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Born out of inflation by taxes, one-design class boats like those scurrying around a leeward mark on the opposite page, have become the mainstay of today's yacht racing. At this time of year, the peak of the season, nearly half a million sailors are competing in local, regional and national regattas in bays, lakes and inlets all over the country. Their boats are tight little day-sailers of identical design that race over triangular courses set in sheltered waters, like those in the Larchmont, N.Y. regatta shown here.
These trim sloops, dinghies and cat boats have replaced the giants of the yachting world, the $500,000 America's Cup defenders that made headlines during the first half of the century but died by sheer weight of their upkeep after the final Cup Race in 1937. Now the regattas belong to boats that measure anywhere from the 38-foot Class A Scow down through the 13�-foot Blue Jay to the tiny 10-foot Turnabout. On these pages, 16 of the more popular class boats are portrayed and briefly described as a sampling of the 200-odd classes now in competition.
Practically all the class boats are built to a meticulously defined set of lines and specific sail plans, with the intent of leveling out racing in each class so that no contestant can derive an advantage from his hull, rig or sails. Since the hulls are all the same, the helmsman's handling of the hull becomes the important factor. Because the boats all wear similar suits of sail, the racing differential lies not so much in a sail's drawing power as in the skill with which it is set and trimmed.
In some of the one-design classes like the Raven, all the hulls have to be made from the same mold. In the International One-Design Class the boat owners even draw lots for their sails. And in most classes the mast and boom have bands painted on them to designate limits beyond which the sail may not extend. Class boats have tried to become, in fact, the perfect leveler. And for the most part they have succeeded. One-design class racing is one of the few sports in which a 52-year-old matron can and has competed on perfectly even terms with her 25-year-old offspring or in which the sedentary office worker can out-hustle and outlast his strapping son.
There are a few exceptions. Certain classes impose general limits on hull length, sail area, etc., but allow variations within those limits and hence do not fall under the strict regulations implied by the phrase "one-design." In the International 14 Class, for example, hull and rig modifications are allowed. The same applies to several subdivisions of the Moth Class, so that in these cases imagination in design becomes a factor in the final result. And even within the cast-iron rigidity of the one-design classes, there are a few variables. A skipper with a little more money and a little more time to spend around his boat can buy two or three sets of expensive, long-lasting orlon or dacron sails—one for light air, one for medium winds and one for heavy weather, whereas the less fortunate may have to stick with old-fashioned cotton or the less old-fashioned nylon. There is the difference, too, over an eight-mile course, of anywhere from one to a hundred boat-lengths in the way a skipper finishes the bottom of his boat, and the difference of perhaps a length or two around the buoy in the effectiveness of the latest gadget to help pull the sheets in quickly and tightly.
However, every one of these advantages can be immediately canceled by a shift in the wind, or an ill-conceived thrust on the tiller, so that in the final analysis the elusive quality known as the feel of a boat is the most important thing. Yachtsmen never tire of illustrating this point with the classic story of Harold Vanderbilt and the Brutal Beast, a one-design class local to the waters around Marblehead, Mass. In August 1937, just after he had sailed his Ranger to four straight victories over Thomas Sop-with's Endeavour II in the last of the great America's Cup matches, Vanderbilt entered a special two-race match held at Marblehead for Brutal Beasts. Sailing a boat that was new to him and for which he had developed no feel, Vanderbilt, one of the finest sailors in the world, finished an inglorious last in both races.
One-design boats vary considerably from class to class in size, rig and hull shape. Some of them were specifically designed to meet local wind and water conditions. Others were designed purely as racing machines and some of these, like the Snipe and the Star, have won world-wide popularity. Boats from five continents, for example, competed in both the Star and Dragon Class races in the 1952 Olympics.
MILLIONAIRES AND MECHANICS
The one-designs have also been tailored to fit the needs of every size of pocketbook. They are sailed by millionaires and mechanics and by farmers, schoolteachers and crowned heads. King Paul and Queen Frederika of Greece both own Stars, and a boat of the Dragon Class is sailed by the King of the Belgians. Prince Birabongse of Thailand competed in the World Championship Star races at Naples in 1953, losing to Italy's Captain Agostino Straulino, Olympic champion. The North American All Class champion is a 20-year-old youngster, Gene Walet III, from New Orleans. The champion of the largest class of them all, the Snipe, with 10,000 boats distributed throughout the world, is another 19-year-old, Tom Frost of Newport Beach, Calif. A current sailing instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy, Ensign Robert Englert, learned his sailing in one of the smaller class boats, the Thistle.
On the whole, one-design class boats are good and able sailers, although none of them are true deep-water boats. But even though they may not be built to cross the ocean, the one-designs have thoroughly demolished an old adage of the rocking-chair fleet. They've taught us that to become a good sailor it is not necessary to be born with a helm spoke in your hand and salt in your nose.