Cape 31: How the pieces fell into place

Published on May 15th, 2023

The C&C 30 came to life in 2014, by 2015 had one design racing in the USA, but then seemingly burnt itself out in a couple years. The high point may have been 11 boats at 2016 Key West Race Week and then the wheels soon fell off.

While the molds and C&C brand remain available, a seemingly similar boat – Cape 31 – now has all the momentum. As both boats were designed by Mark Mills, Scuttlebutt asked him about the differences and the lessons learned:

It’s been a privilege to draw two 30-foot one designs that got off the ground, in what may be the hardest fought segment of the market. The C&C 30 was a fun project to a very specific brief, and perhaps this is a story of two ways to do a 30’ One Design.

I liked the C&C 30 and enjoyed working with many of the team that put it together, but the brief imposed a strong light airs bias that made it a handful in a breeze, and US Watercraft tried to make all the decisions in-house from engineering, to construction, to sales, to managing the Class, not all of which we agreed with.

The Cape 31, in contrast, was a much simpler brief from the very experienced yachtsman sponsoring the project for a robust all-around design to perform from light airs all the way up to Cape Town’s regular top end of 30+ knots, in the hope of energizing performance racing, youth development, and the marine industry in this South African port city.

That previous experience did help provide a clear direction for the Cape 31. The hull shape could focus on being a true all-rounder with a more powerful chine running forwards, we could use our ramp deck, and add the extra draft needed for high performance. On the build side, we brought in Steve Koopman to produce some innovative engineering, and set the builder targets for construction weight and quality ensuring all the Capes come out lighter and within much tighter tolerances.

One lesson we had learned was to ensure it could fit into a shipping container for inexpensive and easy shipping worldwide. Then what started as a uniquely colorful South African success (here is an early video) came to the attention of Dave Swete and Dave Bartholomew in the U.K. who as 31 North found a new group of owners to embrace the formula of fun and competition and propel the explosion of sales worldwide.

That combination of good people making good decisions has made the Cape 31 a standout performer around the world, with the original South African and U.K. fleets now joined by the U.S., Ireland, France, Italy, Australia, and Asia – centered initially on Hong Kong.

One of the factors that helped this expansion is the Capes prowess under the two major handicap systems ORC and IRC, not easily achievable in the past by high performance designs at this size. Ironically this success is partly the result of not having to consider handicap compromises in the design phase, because of the freedom the original simple design brief gave us.

By only having to focus on a fast fun design which needed to be as light as cost-effectively possible, with a deep carbon keel to provide the necessary righting moment, we ended up with an exceptionally quick boat, quick enough under ORC to win coastal races like the Mykonos against TP52 opposition and become ORC National Champion in South Africa, and become IRC National Champion in the UK, winner of Voiles De St Tropez in France, and many more.

The great thing about the Cape is that it is a naturally fun boat to sail, offering high performance upwind as well as downwind without much stress, which is why you see a mix of ages of both genders, and family crews. The growth of the Class with 58 boats delivered and more coming has helped move it onto a strong administrative footing, allowing the owners to decide how they want the Cape 31 Class to grow.

Part of that is managing the pressures that come to bear on any Class whose success attracts serious owners and sailors, especially when you have become known for a fun competitive atmosphere and great parties! There is an important line to be maintained between allowing some professional input into the Class which many owners desire, and not allowing it to become a purely Pro fleet, which would be very limiting in the long term.

The Cape 31 Class Association ExCom will meet at the UK National Championships (26+ boats expected) on June 9-11 to continue to develop the Class in the direction that the owners and stakeholders decide.

So, as the designer, I am very proud of what the Cape 31 has achieved, but can only take a portion of the credit. It shows how many other pieces of the puzzle have to fall into place: from the initial vision of the sponsor, to a committed builder, to the evangelizing of the sales agents, to the owners; it couldn’t have worked without everyone helping to make the Class what it is.

With eight boats already in the hands of American owners and more on order, its clear the Cape 31 is growing in the US, we have been focused so far on the rest of the world, but now the word is out and boats are arriving it will be a hit in the States as well.

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