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3: Singlehanded dinghies

It’s no accident that the world’s most popular boats are singlehanded dinghies. They tend to offer fast and exciting sailing in an affordable and often very easily maintained package, and you’ll never have problems recruiting — or retaining — crew to sail with you. To the outsider, it may appear that sailing on your own is antisocial, but in fact singlehanded classes tend to be some of the most friendly classes, with plenty of pre- and post-race camaraderie and helpful advice to improve your skills. Here are a few examples, with designs spanning the past 50 years. Prices range from as little as £500 for an old, but functional, Laser or Solo, through to £4,500 for a new Laser with all the trimmings, and up to around £8,000 for a new singlehanded skiff.

The Laser is hugely popular and sailed at almost every club in the country. Originally dating from the early 1970s, it’s a very versatile boat, used for everything from training beginners to the highestlevels of racing — it’s an Olympic class. On the downside, it’s a little powerful for many people — to be properly competitive you need to be about 6ft tall. However, smaller Radial and 4.7 rigs help smaller people and for the past six years attendance at the Radial national championships has exceeded that of the regular Laser by a wide margin. n The Solo is a classic one-design, singlehanded dinghy designed by Jack Holt in 1956. It’s a popular choice at many clubs and has seen a resurgence in popularity recently. Last year’s national championships attracted 90 entries, making it the UK’s seventh-largest championship.

By contrast, the RS Vareo is a modern downwind speed machine with an asymmetric spinnaker to maximise the fun factor when sailing downwind. A high stability hull shape reduces the time you’ll spend swimming, and with 47 entries at the 2007 nationals the racing is certainly competitive.

At the top end of the scale, singlehanded skiffs offer the ultimate in thrills for singlehanded sailors. They’re certainly not for raw beginners, but why not set a goal of getting to grips with one after regularly sailing a more manageable boat for a couple of seasons? Examples include the RS700 and Musto Skiff, both of which have spinnaker, trapeze and wings.

For kids, smaller singlehanders include the Optimist. One of the world’s most enduring small boat designs, this diminutive craft dates from 1947 and yet is still the ultimate training boat for under-16s. Nearly 400 Optimists competed at the 2007 national championship, and many top-level professional sailors, including Olympic gold medal winners, cut their competitive teeth in this class.

The Topper is undoubtedly the most popular of the smaller singlehanders. It’s an almost indestructible polypropylene design that’s now over 30 years old, but continues to draw a big following, with 289 boats at its most recent championship and a packed calendar of events through the year. Toppers can be raced competitively by anyone from a little less than 50kgs upwards, and the class proudly boasts of its attraction to sailors of all ages, with championships regularly attended by those ranging from nine years old to those in their 70s.

Previous page:2 Choices, choices

There’s a bewildering choice of boats in some countries

Next page:4 Crewed dinghies

Dividing the roles carefully between 2 or 3 people is important

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