A complaint of sailing enthusiasts is that their sport is not televised. The problem being sailing is difficult and expensive to film, and appears on screen as taking place in slow motion.
Making sailing ‘televisual' it is necessary to create a race which is fast and exciting with boats competing at close quarters on a small course viewing from the shore. The course should consist of short legs so that the crew are kept active setting or recovering sails.
Television requires a set of familiar faces to strike the chord of familiarity with the audience requiring the creation of a 'circuit' involving a small number of skippers. The first venue to achieve something akin to this was at Sydney Harbour with the 18 foot Skiff, the 'Aydeens'.
Sydney is perfect for sailing, with warm water, strong winds and a harbour that forms a vast viewing platform. This special class of boat for many years has been sailed by professionals and attracts spectators.
The rules of the 18 Foot Skiff class allow anything within a hull length of 18 feet, and in the past these boats used to have up to five crew and set a vast cloud of sail. Efficiency prevailed and over the years the skiffs have developed into very light, dart-shaped boats with narrow hulls and wide standing-out frames.
They carry a crew of three skilled people, and with their outstanding power-to-weight ratio they are impressive performers and provide some good TV viewing.
Attempts to export the Sydney Harbour Skiff concept to other countries have met with mixed success. Less favourable weather and sponsorship setting in Europe have made it hard for the skiffs racing to achieve the same level of impact.
Britain has evolved its own stunning pro-sailing class, the [ Ultra 30 sailboat] . Originally taking its prompt from an American professional sailing circus based on a boat called the [ Ultimate 30 sailboat] . But this was a development class which meant that a wealthy sponsor could buy success by promoting the next level of design advancement, leading to high costs and poor racing. A group of British enthusiasts settled on a one-design version of the same initiative, which they called the Ultra 30 class.
The Ultra 30 is a 30 feet giant open dinghy, carrying up to nine crew, extremely tricky to sail and capsizes frequently. A group of skippers own the boats and then they find sponsors for them. The number of boats on the circuit at any one time varies between six and eight, with no plans to increase this fleet because sponsor impact would be reduced.
A programme by a professional agency arranges of just four televised 'grand prix' regattas. Consisting of repeated laps of a short course close to the shore with each boat carrying the sponsor's name on sails, hull and crew uniforms. As they are big, fast, and carry a large crew, the Ultras look interesting televised, and are so far the only pro-dinghy racing team to have prevailed in Britain.
Another professional small-boat sailing team in Europe is the Open Class on Lake Garda, in Northern Italy. These boats, created specially for an annual 100-mile race around the lake, include some large and spectacular dinghies carrying as many as twenty people, all trapezing. The Open Class boats unfortunately are specialized boats and unable to compete successfully another type of racing.
Professional small-boat racing faces similar pressures as the grand prix motor racing, in which they become more and more efficient until they resemble a bullet.
The Ultra 30s are similar to truck racing in that they could be made more efficient and everyone knows that at some stage the boats will capsize.