Categories of the Racing Sailor

Published on November 27th, 2018

by Don Finkle, RCR Yachts
We have long believed that sailors fall into several categories when it comes to their choices in boats.

There are those for whom the class or fleet is most important. They stick with a boat for many years, decades, or even a lifetime. The program is more important than the boat itself, although they usually bond with their steed and will tell anyone else who will listen that it is the best boat and class to be in.

Some examples for this category are the Lightning, Thistle, Etchells, J/24, and J/22 classes but there are many others. They see no reason for a new or different boat because they love their program and their friends in it.

Then there are those who love new technology and having a cool new boat with the latest design features; this is what excites them most. They tend to move in and out of boats as the next new rocket comes along. They want to go fast and they want to play with the new toys.

If it were not for folks in this category, it would be tough for builders to justify the investment in new models. These sailors can enjoy exhilarating performance and the benefits that only a new design can offer, but they miss out on the comaraderie that goes along with a long established class family. Unfortunately, only a few new designs ever reach critical mass to support a stable one design class.

Finally, there are those who search for the ultimate winning combination of performance and handicap that they judge will give them the best chance at winning some hardware; that is how they choose their boats. For them the boat is merely a tool, like a hockey stick or tennis racket, they are only interested in the goal.

People in this category tend to change boats regularly as their competitive landscape changes or they find themselves outgunned. They do not need a new boat, or even a recent one, because they’d be successful in a 30 year old design under the handicap system where they sail.

Looking at the above would explain why there are so few new race boats being built today, aside from the fact we could use a lot more racers to begin with. For many racing sailors, they just do not need a new boat or new design. Sadly, the overall fleet will eventually become old enough that new sailors won’t be attracted in enough numbers.

We live in a world where yesterday is old news and most of what we use daily is new and much more feature-rich than before. This is especially true of younger people. We are losing boatbuilders, sparmakers and other sailing hardware manufacturers, and as fewer new boats are being built, this will only get worse.

On another topic:
We hear people say there are too many one design classes to choose from and they blame newer designs for the demise of some of the older classes. Actually, in our region of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, there are far fewer one design classes now than there used to be, and the glut of classes was much worse back then.

In my lifetime, I have seen the following classes mostly or totally disappear locally, many of which were in play at the same time: Raven, Comet, Snipe, Blue Jay, Albacore, Dragon, Fireball, OK Dinghy, Flying Dutchman, Penguin, Jollyboat, Knarr, Highlander, Soling, and so on.

Some of these still exist elsewhere, of course, but we submit there were more classes fighting for attention years ago than there are today. The problem is lack of one design sailors, not too many choices.

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