Extraordinary boat: S&S 61 Running Tide
Running TIde was one of the most successful S&S-designed racing yachts of the 1970s. Bought back to the USA by one of the original owners 30 years later, it’s undergone a stunning refit to race again. Helen Fretter reports
There are some yachts which are beautiful, some which are successful, and some which are well loved. It’s a rare boat which combines all three, but Running Tide has always been that yacht.
The S&S 61 was originally commissioned by passionate big-boat racer Jakob Isbrandtsen, and on its launch in 1969 was one of the earliest stripped-out racers, designed for performance with scant consideration for comfort by the standards of the day. Built of aluminium plating by Huisman in the Netherlands, the design represented an evolution for Olin Stephens, with a relatively slender beam, long forward overhangs and a separate keel and skeg-hung rudder.
Running Tide was fast on its debut, winning class in the 1970 Newport-Bermuda Race for Isbrandtsen, and the following year taking overall victory in Florida’s SORC circuit. The yacht was briefly leased to ocean racer Ted Turner. Turner was so taken by Running Tide that he tried to buy it, but ended up in a bidding war with property developer Al Van Metre.
Van Metre took ownership in 1972, while Turner bought Tenacious, a former America’s Cup 12-Metre, and the two continued their rivalry on the racecourse, exchanging podium places at many of the major American offshores and big-boat series. In one Miami-Nassau race the two boats were inseparable for nearly 200 miles, the race result eventually decided in the protest room (in Tide’s favour) after a luffing match midway across the Straits of Florida.
The Washington Post reported that in the 1979 Annapolis-Newport race, Running Tide and Tenacious again duelled side by side, until “Tenacious went out to sea, following the rhumb line in light air toward the tip of Long Island; Tide ran up the coast, reaching for thermals that never developed. Turner arrived in Newport hours ahead of Tide. Van Metre, gracious in defeat, bought dinner for the entire Tenacious crew, but Turner didn’t stay around long enough to eat it.”
The Van Metres competed hard in Running Tide for over a decade, Al often racing with his son, Beau, and friends. Modifications were made to try and keep the yacht competitive against newer designs, including a higher rig, which was later rejected.
“I think we lived and breathed sailing with Running Tide,” recalls Beau Van Metre. “It was something my dad and I did together. Every day, every night, we worked and we sailed that boat, and we just had a lot of fun with it.
“And it was just a lot of fun for he and I to be together doing something like that.”
Al Van Metre gave up sailing in 1984, though Beau planned to keep going. “I ended up refitting the boat a little bit and with some friends sailed it over to Antibes, France. I was going to sail it around the world, but the Suez Canal was having a problem, so I left it there for that season, and after a while I never went back.”
Running Tide was sold in the south of France, where it remained for over 30 years, changing hands halfway. Members of the Running Tide crew would often spot the yacht while in France for events like Les Voiles de St Tropez and report back to Beau on its whereabouts. “On and off between the two [owners], I would call them up periodically and see if they wanted to sell it. They wanted to sell it for 10 times more than I sold it to them for, so I never went through with it – until the last guy.”
Running Tide had been run aground in St Tropez and sustained some damage, and its elderly owner wanted to sell up, so Beau Van Metre flew to France to see the yacht that had played such a huge part in his family’s life. They found a yacht that had been almost untouched since the early 1980s…
“It was pretty bad. The same Igloo Pearl cooler was down below that I had bought 35 years ago. The cushions were the same cushions, the gauges – you couldn’t even see through them, they were all fogged up and cracked. They had done absolutely zero, except painted it blue and the boat’s always been black. They did some modifications down below and tried to add some staterooms to it, which was ridiculous. But other than that, it was the same old boat, but in a lot worse shape.
“We knew we were going to buy it. I didn’t care what it looked like. I knew it was in bad shape but I just wanted to get a first-hand look myself and was quite shocked. I was very attached to the boat personally,” Van Metre said.
In 2018 Running Tide was shipped back to the US, moving to New England Boatworks (NEB) in Rhode Island, where the project was managed by Bob Sharkey. There the process of stripping the yacht back to bare metal began.
“The hull was in very good shape, and the frames and the aluminium – other than the deck, the deck was actually cracked when it ran aground. The deck was half plywood and half metal to begin with, so we replaced the deck. And we basically gutted [the boat], sandblasted it outside and inside, and took it back to original condition,” explains Van Metre.
An early decision was made to increase the rig height by around 10ft. America’s Cup veteran Mike Toppa of North Sails was a rookie sailmaker in Running Tide’s original heyday, and was brought in to work on the new sail wardrobe.
