails - St Brigid's latest treat was a brand new Kemp main and genoa. The radial cut roller genoa has foam inserts in the luff to flatten it as it rolls. The mainsail raises and lowers into a neat boom stowage pouch.
When I looked at the perfect set of these new sails, I agreed with Andrew that there's no point in “spoiling the ship for a ha'porth of tar” - especially when it comes to its principal propulsion system.
Having cast off and motored down river - the 3GM pushing her fast and with a minimum of noise or fuss - we hoisted the main and unfurled the genoa. Sadly, the wind still refused to oblige, and the most we recorded was 9.9 knots. Still, even in these light conditions St Brigid achieved a respectable 4.8 knots to windward at about 40 degrees to the apparent wind.
The new sails were definitely doing their job and worth the expense. Since the sea was flat, there was no chance to see how her sweeping and high bow kept rough seas off the decks. Still - rather like looking down the bonnet of an elegant limousine - the view along her wide side-decks towards the bow gives a feeling of security and latent horsepower.
There is no doubt about it - this boats oozes class and ability. She may not be a flighty racer or a modern fat-sterned AWB (average white blob), but she is no slouch. That's her appeal.
When the wind disappeared, we motored home and I had a good look below decks. Numerous unusual features - that would be too expensive to feature as standard on a modern production cruiser - show how thoroughly thought through these boats were.
The saloon table folds away at sea; freeing up the cabin sole for easy movement. The settees incorporate good old-fashioned stow-away root berths with inboard poles that slot into notches to give the sleeper a snug and secure berth, even when the boat is heeled. Every Rival included these root berths as standard, and once you've slept in one at sea, nothing else will do.
The galley, chart table (facing forward) and quarter berth - separated from the saloon by the signature Rival keyhole bulkhead - are generously proportioned and easy to use. And wherever you look, lockers abound. This is a cosy, characterful interior - a fine place to live in at sea.
Those besotted with aft heads compartments with enough space to swing a cat won't be enthralled, however, by the Rival 32's amidships head and washbasin. But let's face it - how much time do people spend using the loo or painting their faces?
Rival owners are well supported by an Association with around 380 members and they get a lot of value for the annual £15 sub. Of particular interest is Rival Roundup - a magazine that has been running since 1974 and features cruising tales and technical articles.
Then there is the ROA Forum section which includes topics such as cruising, technical and crew finder. It's a treasure trove of ideas, suggestions and comments from Rival owners (who tend to be experienced sailors) - as valuable to potential Rival owners as it is to Association members.
If there is one thing that comes through loud and clear from the ROA, it's that Rival owners are helpful and friendly people who want to spread the Rival message. And I've no doubt that this will carry on for as long as Rivals continue to cruise the world's oceans. Which could be a very long time.
For: Elegant lines. Seagoing ability. Solid build. Practical interior. Active Owners Association.
Against: These boats are getting on, so a thorough survey is necessary before buying. If you really want an aft cabin and a luxurious heads compartment, she won't fit the bill.
Reproduced from http://www.themainsail.com