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Sunfish: A leader in dinghy racing

Published on November 15th, 2018

The Sunfish might seem like its time has passed, what with its 1950s styling and lateen rig. But its simplicity, wide range of competitive sailing weight, and international standing has allowed it to remain relevant for both the casual day sailor and the world title seeker.

Will Kresic is a longtime advocate for the class, and this year hosted the fifth annual UConn Spring Sunfish Alumni Regatta to experience a boat that is both readily available, and can be easily raced post college sailing.

Will has now been elected as the US Sunfish Class President, and in this message to class members is a message that resonates far beyond this board-style boat.

I started sailing at 13 years old in Highland Lakes, NJ. I was on the swim team, but I wasn’t winning any awards. At the lanes, I did get to see the youth sailing program practicing twice a week. One day I pointed to the youth fleet and said to my mom, “I hate swimming. I want to do that.” I was on the water the next week with a boat scrounged from my Uncle’s woodpile and a sail that could have doubled as tissue paper. Nevertheless, I was out there.

Since that fortuitous day, my passion for sailing has only grown. I graduated from the junior program in Highland Lakes as captain and went on to sail for the University of Connecticut, where I indoctrinated many members into the Sunfish Class and made lifetime friends. Today, I continue to attend regional, national, and world level Sunfish events.

For the past seven years, my focus has been finding new ways to grow the Sunfish Class in the Northeast. I have recruited sailors, found boats for them to sail and eventually buy, and worked towards expanding racing to Connecticut and the rest of New England after noticing the fleet was predominantly located in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Youth sailors are the future of the Sunfish class, but more and more we see passionate sailors choosing Optis, 420s, and Lasers over Sunfish. We need to continue to support young Sunfish sailors and encourage all yacht clubs and event organizers to make junior Sunfish sailing as accessible as possible.

In an ideal world, even the kids that inevitably leave sailing for other sports will have fond memories of sailing in a Sunfish. These experiences may shape future decisions if they decide to buy a boat for themselves or their families later in life. In every region there are sailors that find their way back to Sunfish sailing as adults.

As the majority of the Sunfish Class ages, we need more teenagers and young adults filling in the ranks from below. For this, I look to college sailors. We should be viewing college sailors as an untapped resource for the Sunfish Class. Because of the nature of the Sunfish, we are uniquely positioned to provide college graduates a new “boat home”, as Amanda Callahan calls it.

Many college sailing programs race 420s and FJs almost exclusively, and graduates with limited time and money are looking for an accessible class to join with affordable boats. The Sunfish is a great sailboat for these sailors, but as a class we need to be a more visible option. By reaching out to college programs, we can show these sailors that the Sunfish is much more than a beginner boat. The Sunfish Class is notoriously welcoming to newcomers and creating opportunities for young adults to give Sunfish racing a try will ultimately increase class membership.

I see a lot of potential for the Sunfish and I am honored to be considered a leader in this Class. I eagerly look forward to the coming year of racing and I hope that together we can work to grow participation and membership, and to show the sailing world that the Sunfish is a leader in dinghy racing!

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