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Perched on the water's edge, at the end of Greenhithe's Rame Rd, Salthouse Boatbuilders is like a glimpse into Auckland's boatbuilding past.

Dozens of such waterfront yards used to dot this isthmus, but almost all are gone.

Salthouse is not only the exception; it is a very successful and modern exception, too. The boatbuilder's idyllic setting, on the upper reaches of the Waitemata Harbour and its outwardly sleepy appearance belie a dynamic, extremely progressive company creating both yachts and powerboats for an international market.

In recent years, Salthouse Boatbuilders have created an impressively diverse range of vessels.

These include the large 16.5m catamaran tender for Team Origin, that team's TP52 race yacht, the Southstar cruiser, reviewed in these pages a month or so back and top, high profile racing yachts such as Georgia, Mean Machine and Full Metal Jacket.

Their latest offering looks set to continue that tradition and further enhance the local marine industry's reputation in one of America's premier sailing centres.

The 13.4m Ptarmigan, which has only recently arrived in its new home of Newport, Rhode Island, is being described one of the most promising IRC contenders to be launched in the last year.

From the drawing board of Ker Design in Valencia for an "East Coast yachtsman", Ptarmigan has been designed as an offshore race boat.

It has been optimised mostly for light air and downwind racing under the IRC rule and is being described as a "comfortable" racing yacht, using "leading edge design principles" to gain the upper hand.

Ptarmigan is the second IRC yacht to be designed by Ker Design and built by Salthouse Boatbuilders and it has big shoes to fill.

In the United Kingdom, the first, Tonnerre, was named the Royal Ocean Racing Club's Boat of the Year for 2010; Tonnerre has also proved extremely successful on the highly-competitive European IRC circuit.

Like Tonnerre, Ptarmigan has been built using a relatively simple construction method using carbon fibre and foam.

Close attention was paid to detail and to weight.

As a result, the yacht came in 20kg under the designer's specification, something of which the company is justifiably rather proud.

"When we build a race boat, we build it as light as we can," stresses executive director Greg Salthouse.

Although Ptarmigan will no doubt be compared to her predecessor, she is a very different yacht.

Designer Simon Schofield says Ptarmigan is possibly the widest 13.4m IRC boat yet built.

"It is roughly the same width as a TP52 on deck," he says, "but has a low wetted surface area when upright, picking up stability when it heels, and putting crew weight further outboard for increased righting movement."

Because the IRC circuit is so competitive, both the designers and builders were determined to ensure that Ptarmigan was "absolutely cutting edge" on her launch date.

To ensure this, the yacht was designed and built at the same time.

"On a boat like this, because it's a race boat, you don't want to design it and then start building it, because it's six months out of date at that point," explains Schofield.

Schofield says Salthouse's willingness and ability to work this intimately with the design team was one of the key reasons why the Kiwi company was chosen to build the yacht.

"We ... needed to communicate very closely as we designed components just in time for them to be built, meaning we had to work through concepts and engineering continuously."

Part of that process was to perfect the hull shape through the use of advanced RANs fluid dynamics software for intensive virtual tank testing.

Although the race results are yet to come in, the client, who has previously owned a number of custom-built race boats, appears to be happy. (Actually, reports say he was "ecstatic" after sea trialling Ptarmigan in Auckland before she was shipped to Newport.)

A full schedule of regatta and offshore racing now awaits the Kiwi-built flyer with a warm up programme consisting of the Block Island Race Week, the Vineyard Race and the American IRC Nationals. Ptarmigan will then compete in the Newport-Bermuda Race and a number of other, large, classic offshore events.