SI Vault
Hugh Whall
December 16, 1963
Despite the sneers of crusty traditionalists who claim that they are not even boats, the chipper little craft pictured here at Darien, Conn. have set a whole new style in sailing
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December 16, 1963

Set A Sail On A Surfboard

Despite the sneers of crusty traditionalists who claim that they are not even boats, the chipper little craft pictured here at Darien, Conn. have set a whole new style in sailing

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But with glass came profits. In 1949 Alcort grossed $35,000; in 1963 it took in $2 million before expenses. And instead of ordering sails from Ratsey & Lapthorn by the dozen or even the gross, Alcort bought them 7,000 at a crack. Soon they began to run out of factory space, and in a few weeks their whole enterprise will move to a new plant three times bigger than the old one.

Alcort's new quarters look more like a G.M. assembly line than a boatbuilding shed. Overhead, traveling slings will carry unfinished boats from one assembly station to the next. There are plush offices, special woodworking shops, storage space and a railroad spur. Here Alcort and its 50 employees will not only make more Sailfishes and Sunfishes to add to the 40,000 already afloat, but will repair them as well. "Some woman," says one old Alcort hand sadly, "is always running over her husband's boat in the driveway."

There probably is no way to prevent this new and unique hazard to sailboating, but Alcort's colorful floating chips have proved themselves immune to most others. Surfboard or sailboat, call them what you will, the Sunfish and the Sailfish are the simplest, best-performing, least demanding and most exhilarating sailing craft of their size and price ever built. Zephyrs push them faster than vessels many times their size; with a strong wind behind them they scoot along at fantastic rates, leaving their damp crews, perched inches above the wash, with the prolonged breathless feeling a surfer gets riding the crest of a roller off Waikiki. One Sunfish devotee even rides his boat standing up, in the best Hawaiian surfboard fashion.

Sunfishes and Sailfishes will turn over if you look at them crosswise, but this only adds to the fun of sailing them. They can be righted almost as quickly as they capsize and, short of attack by submarine, they are unsinkable. Actually, their tippiness makes them ideal training craft for kids, since they safely demonstrate that capsizing is a normal part of small-boat racing. They give neophytes practical lessons in recovering from a flip—lessons that pay dividends later in bigger, more sophisticated boats.

Basically, all that either a Sunfish or a Sailfish consists of is a Spartan leaf-shaped hull, pierced with a slot for a daggerboard (a drop keel that allows the boats to sail against the wind), a rudder, a stumpy mast and a handkerchief-sized, lateen-shaped sail with a halyard to raise it. The whole rig can be assembled in a couple of minutes. Small enough to stash in garages, the little boats fit neatly on top of most compact cars.

Three models of the Sailfish are available, two of the Sunfish. The baby Sailfish (the Standard) is 11 feet 7� inches long, has a beam of 31� inches and spreads 65 square feet of nylon or Dacron sail. It weighs 82 pounds and will support one 300-pound adult or six 50-pound children. The Standard model comes in do-it-yourself kit form and sells for a low $209. The middle-size Sailfish (the Super) also comes in knockdown, wooden kit style but is slightly shorter, wider and heavier than the Standard, and 400 pounds' worth of human can crouch on its deck. It sells for $239.

Flossiest of the Sailfish group is the Super Sailfish Mark II. Factory-finished of glossy Fiberglas, the Mark II weighs less than the Super (98 pounds), can carry as much (400 pounds) but sells for more: $394.

The Cadillacs of the Alcort fleet are the Sunfishes, which come in plywood kits and Fiberglas, ready to sail. They measure more than 13 feet 7 inches from stem to stern and have a beam about a foot wider than the Sailfish. The Sunfish kit, like the Sailfish, consists of wooden parts (deck, sides, daggerboard and rudder) and comes complete with sail. The kit Sunfish is slightly smaller but heavier than the molded, factory-finished Fiberglas version, but both have sail areas of 75 square feet and crew capacities of 500 pounds. The Sunfish kit costs $297-$179 less than the glass boat.

To complete the catch, Alcort is now scaling still another little Fish—the "Catfish," a single-sailed catamaran that will be heavier (160 pounds), wider (72 inches) and shorter than the Sunfish and will look vaguely like a pair of Fiberglas dolphins harnessed together.

How sailors will take to the Catfish is still unknown, but the popularity of the Sunfish, which outsells the Sailfish about 3 to 2, is well established. There are 36 Sunfish fleets in the U.S., Canada and Bermuda, plus 40 Sailfish fleets, and most of their members are at least borderline fanatics. Some of the wildest groups of Sunfishermen are in Bermuda: Bermuda's Salt Kettle Sailing and Planing Club and the Palmetto Bay Sailing and Gliding Club. Nearly all Bermudians sail Sunfishes, in fact, from Lady Gascoigne, wife of the governor, to the gas station attendant who services her car. Among them are ocean-racing types and some of the hottest dinghy sailors in the world.

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