Flica Project


RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT In the late summer of 1928 the aviation pioneer Sir Richard Fairey commissioned the yacht designer Charles Nicholson to construct a 12 Metre class racing yacht. At the same time Sir Richard Fairey instructed the designers and engineers at his Hayes aircraft factory to embark upon an unprecedented program of research, design and development work.

The research into the design of the new yacht started with hydrodynamic tank testing of hull models of his current Fife 12 Metre Modesty and a detailed mechanical examination of her construction. The hydrodynamic research was complemented by the construction of the world’s first experimental low speed wind tunnel for racing yacht design at the Hayes aircraft factory.

Although the primary use of the wind tunnel was for sails research, Fairey engineers developed a method of experiment for measuring the component known as skin friction in naval architecture which was used in both the hull and sails research work.

Fairey Aviation wind tunnel and recording station at Hayes

The C&N and Fairey Aviation drawing offices worked on the design of Flica from 1928-1934

The remarkable partnership between Charles Nicholson, the artisan designer with his vast experience of yacht design and construction and Sir Richard Fairey, with his great competitive spirit and access to vast industrial resources and all the technical sophistication of the aviation industry, led to the construction of the new yacht that was launched at Camper & Nicholson’s Gosport yard on Thursday 9th May 1929 and her name was Flica.

Richard Fairey at the helm of Flica racing at Cowes in 1932

Sir Richard Fairey gradually improved Flica’s performance and from 1932 onwards she was the boat to beat in the 12 Metre Class. Major B. Heckstall-Smith reported in Yachting World that: not only was Flica the best of the 12s but Fairey was also our best helmsman. In 1932 Fairey won 35 flags in 39 races and in 1933 49 flags in 55 races.

With Sir Richard Fairey at the helm Flica’s success was unparalleled and his personal collection of press cuttings stands as a fine testimony to her greatness.


A model of Flica under test in the wind tunnel at Hayes during 1933

During 1933 Fairey ran a substantial research, development and wind tunnel programme at Fairey’s Hayes factory with the specific intention to issue a 12 Metre America’s Cup challenge for 1934.

Richard Fairey sailing for the press at Cowes on 18th September 1933

In his correspondence with Fairey, Sir William Burton, President of the International Yacht Racing Union, debated the chances of the New York Yacht Club accepting a 12 Metre challenge rather than a J-Class. In any event, Sir William Burton encouraged Fairey to believe that it would not be necessary to build a new yacht as Flica was so far ahead of the fleet in the 12 Metre Class.

In May 1933 Mr. W.H. Appleton of New York, writing to Yachting World, conceded that Americans were way behind with 12 Metre design and that it would take some time for them to get on the same competitive footing with the British and Scandinavians.

Appleton also reported that in the previous year the American 12 Metre fleet had been outclassed by the ex- Sopwith 12 Metre Mouette: an excellent yacht but one already outclassed by the superb Flica. In contrast to the Americans, Fairey was on top of his game and so it seems, that with good reason, the New York Yacht Club On 16th October 1933 the formula for a new 3rd Rule affecting the 12 Metre Class was agreed at the International Conference in London.

The next morning, 17th October 1933, Major B. Heckstall-Smith made an announcement that the New York Yacht Club had been asked to accept a challenge for the America’s Cup in 1934 from Sir Thomas Sopwith with his new J-Class yacht Endeavour via the Royal Yacht Squadron.

With this announcement Sopwith had effectively closed the door on Fairey’s hopes for a 12 Metre America’s Cup challenge as the Americans were bound by the Deed of Gift to accept a J-Class yacht and were reluctant to accept a 12 Metre America’s Cup match in 1934.

On 22nd December 1933, Yachting World reported that Fairey had issued a challenge to the North American Yacht Racing Union for an International Challenge Trophy for the 12 Metre Class.

At the same time Fairey announced that he had given instructions to Nicholson to commence the construction of a new 3rd Rule 12 Metre yacht with which he would race against the Americans.

Herbert Diaper (right) and crew on board Flica in September 1933

It now appears that Fairey, still determined to keep ahead of the class and still interested an America’s Cup challenge, instructed Nicholson to modify Flica’s keel to conform to the new 3rd Rule immediately after the International Conference.

