Life after Death

Exquisite Finns are being temporarily mothballed around the globe. Ynglings are a barn find. Europes are rarer than hen’s teeth. Flying Dutchman’s (Dutchmen?) are collector’s items. Stars are, and always will be, magnificent beauties on the eye and are being built again. Dragons are sailed by Oligarchs. 12 Square Meter Sharpies are sailed by the classy. Tempests are a ‘thing’ in America. Tornados are for the wealthy be-bearded. Fireflys are still used in schools. And Solings are due a comeback.

I follow the eclectic on my various timelines and one that’s grabbed me this summer is the Soling class. Great racing all over the world on multi-continents and it’s a timeless machine that still looks right. It always did.

Quite how the Etchells stole the limelight from under the Soling’s nose is anyone’s guess? As very much an ex-Etchells sailor, I don’t miss those days of coming off the water with my arms feeling like they’ve been extended three inches and more bruises than a two week old banana, one little bit. The Soling would be a far better alternative. And I love, buy into and wish it true of the apocryphal Cowes Soling story about the greatest America’s Cup winner, loser, winner of our time.

The legend has it, and I’ve been told this by multiple sources admittedly towards the end of evenings in local watering holes, that Dennis Conner has a fully tricked-up Borresen Soling sitting in pristine condition, under cover in a shed somewhere in the Vectis vicinity. I’m pretty sure it’s untrue now, perhaps it always was just a boating industry legend, but I’d love to believe in it. Finding it would be like pulling your Uncle’s discarded Ferrari Dino out of a long-forgotten barn – wouldn’t it be great?

But the broader point of my fascination in Olympic boats of the past is really to see how they fare once the five ring circus has evaporated and the athletes of the day have moved on.

The Star Class has always been a fascination – I just have to own one one day – and they are more than thriving. The gold star that denotes a World Champion is still as coveted and hotly contested today as it ever was – 166 athletes are showing up in Kiel this year. I note the recent press on Mateusz Kusnierewicz, a truly brilliant sailor, receiving financial support from Bacardi to enter the World Championships on the back of winning the Bacardi Cup last year (and the previous running in 2019 – how good are he and Bruno Prada?) and suddenly you can see the levels that are being hit.

It’s still one of the hardest fleets to win in and to say that you’re the Star World Champion, even today, carries unbelievable weight in any yachting circle. Kiel will be white-hot competition starting this weekend.

©Matias Capizzano

The Finn class is one that I have every hope of survival and thriving. I read with interest their internal debate about whether free-pumping should still be allowed as the class comes down from its Olympic heights. Recognising that the athletes/participants/backbone of the new fleets might be a little less kinetic than the Olympians of recent times going forward shows a class that is thinking about its future but I will bet a pretty penny that the racing is just as tight in the coming years at the World and European Championships.

The good news is that there’s life after Olympic death. There are many of us that through the ages take inspiration from the Games. I’m guilty as charged. I own a Laser and in my mind’s eye I’m as good as Elliot Hanson, better than Tom Slingsby in his prime and Robert Scheidt is mere dust in my wake.

The reality is somewhat different. In fact it’s the polar opposite. More ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ than rock ‘n’ roll but I watch the You Tube training videos relentlessly and maniacally and every time I go on the water I try to remember and enact that week’s lesson.

As an example, I got it into my head that I would try the ‘hiking pump’ upwind that the Olympians make look so easy, fanning the sail through excessive upper body and core kinetics in anything above about 10 knots. I lasted precisely one minute (it may have been 30 seconds) before saying: “s*d this for a game of soldiers.” I was knackered. Deep respect was engendered for those at the top of the game. But it’s a lot of fun trying.

©World Sailing

And again, in my mind’s eye I think I could sail a Star. I mean how difficult can it be? I know I’m kidding myself and would probably miss-duck and get swept into the briny on the first gybe as the ultra-thin mast crashes to the deck but I’m Freddy Loof, Iain Percy and Mark Reynolds incarnate in my own little world. I’d love to give it a go and with decent Stars occasionally coming on the market at reasonable rates, it surely has to be the ultimate mid-life purchase? The Ferrari and the inevitable gold chain can wait.

And what of the Europe? Well it’s absolutely red hot at the moment. The Scandinavians are back in the game in a big way and huge fleets are in operation once again. The Spanish builder, Winner, are rammed out on build slots, a new British builder is in final tests of their mould and that’s a boat that just looks right. Fabulous pathway vessel for the juniors and a more manageable Finn for those of us of a slighter build with misty-eyes and youthful intentions. Devilishly difficult to marry the mast and sail combination but rewarding on all points of sail and, importantly, pretty cool in the dinghy park. A Bachelor’s degree in rope-work is preferable but that’s the same for all the ex-Olympic classes.

