Quite definitely my favourite fleet and my go-to social media stalk, with more smiles per square metre is the Waszp Class. It seems not to matter whether you are straight out of the National Youth Squad or, in most of our cases, creaking a bit at the sides, the boat is accessible to all. Perhaps not quite such a beautiful balletic experience for those with a mortgage, kids at Uni, a steady job at the local accountancy firm and a spare room that needs decorating but still a thrill none the same. And it’s this kind of diversity that is the engine room of sailing as it booms across the land. Hats off to the Waszp class and to its chief cheerleader Duncan Hepplewhite from aptly named ‘Sailing Fast’ for promoting this dynamic, awesome class so expertly.
If you follow the various Waszp handles on social media like I relentlessly do, you get drawn in like a wasp to marmalade (surely a ‘waszp to water?) and it’s a fabulous cult to belong to. Training sessions up and down the country all summer and a winter programme that the RYA would be proud of. It’s all about getting you out there and up on foils and enjoying yourself. Yes you will spend a bit of time swimming – they are quite explicit that a wetsuit is required – but if you just stay with it, the secret of flight is yours. No longer will you hike until your knees scream – rather you will achieve lift-off eventually and marvel at the wind whistling and smile knowingly at the waves flittering below. You will cheat physics and belie your own ability, unlocking potential that you never knew was within. An experience like no other and all for less than ten grand. What’s not to love?
Where the Waszp class has got it right is in keeping the costs down. I hear tales of top-class International Moths costing anything up to £80,000 and whilst they are things are artistic wonder for certain, I fear that they have priced themselves way out of the market. Sure you can buy cheaper, but if you have fantasies about taking on Paul Goodison for a world title shot then you’d better have rich benefactors behind the scenes. With the Waszp, the arms race is off to a greater extent. It’s all about technique and time on the water rather than the size of your wallet and the boats themselves are resilient to the point of bullet-proof too with a very, very healthy re-sale value.
Could something like the Waszp replace the ILCA at the Olympic Games? The single-hander slot hasn’t really ever got any better than the epic Scheidt and Ainslie final race in Sydney in 2000 – and that was over 20 years ago. With the IOC and World Sailing’s obsession with tapping into youth zeitgeist, the Waszp ticks a lot of boxes at almost the same price, and the racing would be a blooming marvellous televisual spectacle which is what the Olympic Games is all about. And don’t forget social media…the IOC would be wetting itself at young, fit, attractive athletes with beach-blonde hair blasting around courses just off the shoreline and screaming ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ for all they are worth. I could see it happening.
And the logical pathway onwards to the pinnacle of grand prix sailing in the America’s Cup and Sail GP would be signposted. The step change from youth foiling through the various development squads and then on to the Games before a leap forward to flying mono and multihulls at the very apex is the way sailing is going. We will see generations of sailors coming through who have never experienced the deflating feeling of being at the back of the fleet at the third leeward mark, absolutely shattered, with another mile-long beat ahead with stomach muscles burning on a grey Sunday afternoon at Lee-on-Solent. Character building stuff – although I’m not sure what sort of ‘character’ that actually builds.
No, it will be a generation who just love foiling, are addicted to speed and understand how to retain flight, tweak for more speed and have technique to burn. We will see superstars of foiling to match the greats of the past and when the sport elevates, as it surely must, up into the Olympic arena, we could and should see on-water rivalries to match anything that Conner & Blackaller, Ainslie & Scheidt or Slingsby & Goodison could offer.
Sailing is evolving fast. Whilst many of us cling on to the past and fading rose-tinted spectacles, the sport moves on relentlessly. Classes like the Waszp are at the vanguard of the revolution and all I can see is the brightest of futures with the next generation demanding more bang for their buck than we experienced. It will be fascinating to see where we develop as a sport and how leaders of the sport respond. My gut feeling is that there’s a golden generation of talent starting to occupy positions of power – take Ian Walker as an example at the Royal Yachting Association – and to be quite honest, I would trust my life in their judgement. That generation needs to be elevated further and faster into the World Sailing ranks and then the brightest of bright futures awaits.
Sailing’s on the up. Just look at the grass roots.