Intergalactic Rocket Challenge to the Editor

Published on December 11th, 2023

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
A truism in sailing is the gradual progression of yacht design. Today’s boats are better than yesterdays. Faster, more fun… you name it. But for a successful One Design Class, it is more the people and less the boat which form the foundation of a solid organization.

“It is much harder to build a strong and vibrant International Class Association than design a new boat,” observed legendary champion Paul Elvstrom.

Among established strong classes is the Sunfish which emerged in 1952 and attracted 100 boats to its 2023 Sunfish World Championship. But to leverage that success, I was disappointed to see a US builder launch a near copy of the boat to build a separate class.

My frustration was extended when Beverly Yacht Club (Marion, MA) chose this ‘new and improved’ boat to establish their frostbite fleet. Following my comments in Scuttlebutt #6310, the esteemed Dan Cooney offers why his club made this decision:

Our new, super fun “little engine that could” Rocket fleet came under the critical eye of sailing’s newsletter of record in #6310. The editor wondered why it was “necessary” to choose a new boat similar to the Sunfish for our new frostbite fleet rather than miss an opportunity to support an iconic class.

First, that the editor from San Diego knows we exist at all has our fleet pretty excited. Second, our admiration for the Sunfish is as deep as the Worlds fleet was in Miami.

Amazing fleet, amazing people. Positively transformational boat for the sport full stop. I loved watching the 100 boat starts in Miami and fantastic coverage by YouTube star Lee Montes. We cheered for our local Rocket fleet hero Charlie Shipway in USA #5239.

So, we admire the Sunfish, but chose the Rocket. Why? The Beverly YC did not have a frostbite fleet and we were starting fresh. We wanted something singlehanded, self-rescuing, fun, and light enough to move around easily.

The Rocket weighs 30 percent less than a Sunfish, 90 pounds without the rig. As a reference, an Opti weighs 77 pounds. It makes a difference on older backs every time we haul, move, and store.

Not only is it lighter but it also carries more sail area and is wider at max beam. The improvement in power-to-weight ratio is best expressed mathematically but I don’t know how to do that so let’s just say the acceleration is little-kid Christmas-morning joyful.

Sunfish sailors in our fleet tell us the boat is more comfortable with a higher deck and open cockpit. It’s also a bit more stable. Because we were starting fresh, we thought the idea of absolutely equal boats was a valuable luxury within our grasp.

We thought that everybody having a dry hull adds to the competitive fun and we think it has. Every single sailor is in every single race. This advantage may fade but it’s been helpful in moving the program from 0 to 1.

As a huge cherry on top, our builder, Fulcrum Speedworks, is 33 miles down the road and owner Dave Clark joined the fleet as a regular participant this fall. Dave is fun to sail with and he’s been generous with his time and spare parts. A friendly supportive manufacturer that’s essentially a neighbor is quite a juxtaposition to the last few years of single-handed manufacturer drama.

Our fleet is made up of all ages 13 and up (and up). We sail 5 or 6 races on Sundays right off the club. Boats can be rigged in 5 minutes, but we futz around like most sailors. Close camaraderie and epic volunteerism are embedded into the culture like so many other frostbiting fleets we admire (Riverside YC, Mamaroneck, so many great ones).

We have increased the size of the fleet in the past year to 15 and we will be at 20 by next fall. Both new and lightly-used boats are now being added and absent owners find others to sail their boats when they are out of town. The costs are Sunfish comparable or better.

We’ve sailed 148 races so far and feel like it’s working out better than anyone could have hoped. Like the BYC itself, our fleet is small but mighty. We like to think that we punch above our weight but never expected to take a little hit from the Scuttlebutt editor who was “puzzled” at our decision.

So Craig, we know you love the sport and have dedicated yourself to its growth. What we don’t know is if you have had a chance to sail the Rocket. Take us up on this challenge and come judge the boat for yourself. On August 23-25, the Beverly Yacht Club is hosting the 2024 First-Ever Rocket Intergalatics.

We will provide you with a super fun Rocket and Marion village housing if you come sail the event with us. You won’t pay for a drink all weekend and I insist on picking you up at the airport. You said you thought our fleet missed an opportunity and I would not want you to miss yours.

Everybody sees the world through their own lenses. We get it. Loyalty to fun and what we thought would get sailors off the couch guided us, not loyalty to a specific class or the status quo. Even across the country, we admire the Naples Sabot having made and held on to its own place in an Opti world. Let’s continue this discussion apres-racing in August. Let us know what time to pick you up at the airport!

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