Olympic exclusion seems like the end of the world. The case for the defence however suggests otherwise. Yes, Olympic classes dwindle for a while. They meander whilst the market settles but pretty quickly with a little bit of direction, a little bit of enthusiasm and a few people caballing together, they emerge as exciting, social, progressive classes that are rewarding for their participants.

In time, as the tricked-up ex-Olympic boats end up in the hands of us normal sailors and one further cycle on, new boats start being built. Solings are coming out of the Borresen yard again. Stars are being built by Mader, Lillia and Folli in decent numbers. Dragons are pieces of fine art being crafted by artisans for an uber wealthy new elite. Europes are being pressed out in quantity whilst the true classics like the FD are being lovingly restored in lockdown garages all over the world.

It’s not the death knell when the final Olympic bell tolls, rather the opportunity of a beautiful re-birth of classes with bright futures. The five rings will undoubtedly be throw-away foilers and wing boards in the very near future as that’s what’s needed to keep the discipline in the Games and keep it relevant but there are bright pastures for those that get axed.

There’s something very special about sailing an ex-Olympic boat (even a current one)…the endless search for a Star continues…

9 thoughts on “Life after Death

  1. OOps pushed the wrong key. You can pick up a Flying Dutchman for a song here in Nelson. Most of the skippers and crew are just over the hill and no youngsters coming through. My old FD was named Fiscal Drag.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mags,
    You need to read an article by the late Richard Creagh-Osborn in the 1965 Dinghy Year Book (Yes 1965) about Olympic classes. One part of the article deals with the choice of the Swallow for the two man keel boat at the 1948 Olympics. It was chosen in preference to The Flying 15. 56 years on and the FF has 3,000+ boats around the globe while Swallows survive (just) courtesy of Enthusiasts in Itchenor.
    Creagh-Osborn’s description of the Swallow was….”a compromise in every direction to ever catch on. It looked fast but wasn’t . It looked pretty but was uncomfortable and wet. It was hard work to sail without giving much of a thrill. It was rather under-canvassed and dull in light weather ……… the class failed internationally after the games”
    The poor choice of boats by Olympic selectors is nothing new!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Magnus,

    You are “dead nuts” on about the ex Olympic classes. They will persevere because none of us “older” folk are going to be kite foiling, much as we might dream about giving it a go.

    Golf has its “senior” tour for the legends of the game to still compete, as do other sports. Perhaps we need a “senior” Olympics in some of the many classes of boats you mention.

    Keep dreaming of that Star Boat. You’ll find yours one of these days .


    Hank Evans
    Past Commodore, Youngstown Yacht Club Lake Ontario
    Star # 1330

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a great article and view again, Magnus. Really appreciate this.
    I was holding myself back about commenting this morning but as there is good traffic on your page, I will put my 2¢ into the ring. And yes, I have bought a Hans Moder FD recently. A sharing project, hopefully to be able to sail it after a bit of refurbishing later in autumn. I had owned one after another (total 3) of those beautiful “machines” during the 70s, but man, how did they evolve. Ropes everywhere. Nothing for the faint hearted. Thinnest shockcord sold out now at my marine store.

    Anyway, reason for commenting is something which I had written elsewhere, very many moons ago. Working in the marine environment with many boatyards, mostly smaller ones in the beginning and being associated to the IYRU, I tried to raise my voice for all the smaller businesses, boatyards so to speak, who were building most of the boats which you did mention in your article. Be it, the Europe, the Finn, the FD. Olympic Development classes which made it possible for upcoming nations to start with new technologies. I thought that had been important and it should also be a responsibility for the IYRU to lead in this field giving evolving nations a chance to participate on Olympic level with handcrafted equipment within the Olympic movement. Helping small countries to develop private enterprises, so to speak.

    In my view the whole thing got out of control when the Laser appeared to become an Olympic class and later 2 Lasers for w/m each. Boats coming out of a “production line”, simply made and only one builder, later two licenses. OK, strict one design, but what against box rule classes?
    Same with the 49er, due to a lot, really a lot PR and now being used again for w/m. No room for many of the smaller boatbuilders around the world, e.g. Bob Hoare, Hein, Lindsay, as well as many of the different Finn builders. Maybe my view is wrong but than I have seen so many small businesses in the marine trade going bust due to the “pop out of moulds” boats.

    As Chris Evan says above: “The poor choice of boats by Olympic selectors is nothing new!”.
    I can only add to this the lack of responsibility for the marine industry within the 5 rings is very poor.

    Liked by 1 person

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