Sailing sport boats have evolved in popularity in recent years and look certain to take the place in yachting. An initial flood of designs will be refined as they prove their place commercially.
The sailing sport boat concept or 'Sportsboats' as it is known has its origins with the frustration felt by yachtsmen at the costs and uncertainty associated with handicap racing. Today's keenest offshore sailors mostly come from a background of dinghy sailing, where the one-design concept is embedded and sailing with time allowances scorned.
An opportunity presented itself to American designer Rod Johnstone, whose J24 design revolutionized the face of sailing for the better. The J24, a light, simple, sporty 24-foot racer included a basic cabin and proved to sailors how much more competitive and fun, racing became when all boats are equal and the outcome is dependent on the skill of the crew.
The J24 sporsboat also appealed to small boat sailors because it was fast, planed like a dinghy, handled responsively as the hull had not been distorted to gain advantage under a rating rule.
Large numbers of these boats were constructed and J24 racing fleets established themselves in many parts of the world. Being a conventional little boat the J24, and the revolution in sailing styles of the 1990s saw a number of new and inventive designs emerge.
The most significant of these was another American boat the Melges 24, designed by 'Buddy' Melges, Featuring a high- tech composite plastic construction achieving a high power-to- weight ratio along with a large asymmetric spinnaker giving a supercharged downwind performance.
The success of the Melges 24 resulted in many other designs, the majority of which did not succeed commercially. The Melges 24, with its exotic construction, is an expensive boat whereas in Britain the Hunter 707 showed that the advantages of the type could be achieved at a lower cost, using conventional GRP construction and aluminium spars.
The Hunter 707 incorporates many attractive features, such as clever outboard motor stowage under the cockpit floor enabling the auxiliary to be set in place and started within a few seconds. This design makes ownership practical, as every racing boat needs the capability to motor in or out of harbour and get home in calm.
David Thomas, the designer of the Hunter 707, was skeptical about the advantages of asymmetric spinnakers, which were only effective on a reach and forced boats to sail downwind in a series of zigzags. This has advantages in open water, but the majority of sailors sail in places where the tide or the proximity of land are governing factors that limit the choice of downwind courses. With this in mind, Thomas gave the Hunter 707 a large but symmetrical spinnaker set on an extra long pole which increases its effectiveness when reaching.
A bizarre development in sport boat racing was the emergence of a special handicap rule in where the whole idea initially was to dispense with handicapping. However so many slightly different sport boat designs have emerged that it became practical to devise a means whereby they could be competitive.
This resulted in the RYA Sport Boat Rule, which took into account the high power-to-weight ratio and planning ability making them rate rather favourably under the standard length and sail-area performance assessment therefore needing a specialized rating.
Another approach was made by the Royal Cork Yacht Club, which commissioned a sport boat design especially for its members' use. In addition to the Royal Cork Club, this boat, the Cork 1720, proved to be one of the most attractive of the class and was actively adopted by a number of other clubs.
Sport boats are raced by three to four crew which makes them easier to manage than an IMS design requiring seven or more crew aboard a 35-footer. The design calls for big cockpits to make handling easier, and small cabins to store the sails when not in use.
Being relatively seaworthy, they are suitable for coastal races lasting for a number of hours, but not suitable for overnight racing because they are not required to carry essential safety equipment. Being light in weight, they are able to be hoisted or retrieved by trailer from the water, and have the ability to be towed by cars with over 2 litre engine capacity.
The popularity of sport boats is the result of the movement by yachtsmen to achieve more fun inexpensively while being less trouble when it comes to maintenance and mooring.