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Secrets of a the 8.5 class

For around the same price as an affordably priced late model sedan you can purchase a well equipped and maintained actively campaigned GBE with a three year old sail wardrobe and a comfortable cruising setup that can finish the Coastal in daylight. What’s not to like about the GBE class? There is plenty to like, that's for sure.

Ed Ayre answers our questions about the famous and long lasting 8.5 success

When did it start?

It all started with the Great Barrier Express (GBE), designed by Malcolm Tennant in the late 70’s. The early boats were timber, moving to fibreglass and foam core later in life.

Two of the hardest raced GBE’s still active today are the timber ones!

In the early 2000s there was increased interest in coastal capable multihulls, and the first 8.5 rule was born. It was written to match the dimensions of the GBE, giving the class an initial base of competitive boats, but being a box rule it leaves plenty of room for innovation without spiralling costs.

The late 2000’s was the boom time with lots of new boats hitting the water from established designers like Ron Given, Tim Clissold, Pete Melvin, Ian Farrier and John Tetzlaff, there were significant modification of lots of GBEs to bring them up to date and some one-off designs that have also proved very competitive.

The flow of new boats has slowed in recent years, but there is still an active fleet providing close racing.

It’s a testament to the rule philosophy and the commitment of owners that even 40 year old GBE’s are still raced hard, and in the right conditions are competitive with the newest boats.

How many 8.5s are out sailing and racing?

In Auckland there are at least 10 competitive boats ready to go racing. Three are for sale at the moment at various budgets, and all are well sorted boats

There are also a number of older GBE’s and other designs that aren’t as active, but we are working on them.

There are also a few sleeper boats around, known to be fast, but currently not racing actively or have gone overseas.

Outside of Auckland there is one in Tauranga and one in the Bay of Islands that is active

In the Coastal this year we have five boats, four from Auckland, and the one from Tauranga. Same number as last year, but missing a couple of the usual suspects either due to other commitments or boats for sale.

Why still successful after so long?

As mentioned before the rule keeps costs under control, and stops older boats becoming obsolete, but basically there things are an absolute hoot to sail, and FAST.

Upwind at over 10 kts is not uncommon, 15 to 18 kts downwind is par for the course, and top speeds, depending on how brave you are, are up over 24kts.

There is also the versatility, racing 3 or 4 handed on the harbour courses is the bread and butter, but the boats are also ideally suited to the two handed SSANZ races and a couple of intrepids do the singled handed races, even flying kites in the process.

Longer distance racing is more manageable because of the speed, on the right day, the coastal becomes a day sail, although it’s a pretty big day doing 120plus miles in under nine hours.

Do we have any new owners coming into the fleet?

Yes and hopefully more soon.

Tigre has just changed hands to a new owner and Freedom has a new part owner, and did I mention there were somme really great boats for sale? From the budget conscious GBE that has a great rig and sail wardobe, plus a great deck layout, another with one carefull owner from new, and also one of the most competitive boats in the fleet are available at the moment.

Thrills and spills you can tell us about?


An 8.5, Attitude, holds the Auckland-Tauranga multihull race record at just over 10 hours, the ORMA 60 has had a few cracks at trying for this record, but hasn’t beat it yet.

Any of the boats in the fleet is capable of a sub 9 hour coastal, in fact most of them have. No-one has quite cracked the 8 hour barrier yet though, maybe this year?

Basically anytime you can get a few of these boats together on the start line you’re going to have a good race.


Yeah, they happen occasionally. Most owners have been over once, but it’s a pretty tight class, with a lot of people who have been there before and who will help in anyway they can.

Just make sure you are a member of Coastguard.

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