Created: 14 Dec 2009 16:52
Updated: 24 Jun 2010 08:27

Between 1963 and 1983 over 200 sturdy, capable, highly regarded and pretty Twister class yachts were built in a variety of materials. Most are still sailing. They were designed by C.R. "Kim" Holman. This is the 'Twister' story.

Kim Holman was born and grew up in Cornwall where his family were partners in mining equipment manufacturers Holman Bros of Cambourne, later International Compressed Air. One of three brothers, he alone moved away from the West Country, though all the brothers ended up in marine businesses.

It was the Second World War that brought him to know and love the Essex coast. He was commissioned in the Navy in 1943 aged 18  and served first at HMS Ganges at Shotley, training recruits in the Navy's fleet of 32' cutters in the choppy waters off Harwich. Following Ganges he spent some time in the Mediterranean and then commanded a minesweeper out of the Humber. After demobilisation he attended Bristol University and in 1950 joined the yacht designer Jack Francis-Jones at Waldringfield, Suffolk, to learn yacht design and naval architecture.

Merlin 1949 #8 'DillyThroughout the fifties he was involved in yacht racing on the east coast, becoming a great friend of Michael Spear (see story right) in his highly successful yacht 'Brambling'. They won most of the east coast off-shore silverware in the early fifties including EAORA overall in 1950, '52 and '55. Holman also raced a Merlin Rocket, named 'Pink Gin', on the Blackwater.

In 1955 Holman designed a 20-ft sloop, 'Phialle' for himself with the aim of winning the Pattinson Cup at the 1956 Burnham Week Regatta. 'Phialle' took the bullet with a six minute margin and later in the season she went on to win the Harwich to Ostend race. His design career had begun.

Rummer Yawl - Tumbler
Rummer Yawl 'Tumbler' by Harry King(above)(Eastern Yachts)

In 1957 he moved to West Mersea where he bought a share in Gowens, the West Mersea sailmaker and set up his own yacht design practice. An early yacht fom his drawing board was the Rummer Yawl of which several examples were built. ('Tumbler' above is a 1962 version).

Whilst still not an established designer he was developing a good relationship with the Tucker Brown yard in Burnham and through this connection came to the attention of A.E. (Dicky) Bird in 1959.

Bird was Commodore of the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club, Burnham-on-Crouch, and the owner of a series of successful offshore racers. He thought, (perhaps as a reaction to Charles Nicholson's SCOD - initiated out of the ISC), that there was a need for an east coast one-design along the lines of the well established Folkboat, but with greater initial stability and larger accommodation which would allow sailors to cruise in comfort as well as race.

Black Magic #14Holman designed a 20ft (6m) waterline, 25ft 9in (7.9m) LOA, sloop that whilst resembling the Folkboat on the drawing board already had a character of her own. He named the class the Stella. Dicky Bird commissioned the prototype. Stella #1 which took the name 'La Vie en Rose' and was built at Tucker Brown's yard by Sonny Cole and George French. She was launched one day before Burnham Week in 1960.
Black Magic #14 model (above)
'La Vie en Rose', with Cole at the helm, took seven handicap wins during the week and the reputation of the Stella took off. By 1961, 24 Stellas had been built by various east coast yards and 14 competed in Burnham Week that year (Kim Holman competed in #2, 'Starshell'). Holman's reputation was made, and class success assured. In total over 100 Stellas were built on the east coast during the sixties and early seventies.
4 Stellas Three Stella's running (above) (Class Assoc)

The class celebrated its 50th birthday this year and the boats are still keenly raced at West Mersea. Holman remarked in 1999 on the 40th anniversary of the class that the boats were probably in better condition today than ever they were when they were built. In 2009 a Stella won the BCYC Round the Island race on handicap by a significant margin.

Stella and Jowett
Trevor Spero's Stella, and his Jowett Jupiter (above) (Spero)

In the early sixties Holman continued to receive commissions for one-off racers, (including another 'Clair du Lune' for Dicky Bird), and for cruisers  but in 1963 he came up with a scheme to design a 'big sister' to the Stella. A longer and beamier small racer/cruiser with more draft than the Stella that would optimise the RORC rule such that it would rate the same... Thus ˜twisting' the rules the Twister was born in 1963.


