Square Metre Yachts, also known as Skerry Cruisers are types of yachts, usually wooden, which are constructed according to Square Metre Rule. Originating from Sweden, they were historically most popular at Baltic Sea, though some classes also saw popularity in other European countries and USA. Skerry cruisers are construction classes, meaning that though the boats are not identical with each other, they are all built according to same formula, making them broadly comparable in size and performance. Most skerry cruisers are slender boats, with low freeboards and tall rigs.
In 1907, Swedish Sailing Federation (Svenska Seglarförbundet, SSF) issued a committee to design a national racing yacht class. Previous handicap rules had tended to be very simple and boats had evolved to very fast and extreme racing machines which were perceived as unsafe and impractical. Recently developed other options were Universal Rule (also called 'American Rule') and International Metre Rule, neither of which were seen as fully satisfactory by SSF. Committee completed its proposal next year which was accepted as the first Square Metre Rule: yachts were to be classed by their sail area which was fixed. In addition there were minimum requirements for weight and cabin measurements. Originally four new classes were accepted: 22, 30, 45 and 55 m². Soon, new classes were to follow: 38m2 in 1912; 15, 75, 95, 120 and 150 in 1913; finally in 1915 38 and 45 metre classes were combined to new 40 m² class. The new rule became very popular within Baltic region; between 1907 and 1920, Finnish yards alone built some 600 Square Metre rule yachts. During peak years, Skerry Cruisers made up 95% of yards output. They were also exported to other European countries and USA.
Decline and rebirth
Square Metre rule was much less restrictive than competing International Rule. Relatively loose set of rules allowed previously built boats into new classes if rigging was modified to comply with the rules. They also gave designers relatively free hands and top designers like the Finns Gustav Estlander and Zake Westin soon came up with very extreme designs which pushed contemporary sailboat technology to its limits. Development was dramatic: for example, whilst early 40m2 boats tended to be around 9 to 10 metres long, in 1923 Westin designed a 40m2 boat which was 15.2 metres long and had a beam of only 1.74m - length to beam ratio of nearly 9 to 1! An often cited example as some sort of pinnacle of the rule was 150 metre Singoalla, designed by Estlander in 1919 and claimed to have been fastest boat in Baltic:
Uffa Fox had the dubious pleasure of surfing this boat at 14 knots and claimed afterward that it followed the waves "like a sea serpent".
This development quickly led to diminishing popularity for Square Metre rule as these extreme hulls were perceived simply as too weak and uncomfortable to ride. 30 and 40m2 classes were accepted to 1920 Summer Olympics, but only handful of boats participated. Meanwhile, International Rule had been revised in 1919 and in its new form it became very popular and soon supplanted Square Metre rule boats on international arena and in Olympic regattas.
As weaknesses of the original rule became apparent, SSF set to number of modifications from 1916 onwards. Construction standards became much more strict and classes had minimum freeboard and maximum length defined. The Rule also specified new minimum measurements for internal space, to ensure that boats would have adequate accommodation space: this is in contrast to International Rule designs where cabins are not required. Final revision of the rule was issued in 1925 which is still in effect with only minor later changes.
As with many other sailing handicap and construction rules, Square Metre rule fell in popularity as its weaknesses were discovered. However, in its revised form it has proved to be enduring and new boats have been built to present day. Today, internationally most active classes are 22 and 30m2. Larger classes are mostly boats built prior to 1925 rule and generally only found at Baltic, where they are dutifully cared by enthusiasts. Although it was never quite as widespread as International Rule, it has a devoted following on many countries. Strongholds of the Square Metre rule have traditionally been Sweden, Finland and Germany, who also had national Square Metre rule boats, known as Seefahrtkreuzer. Many German square metre boats were confiscated by British during and after World War II and transferred to Britain, where they became to known as 'Windfall' yachts.
In addition, Square Metre rule produced a number of related one-design and construction classes, which usually were attempt to design a cheaper alternative to high-end yachts. These include Swedish Mälar boats (M15, 22, 25 and 30), Finnish Nordic 22, 'B' class Skerry Cruisers and others. Some other early one-design classes, such as Hai show obvious Skerry Cruiser influence. Swede 55 and 41 yachts were also based on Square Metre boats.
The term "skerry cruiser" comes from Swedish term skärgårdskryssare (German Schärenkreuzer, Finnish saaristoristeilijä). Swedish word "kryssare" has slightly different and broader meaning than English term "cruiser" and as such, English translation is somewhat misleading.
- Outline of Square Metre Rule
- Svenska Skärgårdskryssare Förbundet - Swedish Skerry Cruiser Federation
- Skerry Cruisers of North America
- ISBN 9789078440239