Sharing the Sunfish Kool-Aid

Published on August 4th, 2016

The venerable Sunfish has been a popular singlehanded racer since the early ‘60s. One of the major attractions of the boat as a racer is its highly adjustable lateen rig, which makes it easy to depower and helps sailors of both genders and all ages and sizes compete together.

In fact, 24% of the competitors in the 2016 Sunfish North Americans were women, and the Sunfish was just named as the open (male or female) singlehanded boat for the 2019 Pan Am Games in Peru, the sixth consecutive time the Sunfish will be in the Games.


Amanda Callahan

One notable female Sunfish competitor is Amanda Callahan, the head coach of the Roger Williams University sailing team, and a two-time winner of the Team Racing World Championship.

Amanda just finished tenth at the Sunfish North Americans and in mid-July, after 52 consecutive years of male winners, Amanda became the first-ever female winner of the Wequaquet Lake Sunfish Regatta on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The 32-boat regatta also served as the Sunfish New England Regional Championship.

Chris Williams caught up with Amanda to learn why she enjoys racing Sunfish.

How many years have you been competing in Sunfish?

Amanda: I think I jumped back in the boat about seven or eight years ago thanks to family friends, the Willy’s. I learned to sail at Wessagussett Yacht Club in Weymouth, MA. WYC was hosting a one-day Sunfish event and the Willy’s loaned my friend Kate Mitsch and me some boats. The Willy family originally introduced us to the boat back in high school when Kate and I were sailing Laser Radials (badly) but I then got back out of them. I remember back in high school being super intimidated by class veteran (and US Sailing Inshore Director) Lee Parks, but turns out she’s the nicest!

What attracted you to the class, and what keeps you coming back?
After crewing for years in team racing, I really wanted to start driving again. I was looking for something that was easy to sail and affordable with great racing opportunities. I realized that I’m still too small for Laser Radials. The Sunfish has been a great boat for me; while the sail area is comparable to a Laser, the Sunfish is lighter, the sail plan lower and it depowers very nicely. There is also a great racing circuit in New England (and elsewhere around the country) with great competition, plus the opportunity to compete at the National and World levels.

You have a lot of success at the global level in sailing. How does the competition stack up in Sunfish?

There are some great Sunfish sailors here in the US and it is a real treat when the South Americans come up to race against us too. Their downwind skills are really impressive!

What are your keys to success?
As a college sailing coach, I watch a lot of sailing for eight months of the year; while that’s not a substitute for actual tiller time, it helps keep my head in the game.

What are your racing goals in general and in the Sunfish?

Long term, my Sunfish racing goal is to train enough to qualify for the next Pan Am games. But honestly, I’m not putting enough time or effort in right now. This year, I’d like to win the Women’s North Americans. Outside of Sunfish racing, I’m staying active in match racing and doing a little keelboat team racing.

Numbers have been down some at major US Sunfish championships. Any thoughts as to how the class could bring the numbers back up?
I’m always trying to hand out the Sunfish Kool-Aid. I bought a second Sunfish so that I could invite friends to race in various regattas. Everyone seems to have a Sunfish story, but they just aren’t seeing how the boat they grew up sailing on can be raced at a high level.

Big picture, the class/builder could be more proactive in getting some of the top junior events held in the ‘fish (i.e. the Leiter and the Smythe) in the same way that the Championship of Champions will held in the Sunfish this year. That said, we had a good fleet at Wequaquet and when people attend, they have a great time – there is a real family feel to even the big Sunfish events.

What do the sailors on the RWU team think of your Sunfish exploits? Have any of them decided to try Sunfish?

One of the sailors on my team, Stewart Draheim, races Sunfish a lot. In fact he crushed me last summer at the North Americans. Two years ago, when I was racing the Worlds during our college season, I know they were following the results pretty closely!

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