He commissioned the first boat for himself and for brother Jack. 'Twister of Mersea' was built (of mahogany on oak frames) at Uphams yard in Brixham where Jack was managing director. In her first season she virtually carried all before her, winning EAORA overall in 1964. Just as with the Stella, racing success was Carnalls Shedrapidly converted into orders. Some 30 wooden Twisters were built “ many at Uphams “ but also at the main east coast yards. Twister #2, Bandit of Mersea, won EAORA in 1965 for L. D. Brook was built at Cardnells of Maylandsea and is still berthed at Suffolk Yacht Harbour.
Cardnells Yard at Maylandsea (above)

Three Holmans

Three Holmans (above) (Paul Anstey)

Demand for Twisters proved very strong and it was clear that a series boat could be made out of the design. In 1964 Don Pye joined forces with Holman and one of his first tasks at the partnership was to adapt the Twister for GRP. He worked with the Tyler Boat Company in Rochester. Tylers had pioneered GRP production in the late forties and were the leading moulders of the day. The design was modified slightly to suit the moulding process. The length was increased by 6, the draft reduced by 3 and the bow section was made slightly fuller. The first Tyler hulls were produced that year.

Scarlet Lady
Hull form: GRP version (above)

But whilst Tyler's produced the hulls, Pye's conversion plan called for the cockpit and coachroof to be of traditional timber construction. Uphams finished many Tyler hulls but a number were also finished by other builders or by enthusiastic owners. The ˜composite' Twister was an appealing mix of the modern and the traditional and these boats are now amongst the most attractive to owners today as the thick layup of the Tyler hull did not suffer from osmosis.

Wood vs. GRP Composite vs. GRP (above) (Class Assoc)

Although attractive it was clear that there was a market for a full GRP version. The debut of the first all GRP version in 1969 showed a marked price drop compared with the composite boats and for a while both versions were available. However it was not long before the composite was dropped in favour of the cheaper all GRP version. Whilst the majority of Twisters were built in the 60s and 70s Tyler's continued to produce hull mouldings through into the late 80s when the business ceased trading. More than 200 Twisters had been built by that time.
Twisters at Bembridge Twister Rally at Bembridge (above) (Class Assoc)

Twisters nowadays are more likely to be cruising yachts though they have made some global passages. In addition to the 14,000 miles sailed by ˜Pouncer', Miles Horden sailed his Twister ˜Gordian' from Auckland, New Zealand to explore the Pacific Northland coast and wrote an account of his voyage called ˜Voyaging the Pacific'. Twisters also still make capable double-hander racers with yachts like Criona and Brigand Chief competing in the RSYC series.
Criona Racing
Crionna racing double handed (above)

Whilst originally an east coast yacht. Twisters are now found all round the British Isles. LSC archivist Ian Stewart owns a 1967 composite Twister finished at Uphams.The original Twister of Mersea is now owned by RSYC member Alan Beswick. It can be found moored in the Beaulieu River opposite Gins Farm and is regularly cruised on the south coast in RSYC rallies and raced in the classic yachts series.
Twister of Mersea 2007
Twister of Mersea in 2007 (above)

According to the Class Association:

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.

North Sea 24 Whiplash
Whiplash - A North Sea 24 (above) - Paul Anstey

If the Twister is the Stella's big sister then she also has two even bigger sisters herself. Inspired by the success of the Twister in GRP, Holman redrew his ˜North Sea 24' design in 1964 for GRP production. This became the Rustler 31 (sometimes referred to as the Twister 31) and the first ones were built by Anstey Yachts in Poole in 1965.
Building Rustlers at Ansteys
Building Rustlers (above) - Paul Anstey

Russell Anstey had been sailing the North Sea 24 ˜Whiplash' during the previous season. Whiplash had been a successful RORC racer and was used as the prototype for the 31. Still full keeled and with a transom hung rudder she really did look like a big Twister. Reviewing her in Yachting Monthly, December l965 Bill Mison had this to say:

From the same design stable as Class III winners 'Whiplash', 'Golden Samphire' and 'Casino', this masthead Bermudian sloop has the lines and performance of a Kim Holman thoroughbred and will rate about 20.0 in RORC Class III. Of one-piece moulded glass fibre hull with encased and glassed-in 2.5 ton lead keel, and one-piece deck and superstructure, she is exquisitely finished with an all teak weather trim and internal furniture. Moulding and completion are to Lloyds 100A1 specifications and supervision.