“Bob buys the boat back, puts it on a ship, and the ship takes it to Fort Lauderdale,” Toppa recalls. “Beau and I, Tom Ridge from NEB, and David Pedrick, the yacht designer that Beau chose to do all the naval architecture, the four of us went down to Lauderdale and decided to go sailing before the boat was put on a truck.
“We took it out and one of the engine hoses failed and sprayed oil over the engine. There was smoke pouring out of all the hatches, 20 minutes off the dock! So that was the only chance to see what we had.”
Pedrick began modelling the effects of different changes, one of which was changing the mast to carbon, and changing the standing rigging from metal to ECSix. “Modelling those changes he realised that he could increase the mast height and the sail area for the same righting moment because we were reducing so much weight in the rig,” explains Toppa.
Originally Van Metre planned for Running Tide to have a dual role as a cruising yacht, and the rig plan includes an in-boom furling mainsail (which Van Metre may yet replace for a conventional boom) as well as furling headsails. The traditional dip-pole spinnaker set up has been swapped for asymmetric spinnakers and Code sails.
The original 16 winches have been replaced with six powered winches, just some of the complex systems that have been squeezed into the traditional hull shape. “I thought I was going to race it a little bit and cruise it a bit, and I find that I’m having a little bit more fun racing it. That was the other reason I put the hydraulic winches on there, I thought my wife and my kids and I would go sailing.
“Well, the boat’s easier to handle, but it’s got a hydraulic system down below that’s quite complicated. I mean, you’re not going to go down and work on it yourself. So it’s different in that I’ll always have two or three people on the boat when we go out, but we’re enjoying it, and actually the family is enjoying racing on it as well.”
The original Barient coffee grinder pedestals have been removed, though Van Metre admits that he couldn’t quite throw them away.
“They’re in my garage,” he laughs. “I was going to make a table or something out of the coffee grinders and make some lamps out of a couple of the winches.”
Other mod-cons have also been added, including a heater and air conditioning unit at Van Metre’s wife’s request. “The air conditioner was kind of a luxury and took up a lot of space – tubes and vents and condensers and everything else. But I can tell you, everybody on the boat loves the air conditioner especially. It’s just been so hot sailing.”
The existing keel was kept, remarkably undamaged from the yacht’s grounding, though a new high aspect spade rudder was added and then further tweaked following the yacht’s relaunch in 2020.
“We had to add a little bit to the rudder after the Annapolis Newport race – we thought we needed a little bit more bite and so we just added five inches to the back of the rudder. And after the Bermuda race this year we changed the sprocket for the steering so we didn’t have to turn it so much – that’s the kind of thing we’ve been doing, little teeny tweaks here and there.
“And that’s what Running Tide was. My dad and I were constantly tweaking. We ruined I don’t know how many dinners – our wives hated us because all we always talked about was sailing.”
Both on deck and down below the refit follows the ethos of ‘like the original, but better’.
Van Metre was cautious when it came to changes which would change the lines of the yacht, and rejected suggestions to open out the cockpits for a more modern deck layout. The original giant metal wheel has also been retained. “When people saw Running Tide today, Beau wanted people that were familiar with the boat to be able to instantly recognise it,” explains Toppa.
“So the colour scheme was unchanged, the rake of the bow pushpit, the rake of the bow pulpit, was unchanged. Really the only thing that was changed in the profile look of the boat was the elimination of the grinder pedestals and the taller rig, but if you look at Running Tide today it looks like the original boat.”
All the woodwork was crafted from new, replacing bare teak with varnished brightwork, and roughly oiled floorboards with a gleaming cabin sole. The dirty maroon cushions which Van Metre found in France have been replaced with lustrous red upholstery, and modern touches include a carbon inlaid chart table.
“It’s more yacht-like now, as far as the interior goes. It was very utilitarian when we were racing it. It worked, but was built like a pickup truck,” says Van Metre.
The end result reflects the affection that both the Van Metres, and the many skilled craftsman involved in the refit, have for the yacht.
“There have always been iconic boats that represent a generation or a time in sailing that were pretty and successful and good looking – and in Running Tide‘s case, also had a fantastic, wonderful family that loved the boat, and loved sailing,” notes Toppa.
“Running Tide is one of those boats that checks all the boxes.”
Running Tide specifications
LOA: 18.40m / 60ft 5in
LWL: 13.11m / 43ft 0in
Draught: 2.74m / 9ft 0in
Beam: 4.34m / 14ft 3in
Displacement: 24 tonnes
Sail area (estimated): 186m2 / 2,000ft2
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