C&N Flica General Arrangement (2nd International Rule) dated 12th December 1928

C&N Flica Docking Plan 367/4 (3rd International Rule) dated 13th August 1949

Flica on the slipway at Fowey showing 3rd International Rule keel in 1946 - Copyright Derek Jones

The New York Yacht Club did not accept Fairey’s challenge, the new yacht never left the drawing board and by 5th January 1934 Fairey had sold Flica to Hugh Goodson. It seems that Fairey was persuaded, either by Sir William Burton or Sir Thomas Sopwith, that the only way to achieve his ambition to win the America’s Cup was to do so with a design that complied with the requirement for an LWL between 65 and 90 feet as set out in the America’s Cup Deed of Gift.

The result of all this turmoil was that early in 1934 Fairey purchased Shamrock V from Sir Thomas Sopwith and went sailing with King George V. During 1934 and 1935 Fairey sailed Shamrock V and experimented with 65 to 90 feet LWL designs in the wind tunnel at Hayes. And in 1934 he came second in the J-Class to Sopwith’s new yacht Endeavour.

In 1935, Fairey was still determined to make an America’s Cup challenge in a smaller yacht than a J-Class and he issued a challenge via the Royal London Yacht Club with the 65 feet LWL K-Class yacht Windflower.

Once again, his attempts were thwarted, his challenge was not accepted by the New York Yacht Club, the Windflower was never built by Fairey and in 1936 he returned to the 12 Metre Class with his new C&N 12 Metre Evaine.


Hugh Goodson at the helm of the 3rd Rule Flica in 1936

Flica was Hugh Goodson’s first taste of the 12 Metre Class and he continued with her successful racing career to 1938 by which time he too had ambitions for a 12 Metre America’s Cup challenge. In 1938, much inspired by his success with Flica and with an America’s Cup challenge in mind, Hugh Goodson commissioned a new yacht which he named Flica II from naval architects Laurent Giles and she was built by William Fife and launched in 1939.

Hugh Goodson at the helm of Flica II in 1939

In the event, Goodson had to wait 20 years before he could realise his America’s Cup ambitions. He eventually issued a 12 Metre challenge for the first post-War America’s Cup with his Royal Yacht Squadron Syndicate yacht Sceptre and the New York Yacht Club accepted.

Sir Richard Fairey knew nothing of the 1958 America’s Cup and the Fairey technical reports, unavailable to Goodson, remained one of the best-kept secrets in yacht racing history.

The New York Yacht Club held defender trials that were contested by four yachts; Vim, Columbia, Weatherly and Easterner. The results of the races between Vim and Columbia were very close and in the end the matter was settled by a supplementary race that Columbia won by just 13 seconds.

Sceptre and Evaine sailing in America’s Cup Trials in 1958

In the run up to the America’s Cup, Hugh Goodson tested Sceptre against Evaine and Flica II in home waters but Flica was not included in the America’s Cup challenger trials. History records that he took Sceptre to Newport and was soundly defeated.

Columbia sailing at Newport in 1958

After Goodson, subsequent owners of Flica did little to improve her handling or performance to keep her up right at the top of the 12 Metre Class and she was allowed to retire from the register as 12mR in 1947. So what were the changes in yacht design that led to Flica’s retirement from first class racing?

The answer is none prior to 1958 beyond those that Fairey had already identified in his various research programmes. In fact, the later American yachts Vim in 1939 and to a lesser extent, Columbia in 1958, the first 12 Metre Class America’s Cup winner designed by Olin Stephens, show a remarkable similarity to the 3rd Rule lines of Flica.

With the addition of aluminium spars and lighter sailcloth, developments incorporated in Vim that Fairey had correctly identified in 1933, Flica might well have presented a challenge to Vim in the summer of 1939 and Sceptre and Columbia in 1958.

Is it possible that Flica could have influenced the course of America’s Cup history in 1934 and 1958? It’s an interesting question and the best answer that can be given right now is that according to Alfred Goodson, the one thing that Hugh Goodson always regretted was the day that he sold Flica.

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