Rustler 31 cutawayMaltings cut-away brochure (above)

Superb offshore capability and racing pedigree coupled with comfort below was beginning to be the Holman & Pye trademark. Over 50 Rustler 31s were built by both Anstey and later by Maltings Boats.

'Rustler of Arne' was co-owned by Russell Anstey and Kim Holman and together they sailed her to from the Canaries to Barbados from where she went to Grenada to chartered. Anne Hammick of course did two Atlantic circuits in 'Wrestler of Leigh' and taught us 'Ocean Cruising on a Budget'. The vessels continue to be sought after on the secondhand market both as coastal cruisers and by budget-conscious liveaboards.
Rustler 31 Rustler 31 in 2009 (above) (Yachtsnet)

Throughout the seventies the Holman and Pye office designed a succession of production yachts as well as one-offs. The arrival of the IOR  and advances in GRP production brought about a different style of yacht. The office was particularly involved with the first decade of Oyster Marine.
UFO 34 Spec
UFO 34 Specification (above) (Landamores)

In 1973 Richard Matthews commissioned Holman & Pye to design him a new racing yacht. This was done for his newly formed company Oyster Marine. 'UFO' became the very first Oyster product. She was built during the winter of 1973/74. She was very successful in her first year, winning the Royal Yacht Squadron Da Maas Trophy at Cowes. 'UFO' also competed in the Commodores Cup at Burnham Week in 1974, but she did not win.

30 years later with 70 per cent of the original crew she won the Commodores Cup at Burnham Week 2004 with Richard Matthews again at the helm.
UFO racing in Burnham Week 2004
UFO racing in Burnham Week 2004 (above) (Oyster Yachts)

The UFO 34 was based on a successful IOR three quarter ton cup racing yacht 'Unidentified Flying Object' of the late 1970s and moulded by Colvic in Witham, Essex and mostly fitted out by Landamores. Whilst many IOR yachts of the period had a reputation for poor handling, the UFO34 was both fast and virtually fault free, and the class became successful both as racers and as fast cruisers. The 34 was followed by the UFO 31, rated a half tonner, as well as the first four Oyster badged versions of the marque.
Oyster 37 Brochure
Oyster 37 - Original brochure (above) (Landamores) It was not until 1979 that the final big Twister came to market. The Rustler 36 was originally built by Orion Marine, today it remains in build with Rustler Yachts in Falmouth, UK.Cutaway R36
Rustler Yachts deck and Interior diagram (above) (Rustler Yachts)
A princess and her RustlerOnce again featuring a long keel and transom hung rudder, the design was by then looking quite dated. However, demand was still there for an ocean-going vessel that could be managed short handed and deal with whatever the weather gods would deliver. Over 120 boats have been built and the yacht is renowned for its performance and sea-going qualities. Many owners have crossed the Atlantic, several have completed circumnavigations. The Princess Royal owns a Rustler 36 berthed at Ardfern Marina.
  A Princess and her Rustler (above)

Holman died in 2006. In a brief obituary in Oyster News, Richard Matthews, Oyster chairman said this:

A brilliant designer, Kim was an inspiration, with so many beautiful yachts coming to life from his drawing board. Production yachts like the Stella, Twister and Rustler were interspersed with one-off racing yachts like Fanfare and Whirlwind, all the very best of their day.

Always maintaining a sense of style, things were never dull around Kim who was the first guy to do 130mph in his E-Type across the causeway onto Mersea Island.

Holman's legacy is a fine a series of yacht designs that live on and put him amongst the greats of twentieth century yacht design.

Chris Smith, LSC web editor

Dimensions GRP Twisters Wooden Twisters
LOA 28' 3 27' 8
LWL 21' 6 21' 0
Beam 8' 1 8' 1
Draft 5' 0 5' 3
Displacement 9968lbs 9856lbs
Ballast 4628lbs 4032lbs

Holman & Pye series yachts

Photo Credits: Eastern Yachts Stella Class Association Trevor Spero Twister Class Association Paul Anstey Rustler Yachts Clive Harlow (Webmaster of Rustler 31 owners association archive Landamores Yacht Callisto Oyster Marine