State of the Etchells Class

Published on April 17th, 2023

The first races for the 2023 Etchells World Championship will need to wait as line squalls coming and lightning strikes on the opening day kept the 63 teams onshore for the 47th edition to be held April 17-21 in Miami, FL.

In advance of the event, here is an update on the Etchells Class:

Sometimes out of crisis comes positive action and renewed energy. A few years ago, the International Etchells Class was confronted with a serious measurement issue that caused anxiety, concern, and differences of opinion among the membership at-large.

Class leaders responded by conducting an honest assessment of the situation then crafting the most fair and equitable solution. A potential uprising was averted and the cooperation required to address the problem has created momentum that has moved the class forward.

“This class went through quite a challenge over the last three years. The Mould 11 issue was very divisive and it caused a bit of a rift,” said Jim Cunningham, chairman of the Etchells International Governing Council (IGC). “We needed strong global leadership to step up and resolve the issues. We’re now using that same strong global leadership to map out our future.”

While there were some disagreements along the way, Cunningham believes the response to the Mould 11 issue was appropriate and reasonable. Ultimately, the remedy put in place should lead to growth in Australia as Mould 12 is currently under construction and expected to come online this year, Cunningham said.

That would allow International Composites, the longtime Etchells boatbuilder in Australia, to start producing new boats. The International Etchells Class will own the certified Mould 12 moving forward.

Cunningham is proud that class leaders addressed the Mould 11 issue by relying on science and engineering. “We had an all-star cast of nautical engineers sort things out and come up with an answer,” he said.

Now the class leadership is ready to turn its attention to other matters with the ultimate goal of increasing participation in Etchells racing. Cunningham was recently reinstalled as chairman of the International Governing Council after previously serving in that role in 2019 and 2020.

Andy Cumming assumed the chairmanship for 2021-22 and did an outstanding job of pushing many important initiatives. Cunningham fully intends to keep the ball rolling downhill and said the IGC has many ambitious goals.

“We’ve spent a lot of time in the IGC thinking about the health of the class in terms of expanding the numbers at regional and national events as well as attracting more youth teams,” Cunningham said. “We’ve created a Development Committee that is focused on expanding the class.”

Cunningham believes the decision to eliminate the class rule that allowed boat owners to buy just one set of sails per season made sound sense. The IGC also created a royalty system that results in the class getting a percentage of the profits from all sails sold.

“We got rid of the sail cards, which was a positive for the class. Now the new royalty system will provide funding for various projects,” he said.

After many years of allowing the quality of the boat and caliber of competition to speak for themselves, the International Etchells Class has now decided to promote itself more actively and aggressively.

“We’re going big on the media and promotion,” he said, noting the leadership is in the midst of improving the class website and developing long-range plans for attracting sponsors. Improvements on the sponsorship front are evident this week in Miami where insurance giant AON is serving as title sponsor of the 2023 World Championships.

“It’s fantastic having AON aboard as the title sponsor and they have provided tremendous support,” Cunningham said. “We are very proud and privileged to have a company like AON show enough faith in the class to put its name to our premier event.”

Cunningham also praised longtime sponsor Bacardi, which has been a great partner to the Etchells class.

“We have to find more ways to make multi-level sponsorship attractive to potential companies. We’d like to have four or five major sponsors and increase the number of world-class brands that are associated with the Etchells class,” he said.

Class leaders also want to establish reliable, consistent funding for the world championships, which Cunningham acknowledged are expensive to run. One easy way to connect with the membership and the greater sailing public was to relaunch the Quarterly Newsletter that provides important news, information and insights.

“We’re trying to focus on the areas that are important to developing the class: Better communication, more transparency and strategic investment,” Cunningham said. “Our goal is to keep the Etchells class a notch above in terms of visibility.”

Cunningham said the International Governing Council has also spent considerable time updating the class rules and rewriting the class constitution. Cumming is managing that porject and expects to bring it to a swift conclusion.

“We cleaned up the technical ambiguities and inconsistencies that have long existed,” Cunningham said.

Spurring growth also involves supporting and developing fleets in regional areas that are “on the edge,” Cunningham said. It’s all about encouraging new ownership to enable local fleets too small to conduct active racing to expand and become more viable.

Cunningham believes it’s long overdue for the Etchells class to toot its own horn. It is one of the few one-design boats in the world that attract sailors from nearly a dozen countries with the talent consisting of former America’s Cup competitors and past Olympic medalists.

“We want to hold on to the traditions of the class, while at the same time advancing new ideas and initiatives to keep it on the cutting edge,” Cunningham said. “We want everyone to create long-term themes to present the Etchells story and let people know how fantastic the class is to compete in and be part of.”

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