Wicklow yacht designers ‘Cape 31’ hailed a worldwide sensation


The Cape 31 has been described as an ‘affordable high performance 31 foot race boat’.

Leaving the subjective issue of affordability for another days discussion, we took a deep dive into why the Cape 31 is being hailed as one of the most exciting one design fleets of the last decade.

Designed by Wicklows Mark Mills, masterminded by Lord Irvine Laidlaw and built by a licensed boat builder in Laidlaws city of residence, Cape Town, the Cape 31 has been optimised for a combination of both upwind and offwind performance in a breeze. As the world-renowned Enzo Ferrari was quoted as saying ‘We need to look around and understand how market and design move’, and this is exactly what Mark Mills has done.

The key to this boat’s success is that it has proven itself as not only a great one design boat, but also as a competitive boat under multiple rating systems, with some impressive results this year in the UK, having won multiple International Racing Certificate (*IRC) events.

Another savvy design feature of the Cape 31 is that she (along with her 2 piece mast) easily fit into a 40ft container! A feature which surely comes in useful when shipping around the world as they have been for the 50+ boats already delivered and the dozen or so currently in build for secured buyers. The largest fleet is currently hanging out on the south coast of the UK, with new fleets growing across the world including USA, Europe, Australia, and Hong Kong.

In the UK, promoters say they are competing against the IRC rating fleet in a bid to make the Cape 31 the “ultimate all-rounder”.

Cape 31 in action

With any winning design, you would imagine the designer to be fully familiar with every aspect of functionality, feature and finesse of the finished product and it’s no different in the case of Mark Mills. An accomplished sailor aswell as an accomplished designer, he was named as the Irish Independent/Afloat.ie Sailor of the Year back in 2009 after a sustained run of exceptional achievements.

Not too dissimilar to the RC44, the Cape 31 is designed to be a hassle free boat and the ’31ft asymmetric pocket rocket’ would appear to have it all. The combination of world class design along with unrivalled engineering experience brought to the project by KND/Sailing Performance, has allowed the Cape 31 team to build a great option for the uncomplicated sailor. Easy to transport, and straight forward to sail both upwind and downwind without compromising on power. It’s also suitable for crewing with a combination of amateurs and professionals. This makes it ideal for youth sailing along with promotion of the sport to newcomers, bringing to life a number of Lord Laidlaw’s visions – for a fleet of yachts to support youth sailing in Cape Town – highlighting the quality of boat building in South Africa, and to form the basis of a successful One Design class.

Mills design could be deemed ‘old hands’ at this business of building marvellous machines for the water given that the Mills-designed King 40 production class was voted Boat of the Year at the Annapolis Boat Show with its colleague the Summit 40 winning Sailing World 2009 Boat of the Year. Its smaller sister, the Summit 35 Winning Sailing World’s 2010 IRC Race Boat of the Year before it went on to win the Key West Regatta, Florida in the same year and the Mills designed 68-footer Alegre, crewed by Andy Soriano and team, winning the 620-mile Middle Sea Race from Malta in rugged conditions back in 2009 to name just a small selection of the accolades bestowed upon the design house and their esteemed creations.

Yesterday saw the latest order come through for a Cape 31 destined for the US fleet and potentially in time for the Key West Regatta in Florida. If you are hoping to get a glimpse of a Cape 31 closer to home, you can catch the Dun Laoghaire Regatta in July of this year. Keep up to date with Mills-design and all the latest yachting news.

Mark Mills’ success in his first 30 years of yacht design has been incredible. I’m sure we can expect plenty more design prowess from Mills-design in the next 30.

*IRC is a rating rule to handicap different designs of keelboats allowing them to race together; unlike a performance handicap a rating is not altered between races according to the individual boat’s performance, but is based on the physical measurements of the boat.

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