Conventional Racing Dinghy Classes

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During the periods of the 1960s and 1970s there was a proliferation of racing dinghy designs, some still popular today, although these dinghies face an increasing opposition in popularity from the 'new-wave' designs.

Conventional Racing Dinghy History

A conventional racing dinghy, 14 to 16 feet has the capacity for two grown men to race but too large for two teenagers or a couple. Seaworthy enough for open sea racing but light enough for trailing or car topping and stores in the standard-sized garage.

Some people become devoted to one particular design and continue racing it long after becoming outdated. An example is the 12 Square Metre Sharpie, a 1922 Dutch design that appeared in the 1956 Olympics. Built from solid mahogany, prior to the availability of marine plywood and having a gaff rig, these heavy boats are preserved by dedicated enthusiastic owners.

Sailing Dinghy Club Racing

This may be a genuine affection for some of the older designs but also has social reasons. Each class becomes a club or association in which people make friends and organize a programme of sailing and socializing. Racing makes little sense unless there are a realistic number of similar boats involved with particular designs making up the bulk of the club boats.

Racing Dinghy Plywood Construction

Economics dictates the type of small boat that people sailed, and the expansion in sailing from the 1960s onwards was put down to that dinghies could be built quickly and inexpensively in plywood. The Hornet, the Graduate, the Enterprise, the Scorpion, the Heron, the Wayfarer and the Fireball dinghy, are examples where designs utilized this material resulting in boats having a 'hard-chine' hull shape.

The smooth rounded hull is made from wood by building up layers of thin strips of wood glued together over a mould. This construction tends to be expensive largely to the amount of work required but it is strong and light. It was used in the past for some of the more advanced racing dinghies such as the Flying Dutchman sailboat and the 505 dinghy.

A refinement to this process is the use of thermosetting glue which cured under heat and pressure in a giant pressure cooker device called an autoclave. Fairey Aviation founded a marine division exploiting this method and produced a series of popular boats including the Firefly, Swordfish and Albacore.

Glass Fibre Sailing Dinghy Construction

These smooth-hulled racing dinghies were well adapted for the glass-fibre construction, and boats such as the 505 dinghy maintained their position in the leading edge of racing for some 30 years. During this time, new dinghies the Lark, 470, and later the Laser 2, were designed for glass-fibre manufacture.

Boats in this category are able to carry a spinnaker for downwind speed while some, including the 505 dinghy, Fireball and 470, have been designed with a trapeze for the crew.

Although alarming as it might seem to be hanging outside the boat on the end of a wire, trapezing is less of a strain on the body than energetically sitting out. It has the advantage of increasing the effective use of lightweight crew, and why trapeze dinghies are the choice for female crews or mixed crews.

Racing Dinghy Class Considerations

Choose a dinghy that suits your sailing area. Powerful and fast dinghies, as the Fireball and 505, need ample space and clear wind; the 505 calls for big, strong crews because of the large sail area. If you sail mostly on a river or small lake, then a dinghy without a trapeze and has manoeuvrability, such as a Lark or Merlin-Rocket is the better choice.

For efficiency, expert dinghy sailors prefer to have a fixed-position rudder and a daggerboard as these present the correct foil section to the water flow all the time. Sailing where shallows are a problem or launching can hold problems, then select a boat with a tipping centreboard and lifting rudder. Having these features is essential where weed in the water is a problem, alleviating the frustration of constantly leaning over the stern to remove weed from a fixed rudder blade.

One Designs

Racing dinghies are organized with the 'strict' one-designs such as all the Laser family with their standard hull and equipment that cannot be altered. This suits sailors who want to purchase a boat and race it without trying to stay ahead of new concepts in design.

Semi One Designs

Semi one-designs, as the 505 dinghy and Fireball, have a fixed hull shape and measurements that must be adhered to, but considerable freedom in the layout and equipment that is used. This suits those sailors who take an interest in efficient sailing and enjoy tailoring layouts that suits them.

Development Classes

Development classes, like the National 12-foot Dinghy and National Merlin Rocket have restrictions on minimum and maximum weights, sail areas and dimensions, but are open to experimental designs. Sailors with a strong interest in design may want to build and equip boats for testing their own theories.

The intention behind these classes is to invent new designs and racing such a class is interesting but it is expensive, as today's leading-edge design becomes outdated next year.

Important to the whole sailing world, the development classes are continually evolving with novel ideas that gradually become accepted, refined and filter down to production boats. The example here is the International Moth, which sports an extremely narrow hull with wing like extensions for the helmsman to sit on and been copied by other classes in a less extreme manner.

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