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The Eternal Imp is More Than Just a Special Boat

12th December 2019
The spirit of San Francisco, relaxed but effective. Imp at the start of the 1977 RORC Channel before she went on to be overall winner of that year’s Fastnet Race. Her intriguing stern is much in evidence – it tried and succeeded in finding the balance between upwind speed and downwind power The spirit of San Francisco, relaxed but effective. Imp at the start of the 1977 RORC Channel before she went on to be overall winner of that year’s Fastnet Race. Her intriguing stern is much in evidence – it tried and succeeded in finding the balance between upwind speed and downwind power Photo: Ray Hoare

There’s boats. There’s great boats. And then there’s Imp. Our story at the weekend about how George Radley of Great Island and Cobh in Cork Harbour was bringing home his fabulous 1976 Ron Holland-designed 40-footer has drawn a global response and a cascade of special memories (including these photos by Ray Hoare) from a very eclectic collection of people whose lives have been touched at some time by a this boat which – 43 years ago - so perfectly captured the zeitgeist, and in so doing introduced a new type of boat not just to Ron Holland’s already very considerable body of work, but to everyone’s thinking

Imp is now safely back in the Radley boatyard at Rossleague on the north shore of Great Island a little piece of island coastline with highly individualistic innovators. Frank Hederman of the renowned Belvelly Smokehouse is along to the westward, while secluded down the way to the east is Frank Kowalski of Safehaven Marine, creator of some of the most fantastic fast powerboats ever seen in Ireland.

irish mist two2.jpgA hugely successful Ron Holland design of 1974, Archie O’Leary’s 40ft Irish Mist II - which was built in Cork by George and Killian Bushe - had a classic pintail stern. Photo: Ray Hoare
The whole place fairly crackles with ideas and innovation, but the idea of having Imp back in pristine order in time for the Royal Cork Tricentenary is something which can be shared by off-the-wall thinkers and conservation-minded historians with equal enthusiasm.

Her first owner Dave Allen of San Francisco was already in the limelight for his very purposeful Gary Mull-designed Improbable, which was so fast off the wind that few people saw her – she was already gone.

yacht improbable3Dave Allen’s previous boat, the Gary Mull-designed Improbable, was a flying machine offwind with a ginormous tiller to control her, but not so good at the uphill stuff
But he wanted a boat which provided better upwind performance too, while avoiding the narrow-sterned IOR boats which were dominating the scene at the time. So Ron Holland produced the design (despite being decidedly over-worked at the time) and Gary Carlin built her in Florida around an alloy tubing structure which was so effective that it was said the hyper-light glassfibre hull “was only there to keep the water out…..”

Her string of main successes we’ve already listed, but it’s the fond and favourable emotions which the very mention of Imp has evoked which have been truly startling. For sure, there’s boats. There’s great boats. And then there’s Imp.

IMP SpinnakerA flying machine on every point of sailing - Imp makes her debut in the Miami-Nassau Race 1977

WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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