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Finn dinghy: THE Olympic singlehander

Published on October 31st, 2016

by Joe Cooper, WindCheck Magazine
My adopted mother (I adopted her, and her husband, Tony James) posted a Facebook picture a few days ago. It was of the Australian Sailing Team for the 1972 Kiel Olympics including amongst other notables, her husband Tony. It brought back some serious memories.

In 1975, I was sailing a Laser and working at Elvström Sails in Sydney. The Top Gun Finn sailor was Tony, and he used Elvström sails. I knew who he was, and he would come into the loft once in a while. One day I saw he and Mike Fletcher, one of the principals, talking and looking at me. Huh, oh, what had I done this time?

Fletch beckoned me over and introduced me to Tony. We exchanged pleasantries and talked Laser sailing for a bit longer than a Formula One pit stop before he asked me what I was doing on Saturday. In even less time, I had agreed to meet him and sail a Finn with ‘some of the other blokes.’ I had just been recruited into THE most demanding, and Olympic, boat on the planet.

After sailing on that Saturday, we went to Tony’s house to wash off and get something to eat. Since he had been to the Kiel Olympics, he had a goodly supply of ‘Olympics stuff’ and pretty soon it was clear he was dangling the idea of the Olympics in front of me. Photo albums, posters of Kiel, funny stories of tooling around Europe in a VW bus, his hiking bench…and so on. It worked.

For me, at about 19, with no particular direction and no pressing desire to do anything except surf or sail, the idea of the Finn AND the Olympic vision struck a chord. Here was something I could sink my teeth into. This focus became even sharper after spending time in the boat, reading about Paul Elvström, sailing with Tony and the boys and being exposed to the Olympic theme at chez James.

The Finn won the design contest in 1947 for a new singlehanded boat for the 1952 Olympics. It has the distinction of being The Olympic singlehanded class ever since. That is sixty-four years of serious, hard sailing. It has progressed from wooden hulls and masts to glass boats and carbon masts. It has a remarkably strong worldwide class. The roster of great, spectacular and seriously successful sailors that the Finn has produced is the Who’s Who of international sailing. – Full report

Comment: The Finn has been in every Olympic Games since 1952 though its path forward is uncertain. The International Olympic Committee is asking for all ten Sailing events at the 2016 Games to be scrutinized per specific guidelines. If the Rio Games are the end of the Finn’s run, it will be disappointing but with 355 sailors – 40 years and older – competing in Italy at the 2016 Finn World Masters, the strength of the class seems secure. – Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt

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