From dinghies to Super-Maxis, there's room for all when racing sailing boats...
When you put the words sailing and racing together so many images come to mind as it can mean something different to every person on the water. Why do we sail? Is it the love of the sport or the competitive side of the sport? Do you enjoy the physical or mental side of competing at a high level?
Sailing is about finding the type of racing that will best suit you, from twilights to ocean racing. It is also about the friendships we make. The bonds made between skipper, crews and fellow competitors. It is about the feeling you get back ashore when you share your race day with those around you.
Racing is not just about big boats, professional sailors and large budgets. It is about being on the water, the freedom, fresh air, competitive spirit and the friends you make for life. You can sail at Club, State, National, International and Olympic level or just go for a sail and enjoy your time on the water.
Types of Racing
There are multiple options and scenarios when it comes to racing, a few elements that will make it easier to understand are investment, classes, types of boats, disciplines and locations.
Sailboat racing ranges from single person dinghies all the way up to maxi boats with multiple crew members. A secondhand dinghy can cost a few hundred dollars or you can purchase a multi-million dollar yacht capable of competing in the America's Cup or Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. The costs of participating in events like these make sailing appear one of the most expensive sports in the world. However, there are inexpensive ways to get involved in sailboat racing, such as at community sailing clubs, classes offered by local recreation organizations and in some inexpensive dinghy, skiff and small catamaran classes.
One Design - Where all the boats are substantially similar, and the first boat to finish wins. For example your Olympic classes like the 470, the 49er, or Laser, or larger boats such as the Farr 40, or TP52. In a strict one-design class the boats are essentially identical.
Handicap - Where boats of different types sail against each other and are scored based on their handicaps which are calculated either before the start or after the finish. For example the Fastnet Race, the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, or the Transpac.
Development – These classes have what is called a box-rule which might specify only a few parameters such as maximum length, minimum weight, and maximum sail area, thus allowing creative engineering to develop the fastest boat within the constraints. Examples include the Moth (dinghy), the A Class Catamaran, TP52 and the boats used in the America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race.
The sailing disciplines, include fleet racing, where many boats race around a set course, match racing, a one on one discipline, teams racing where one team is against another, or ocean racing, where boats race from one geographical point to the next.
Racing can take place inshore, on lakes, dams, or offshore.
Types of Racing Vessels
Ranging from small to the Super Maxi’s you often see on TV here is a short list of the more popular examples.
Optimist are the perennial dinghy starter for kids aged approximately 7−12 years of age. It has a massive following globally (over 150,000 officially registered) and most successful racers today begin or began in ‘Optis’ (or ‘Oppies’ in the rest of the world). The Laser is an international one-design single-handed dinghy class. There are over 250,000 boats worldwide making it one of the most popular sailing boats in the world. It is popular because it has three different sized rigs that fit to the same hull; the full rig, the radial and the 4.7. The Laser is both a female and male Olympic class.
Broadly, sports boats are high-performance trailer yachts that are usually characterised by quite large sail areas for their length. They are of lightweight construction and usually sail with three to six crew. Sports boats ordinarily have lifting keels making them easy to trail and, as such, are self-righting. Most sportsboats are categorised between 5.50m and 8.00m.
Skiffs are high-performance sailing boats that are especially popular in Australia and New Zealand. The Skiff classes were developed to become very light and fast with high-powered rigs and two to four crew (on average). Classes range across 12’, 16’ and 18’ skiffs, with two crew on the 12-footer and three on the 16 and 18-footers. Skiffs also encompass popular classes such as the 29er and the 49er and FX (Olympic classes), among others.
Bit of a catch-all, this one. Yachts range from small (from around 6.00m) to enormous (30m+). Any yacht can ultimately be raced, but there are many that are designed, rigged and built specifically for competitive racing.
Various class rating systems have come into effect to ensure as much balance and fairness as possible between boats, skippers and crew.
On any given night in popular coastal destinations, you will see yachts of all shapes and sizes working their way around a course. Crewed by family, friends and keen volunteers, it’s a great community of like-minded enthusiasts and mates.
Super-Maxis are the thoroughbreds of the ocean. In recent times names like Wild Oats IX, Investec Loyal, Loki, Alfa Romeo II and ICAP Leopard III have caught the headlines in the hunt for line honours.
Custom designed, Super-Maxis run to the millions of dollars to build and many thousands to operate and maintain annually. Skippered by the best, crewed by dozens and doing nothing by halves, these yachts are the top dogs of the sailing world.
Multihulls have more than one hull and can be referred to as Proas, Catamarans and Trimarans. There are many clubs around the country that specifically sail Multihulls as they are a fast and fun form of sailing. The most recognized classes are the Hobie 16, Formula 18 cats, A-cats and the ex Olympic multihull class called Tornado.
Yacht and Sailing Clubs
Clubs often have a number of different classes competing on any one day, sailing the same course at the same time, or sometimes with each class starting a few minutes apart. Keen club sailors can join and compete in events with their State and National or even International Associations. There are also race weeks or special weekend or travellers trophy events or regattas that are very popular for both the racing and social scenes.
One of the most popular forms of sailing, and often the easiest place to start sailing, is twilight sailing. Many clubs hold twilight races at least one night a week in either spinnaker or non spinnaker format over the summer sailing season (October through to April). Contact your local club for details as often they have a way of finding a boat for people to go out on and enjoy the twilight experience.
Yacht clubs usually also have youth programs that encourage sailing development. This is a crucial part of nurturing the future crew, boat owners and potential sailing stars.
Get Out There!
Getting out for a sail is easy, contact your local sailing club. Yacht clubs maintain lists for boats looking for crew, and crew looking for a ride on a boat. Once you take the jump to get out on the water, you will get to know a great group of people, and no doubt have offers to sail a variety of different boats if desired. The best thing about sailing is the people who are always willing to help, and finding out which type of sailing is best suited to you.
There are many sailing courses out there from beginner dinghy sailing to offshore sailing. Sailing courses are a great way to learn what everything does onboard a yacht so you can contribute confidently as crew – while many skippers will be happy to take inexperienced crew; there are also many that prefer you to know your way around a yacht.
The best thing about sailing, is that no matter what your level of experience is – there are people around you who also love to get out on the water and are happy to share their experiences with you.