Square Meter Rule sailboats are a refinement of a class of Scandinavian sailboats known as ‘Skärgårdskryssare’, or Skerry cutters. They were first developed in the Baltic sea in an area dotted with small islands - ‘skär’ being the name for the rocks not big enough to be called islands and the islands too big to be rocks. They had exceptionally tall rigs to catch the wind over the tops of the skerries and long, refined hulls which required only the faintest breeze to power the boat. The hulls were specifically designed to conserve momentum as they passed behind a skerry. Once free of the skerry, the boat had to tackle the often difficult conditions of the Baltic - North Sea area. The demanding combination of conditions - from heavy wind and rough seas in unprotected areas through gusty winds when passing skerries to little wind and flat water in the protected fjords - resulted in the graceful and deceptively fast Skerry cutters.
The rule of the Square Metre Yachts was applied by the 'Swedish Sailing Association' in 1908 and revised in 1925. A boat design suited for racing as well as pleasure was required for the Swedish skerry by combining a suitable interior space with a significant sail area. The class rule is a construction rule where all boats have their individual design but the sail area is limited and defines the size of the individual boat.
The class rule includes since 1925 nine classes: 15, 22, 30, 40, 55, 75, 95, 120 and 150 sqm. classes. The numbers indicate the maximum measure of the sail area. The basic idea is that the sail area is limited to that of the class whereas the hull design is open within a set number of rules.
The rules for the hull design conciders four important measures that decreases boat speed, that is: displacement, keel length, mean beam and freeboard. These measures are all related to measure of water line length, measured a few centimeters above the true waterline. The length of the waterline decide the max speed, hence, increasing the length of the waterline also increases the speed potential. This implies that the length of the waterline can be chosen without limitations and thereby a faster boat is designed but in that case the speed limiting measures must also be increased accordingly.
The overhang acts to increase the length of the waterline dramatically as the boat heels in the wind. This is important because boatspeed is a function of the length of the waterline, and small increases there quickly give added knots.
Every class has a set of minimum measures for the individual factors meaning that if you design a boat with minimum water length this boat must also have a certain minimum size with respect to the other four measures.
The rule allows for amazing differences in boat size within the same class. While Square Metre Yachts are not one-design, they all compete against each other without any use of a handicap system. In a fleet of 22 Square Meter class boats, the boats squaring off with each other may have been anything from 26 foot to 36 feet in length. They raced on equal terms, and gave no time to any boat. The first one over the finishing-line is the winner. The trick is in the design rule: to get the most boat out of a certain amount of sail.
While all the Square Metre Yachts are clearly shaped by the same impulses, no two boats are exactly the same, they are all one-off designs. There was also a division between the throughbred racing boats and the less expensive forms. The simpler boats were called Scandinavian Skerry Cutters (Skandinaviske kryssare) and were true Skerry Cutters in design, but were made of simpler materials; typically pine. The true Square Meter Rule boats were classed as Nordic Skerry Cutters (Nordiske kryssare) and were made to a higher quality and specifications; typically mahogany on oak with strict scantling rules.
Over the years there has been a lot of discussion around the boats and the class. The constructor and designer of Gil II; Erik Salander expressed in 1951 as follows: The Square Metre Yacht class rule has always caused dramatic oppinions. Like no other class rule it caused furor and during the first years were supporters of both the International R- and the Square Metre Yacht class rules involved in a 'dispute'.
Opponents to the Square Metre Yacht rule claimed that boats would consequently become much too long and too narrow. The opposition was right. The boats became longer and the rule was revised several times, in order for the constructions to survive in rough weather. Note the taller freeboard of the meter boats in the illustration below. Above all Swedish west-coast sailors preferred constructing boats according to the international R-rule.
Above the SK22 by Knud Reimer and the 6-meter by Tore Holm
The rule has been adjusted many times since it originally was formulated prior to 1900, and as lately as 1953 Knud Reimers designed a one-design 22 Square Meter class - the Udell - in hopes of reducing the galloping prices of new boats. The original rule was added to the rulebooks in 1919 by the International Yacht Racing Union in London for the 30 and 40 Sq. Meters. It was revised in 1925 to restrict alterations to displacement, freeboard, beam, keel length and cockpit area. The IYRU adopted the 1925 rule as the international rule for 22’s and 30’s. The international status of the rule lasted until 1970. But recently the rule has once again been put forward for reinstatement by several countries and the IYRU in London is reviewing the request.
The Square Meter rule is presently in the keeping of the SSKF, the Swedish Square Meter Association. There, the 1925 rule has been revised as necessary to ensure the continous evolution in the Square Meter yacht. Square Meters are now divided into "A" and "B" class yachts. The "A's" are the elite racers in the fleet, and the "B's" can only compete given a solid handicap. Rated by age, size and adjusted for use of a spinnaker, the handicap-system (LYS - adjusted time difference in percent) for the Square Meter runs from 104 to 138. Those familiar with the LYS-system will recognize instantly that the fastest Square Meters will match virtually any other sailboat of any rule in flat out speed. Not bad for a rule from 1925!
Obviously, the use of a handicap is contrary to the entire concept of the Square Meter rule. But in spanning an entire century, the Square Meter rule has inspired enormous changes. Handicapping became necessary if the older yachts were to be kept active. Happily, there are very many beautiful old Square Meters still in use. Few if any other class boats in the world can regularly offer the sight of designs from the 1920's and from the 1990's on the same racing course.
On the Swedish east-coast the Square Metre Yachts soon became popular. The small classes allowed for people with 'lower' income to build boats and the Square Metre Yacht became the first 'folk-boat'. Another advantage was ofcourse that they were almost un-beatable machines in the skerry.
Square Meter class boats were required to provide basic living accommodations. Because these boats were raced in the ocean, it was important the designer created strong boats that could be sailed over distance. Even the small boats regularly crossed the open-sea stretches between the Scandinavian countries on the way to the international competitions; rather unusual for boats of that size those days.
The rules for scantlings ("the framework") were strict, and are the reason so many of the older Square Meter boats still are sailing today. The so-called "suitcase rule" ensured the crew some living space, at least. This rule involved being able to raise up an imaginary, flat rectangle of a given size across the beam inside the boat’s cabin.
Both the 30 and the 40 Square Metres were Olympic classes in the 1920 Olympics. The choice of Metre Rule boats for the war-time Olympics spelled the demise of an era. After the war, the International Rule favored by the USA ended the competition scene for the square meter boats.
In the 30’s, many on the American east coast were skeptical to the seaworthy qualities of these light boats. The first experience in hard weather was usually enough to prove that sailing performance, low freeboard and disturbingly low displacement even when compared with other racing machines of the day were beautifully matched in the Square Meter classes. The ‘grand old man’ of American yachting L. Francis Herreshoff was one of the most vocal supporters of the Square Meter in the USA. He bought one in Sweden and imported it to Marblehead, Mass. He was convinced that these boats were bound to be the new Olympic class, and he judged them far better than both the European Meter class boats and the American R-class.
Mr. Herreshoff’s enthusiasm is a prime reason for the interest the Corinthian Club showed in the Square Meters. The class was introduced to the USA in Marblehead, and the first races were organized by the Corinthian Club.
Recent times have brought some life back into the Square Meter Rule, and there are reported to be active fleets in the Great Lakes of USA, Sweden and in Germany. Within the 22 and the 30 classes new boats are built even today.