Where the Tornado Came From and How

In 1965 the International Yacht Racing Union decided it was in their good interest to recognise the growing fleets of small, light weight, high performance off the beach catamarans. The IYRU gave these styles of boats some ground rules and specified them (as they are still known today) as A Class, B Class and C Class.

The A Class was specified as being a maximum of 18 feet long, 8 feet wide and with a sail area of 193 square feet.

The B Class was specified as being a maximum of 20 feet long, 10 feet wide and with a sail area of 235 square feet maximum including the mast. The area of the mast being measured as its length multiplied by half the girth.

The C Class was specified as being a maximum of 25 feet long, 14 feet wide and with a sail area of 300 square feet maximum. Today this class is also known as the "Little America's Cup".

At about this time, 1965, Charlie Cunningham of Australia developed the Austral Cat and they were frequently sailed in Sydney by the likes of Ron Burrows, Eric Francis, Bill Hollier and Peter Blaxland. They also had an asymmetrical spinnaker of about 175 square feet. The hulls were all made of tortured ply wood and featured many go-fast items of the day such as bamboo fully battened mainsails and forward beams to reduce bow flexing.

The IYRU decided that they would more clearly define the A and B Class catamarans by holding some trials in August of 1967 at Sheppey, Kent on the Thames Estuary in the United Kingdom. At this regatta the Austral A Class designed by Kevin Johnston was chosen to be the International A Class by the IYRU and this style of one-person catamaran is still in existence.

For the B Class fleet, there were 17 entries from all over the world including UK, Holland, France, Germany, USA and of course Australia. Australia was proudly represented sailing on Cunningham Quest B's. Ron Burrows was on one boat with Peter Blaxland and Chris Mackell on the second. They were fortunate enough to have raised $3,000 for their air tickets and accommodation whilst abroad. In those days there were no sporting federation grants or scholarships available, just input from family and friends.

However, much to the Australians disbelief the English designed "Tornado" was far superior than any other design at the regatta.

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The Tornado was a scaled down design from a C Class known as "Thunder" built by Rodney Marsh just months prior to the IYRU Trials. The hulls were proportionally smaller than the "Thunder" with the mast and rigging designed by Terry Pearce from IYE and the sails developed by Reg White.

With its high aspect rig (still in today's proportions) and lack of front (bow) cross beam the Tornado was faster in both light and flat conditions as well as the strong wind and rough sea conditions.

There were actually two types of Tornado's at the trials. One, like we have today, and the second featuring a mainsail only fixed to an unstayed wing mast of about 15 inches deep. In the lighter conditions at the start of the regatta the wing mast was exceptionally faster however (as expected) when the breeze picked up the wing mast compressed in half and snapped thus only leaving the Tornado of today to dominate. The IYRU were quite happy that the wing mast broke as they could fore-see many problems faced by the sailors if they were to introduce such a wing mast for club sailors.

The Tornado that won the trials was sailed by Reg White and Bob Fisher (the journalist) and was the only B boat at the trials to not feature the bow beam. In the stronger conditions the Tornado was much smoother through the waves not having to "punch" the bow beam through the waves.

Peter Blaxland was so impressed by the Tornado that he ordered two from Reg White immediately to be sent back to Australia in his container for the summer of 1968.

In those days the Australian International Tornado Association (as it is known now) met once a month and at the meeting after the Trials just prior to the Christmas of 1967, Peter Blaxland had his new Tornado's at his (current) residence in Sydney. The members unloaded the new "toys" and (much to his wife's disgust) carried them up through the living room and placed them in the swimming pool with the beams on to christen them in their first Australian water.

With the Tornado being officially recognised after the event by the IYRU as an International Class the ITA had to set about establishing a Constitution. A little investigating led to them finding that the Soling Class had just completed theirs, so a copy was obtained, changed to suit the Tornado, and officially adopted by the IYRU. Thus the ITA was officially formed.

In 1968 the first "so-called" Worlds was conducted in England and was won by the Prout Bros. of the UK. However, as little or no internationals were present the first officially recorded World Championship was held at Sandringham Yacht Club in Melbourne, Australia the next year.

The 1969 World Championship was won by Maurie Davies and Ian Ramsey of Australia with Jörg Spengler of Germany being the only international visitor. Jörg was taught many new things on his trip down-under including a few tips from Peter Blaxland about the ever important battens shapes for the fully battened mainsails. Jörg later went on in the 1970's to win two World Championships and a Bronze Medal in Montreal at the 1976 Olympic Games.

The original World Championship Perpetual Trophy is still in circulation today and a base stand was added to it at the 1989 World Championship because of the lack of space on the back of the plate for the winners names.

Between 1969 and 1997 a total of nine competitors had won the Tornado World Championship twice and it wasnt until 1998 when Darren Bundock and John Forbes won in Brazil that John Forbes became the first Tornado sailor to win three World Championship titles. A win again by this same team in 2001 gave Bundock his second title but also pushed Forbes' record to an incredable four titles!