The Twister

All About the Twister Class

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Designed by Kim Holman in 1963, when sailing was just becoming an activity for all and not just the wealthy, the Twister was named, in part, after ‘The Twist’ which had become a worldwide dance craze championed by The Beatles who, early that year, had a Number One single with Twist and Shout. The Twister also optimised [twisted] the then rating rules to obtain the best possible handicap.

Kim had previous success with the Stella, a clinker built Folkboat derivative of which over 100 were built. He designed and in 1962 unsuccessfully campaigned a development: Nymphet was effectively a Stella with the same sail area, four inches more draft, a few inches longer and more ballast.

As a keen racer, Kim needed a new boat for the 1963 season. His Brother, Jack, owned the historic Uphams [J W & A Upham Limited] in Brixham and promised quick delivery.

In Kim’s own words:

The aim in designing Twister was a small cruiser with more comfort and space than the Stellas or H26s which were dominating the Class 3 East Anglian Offshore events in the early 60’s. I allowed an extra 18” of LWL, but the rating had to be similar to give close competitive racing, or so I thought. The beam and depth of hull was increased but when the design was advanced enough to calculate the rating it was too high. Drastic action was needed. Out came the pencil and 450 set square and the transom was moved f’wd 6”, something I had long wanted to try. This did the trick. The calculated rating was now much the same as the Stellas, but with the great increase in displacement would she perform? In fact under nearly all conditions T of M [Twister of Mersea] was so much faster than the competition on the E. Coast, it was no contest”

Kim had noticed that waterline beam aft was penalised under the American rules of the time. He therefore assumed that an increase could be beneficial and as it wasn’t penalised in England “It was worth a try.”

It was always intended that, if successful, there would be a glass fibre version. This was the material of the moment; Westerly Yachts started with The Westerly 22 in the same year. Kim had already designed an all-glass derivative of the Stella: the Elizabethan 29.

On launching, Twister of Mersea entered the local Brixham Regatta which she comprehensively won. It’s said that Jack remarked to Kim: ‘We’ve got something special here.’  Indeed, they had. In 1964, Kim won the East Anglian racing circuit in Twister of Mersea. Bandit of Mersea was champion in 1965. In 1966 Cheetah of Burnham [claimed to be the fastest ever Twister] won her class in the Round the Island Race and took six firsts in eight races at Cowes Week. On return to the East Coast and being asked how he got on her owner, Harry Croker, replied: “We marmalised them.”

Twisters went on winning for several years more, but times and the rating system were changing; encouraging the trend to more radical fin and skeg designs with lower wetted surface.

Some 40 wooden Twisters were built. Although Uphams completed around 105 Twisters of all types other yards also built wooden Twisters. Three were built in Australia and two in Japan.

The Twister was a success. A glass fibre hull was drawn with minor changes to the lines to ease moulding with the 6” being restored to the transom. The Tyler Boat Company Limited moulded the hulls with the first hulls being fitted out by Uphams.  Their first boats had a glass fibre hull and deck with a wooden cabin top and cockpit. This option was to provide work for the shipwrights and resulted in, arguably, the prettiest ‘glass fibre’ Twisters. Next came the ‘all glass’ option which, being less expensive to build, soon superseded its composite sister.

In the late sixties labour costs in the UK were increasing. The Twister was recognised as a desirable fast seaworthy cruiser/racer. One way for the competent DIYer to acquire one at lower cost, but at the expense of several thousands of man-hours, was to purchase a hull and deck, or hull deck and cabin top, and fit it out. Some 50 Twisters were home completed.

There are no formal class rules for a Twister. There have been changes over time. The final ‘official’ standard sail plan was developed from Jack Holman’s own Twister: Silver Twister.

Again in Kim’s words:

“ The MkII sail plan was drawn initially for Silver Twister, when the mast height was increased by 1.0’ and moved aft 0.5’. (This was dwg No. 11/59) This rig was thought, by Jack Holman of Uphams, to overcanvass the boat, so he modified it himself sometime in 1967 when a number of T’s were built before we prepared the MkIIa plan (Dwg no 18/59) incorporating his ideas in Aug 1971 which shows 1.0’ off the mast and a shorter mainsail foot”

Tylers modified their mouldings in response to changing times. Later hulls had reinforcement in way of the chain plates because some movement in that area had been noted. The last hulls had a moulded in stern-locker for the gas bottle plus an optional anchor well in the foredeck.

An official light airs Mediterranean rig was drawn. One home completed boat was gaff rigged. There are several Twisters with a removable bowsprit for a furling downwind sail. Another is cutter rigged.

Today, with the design being more than 50 years old, Twisters are warmly welcomed in classic yacht rallies, still enjoy success, and still deliver the magical Twister sailing experience.

All Holman’s designs were good looking and the Twister is arguably the prettiest. By today’s standards she is a heavy yacht with a large wetted area and a relatively small sail area. One you might expect only to go well in a blow.

Surprisingly the Twister still outperforms many much lighter ‘modern’ designs in light airs too and always with impeccable manners and a ‘finger-light’ helm.

When asked ‘why does the Twister sail so well?’ Kim’s reply of ‘I don’t know .... I just got it right’, surely sums up his modest genius better than a page of explanations. If you have a Twister you will know exactly what we mean. If you haven’t and you are thinking of buying one of these true modern classics you won’t be disappointed!