When the First International Rule came into effect in 1907, the 8-Metre Class did not immediately prove popular in British waters, possibly because of satisfaction with existing classes. In the first season only four boats appeared: SORAIS IV (Mrs. H.G. Allen), YTHENE (Mr. C. Rivett-Carnac), GERALDINE (Mrs Prince) - an 1899 Charles Sibbick designed 32ft Linear Rater, permitted by the First Rule to race as an Eight until 1909, and JULNAR (Sir Maurice Fitzgerald). They raced solely on the Solent where the Fife-designed SORAIS IV won every race, leading to two owners selling their boats at the end of the season. The class then collapsed until the 1908 Olympic regatta held off Ryde, Isle of Wight. Five boats took part, with two boats representing Great Britain, SORAIS IV, now owned by the Duchess of Westminster, coming fourth, while the other boat, COBWEB owned by Mr. B.D. Cochrane, won. The Norwegian 8 VINGA came second, while the two Swedish 8s, SAGA and FRAM also competed. Attention having been drawn to the Class, new boats were built and from 1909 onwards the class was allocated its own races on the Solent and in Clyde Fortnight regattas.
In 1914, just before the war, the class in the Solent consisted of THE TRUANT (Sir Ralph Gore), IERNE (A.F. Sharman-Crawford), GARRAVEEN (F.A. “Boy Blue” Richards) and VANTANA ( A.H.J. Hamilton). The Season was won by Sir Ralph Gore in THE TRUANT, happily still racing, as is IERNE.
After World War I British yachting revived very slowly, but soon 8s were turning out regularly on the Solent and the Clyde. Great Britain was represented by an 8M in each of the pre-1939 Olympic regattas, in challenges for the International Seawanhaka Cup and annual matches against France for the Coupe de France. In the 1930s some nine 8s were racing on the Solent and eight on the Clyde. The 1938 Lloyd's Register of Yachts lists eight 8s designed by Fife, seven by C.E. Nicholson, two by Alfred Mylne, three by Johan Anker, one by Bjarne Aas, one by Frank Morgan- Giles, two by the amateur designer Sir Thomas Glen-Coats, who had already designed two successful 8s, and one by another amateur FJ “Wee John” Stephens. In that year nine 8s raced on the Solent; none sailed in less than 50 races and SASKIA ended on top with 14 firsts out of 56 starts.
Whilst attention has often been given to the dominance of the United States 12-Metre VIM (Harold S Vanderbilt) when she visited British waters in 1939, the USA's 8M ISKAREEN also came over that year and achieved great success.
Sadly the class did not return to the Solent after 1945, but the Clyde class continued much as before until it began to decline towards the beginning of the fifties.
In the post-war era, the offshore events of the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) became very popular, and whilst the larger Metre boats were of a size that could compete, they were not altogether suitable for that purpose. This led the IYRU to introduce an additional International Measurement rule suitable for level racing both inshore and offshore and which catered for a class of 8-Metre Cruiser/Racers (8CRs). Starting in 1951, the new class proved popular on the Clyde, effectively supplanting the ‘Straight Eights'. Some 23 were built, almost all designed and constructed by James McGruer. However the boats fared poorly under the RORC’s rating rule when entered in handicaps events, inshore or offshore, and design developments meant that later boats outdated the earliest. Owners started to use them more for cruising than racing, and by the 1970s the 8CRs had become dispersed and had ceased to race as a class. In the meantime, there was a revival of ‘Straight Eights’ on the Clyde in the mid sixties, helped by a migration of four 8s from Cork. The Clyde fleet grew to some 10 boats, racing as a class until the early 1970s.
After 1974 there were no events for the class in British waters, and boats continued to be sold off abroad. Then came the very enjoyable and highly successful 2007 Centennial World Championship regatta run by the Royal Northern & Clyde Yacht Club. In all 22 boats competed, the entries being from Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland. The competitors started each race together but competed within three groups: Moderns, Classics and First Rule 8s. The most elderly entrant was THE TRUANT, a 1910 Fife gaff-rigged boat. The return of the now Australian-owned SASKIA to Scottish waters, after an absence of some 70 years, gave particular pleasure locally.
Immediately after the RN&CYC event the class had a place in the Centenary Metre Regatta run by the Royal Yacht Squadron on the Solent. Despite severe flooding cutting off some roads between the North and South of England, ATHENA and SASKIA arrived South in time to compete against six other 8s and two 8CRs. SASKIA ended her season in British waters by winning every race.
The 2007 events stimulated interest in the Eights, leading to a meeting of British Eight-Metre owners in London in December 2008 to form the British International Eight-Metre Association, and a first British Open Eight-Metre regatta was arranged for 2009. Sadly the financial crisis and other factors snuffed the new interest, and nothing the regatta did not draw sufficient support to take place. Although there are ten active British Eights they are widely dispersed geographically and class racing has not proved possible. On the Solent there are three boats - SIRIS, currently de-commissioned, and ATHENA, with the new boat FLIRT8IOUS awaiting completion. Only ATHENA is out and racing, and since 2007 she has been berthed for Cowes Week in the Royal Yacht Squadron Haven alongside the still highly successful MIKADO, a 1904 Clyde Restricted 30-footer belonging to the class which preceded the 8s in the North and which was permitted to race with the Eights under the First Rule. These elegant yachts attract much attention and admiration.
Members of the British Eight Metre Association
||Jonathan Cork & David Parson