The sport is crying out for a women’s Olympic skiff. I have had so many conversations with young female sailors over the last few years, especially after the Europe was dropped in favour of the Laser Radial. Quite simply none of the women’s boats are particularly fun to sail. The men on the other hand have had the 49er and they still have the Finn. While we can understand the reasoning of moving the women’s singlehander to the Radial, quite simply it is a boat designed for the full rig and it is way, way less enjoyable to sail than the Europe.
Finally it seems ISAF are set to decide on a women’s skiff class for 2016 – mind you we have been here before, and many of the manufacturers put in a lot of time and effort into the last women’s skiff trials in 2007, before the possibility of the event for 2012 was dropped in favour of women’s match racing. But this time it looks like the move will happen. A women’s skiff class would bring a sense of logic to the line-up for 2016 – with men’s and women’s singlehanders (Laser/Radial), doublehanders (470) skiffs (49er/TBC) wind or kitesurfing (TBC) and a mixed class (the multihull) - with just the Finn remaining as a bit of an anomaly as an extra men’s singlehander.
The trials for both the women’s skiff and the mixed multihull are due to kick off on March 17 in Santander… so which boats are in contention for the skiff slot?
29erXX: a ‘maxi-rig’ 29er
The Julian Bethwaite-designed 29er XX from Ovington Boats is a 29er hull with a larger rig. The mast on the XX is 0.45m higher than that of the 29er, with an extra 2.5sq m sail area in the main and jib, plus an extra 4sq m in the spinnaker. This still leaves it with a smaller sail area than many of the other submissions.
The 29er is undoubtedly a great, fun boat, but it is small. The bigger rig XX certainly gives it more power, but like the Radial, for me this is just a souped-up 29er – I think the female Olympians deserve a boat designed specifically for them. However, there are a number of up-sides, obviously there are already established 29er fleets and it might be an easier transition from youth sailing to the XX. Indeed there are a number of Member National Authorities very keen on this option, with a bid by a group of them to skip equipment trials completely…
Fully fitted hull weight 70kg
Mast height above sheer 6.7m
Sail area, main & jib 15sq m
Spinnaker 19sq m
Mackay FX: a ‘mini-rig’ 49er
The FX on the other hand, from New Zealand builder Mackay Boats, is a 49er with a cut down rig. And you already know I’m not a fan of cut-down rigs! Still, it’s an interesting solution and on its side is the advantage of simply being able to buy a new rig for an existing 49er hull.
The sailplan has been designed to produce the correct amount of power for a 120kg crew with the aim that they will be fully powered up at a similar windspeed as the men in the 49er, and start depowering at a the same windspeed. The mast is 0.45m shorter than the 49er mast and the sail area of the main and jib have been reduced with a wider-headed main in the style of recent 18ft skiff and America’s Cup technology.
The FX gennaker is flatter in design to the 49er and Mackay are confident that its efficient design will mean it can compete equally with the 49er downwind in most conditions. There are some other concessions for the smaller/lighter crews. The jib sheet is allowed an extra purchase than the 49er, and the gennaker sheet is allowed an extra block to increase the efficiency of the ratchet block.
Mackay FX specifications
Hull Weight 80kg
Mast Height 6.55m
Arup Skiff: Cherub roots
The Arup has its roots in the Cherub class, with the initial designs being based on the Ellway 6 Cherub. Another Cherub-evolved design, Carbonology’s ‘GT60’ Cherub, was at the trials back in 2007 and according to Cherub class association chairman Graham Bridle, his understanding is that the Arup Skiff will most likely fit within the Cherub rule set (minimum weight 50kg, max sail area 15.5sq m, max length from transom 3.7m), but he stressed that the boat it is not submitted nor labelled as a Cherub. If successful, it will form its own distinct class with its own defined set of rules.
The submission is being led by Cherub class member and committee representative Roland Trim and his employer, the engineering firm Arup. The Cherub is a small but active development class, and many strong one-designs have evolved from development classes (the Europe for example was a one-design developed from the International Moth), but the Arup has the challenge that it neither has an established boat builder behind it nor an existing one-design class.
Aura: a truly fresh design
Ovington Boats has used a new designer, Peter Hobson, to design the Aura and partnered with Mackay Boats in New Zealand to build the boat. The Aura looks quite different from the other designs submitted, more akin to an 18ft Skiff than anything else.
The company has says it has taken its inspiration from limitless offshore record breakers and the recent America’s Cup resurgence – some of this can be seen in the interesting axe bow design. It has a low profile reverse sheer hull, a sharp chine running the length of the boat which is mirrored by the angular deck edge above. What gives the Aura a bit of an ‘International 14’ look is the use of racks rather than solid wings – the forward rack support is sculpted into an ‘M’ and doubles as a mounting point for a self-tacking jib track. A truly fresh design, with a modern, square-topped main – I’m sure it will prove a challenging and enjoyable craft to sail.
Mainsail 12.5sq m
Jib 4.75sq m
Spinnaker 25.0sq m
Hartley Rebel: a perky ride
The prototype Rebel was launched at the beginning of 2011 and since then the Hartley Boats team has been refining the boat's rig and set-up. Designed by Phil Morrison and Derek Clark the Rebel falls into the non-solid wing camp, utilising 18ft skiff style netting.
The sail plan is generous for the hull length and this led Pete Barton to describe the ride as ‘perky’ when he sailed the prototype last year, while Olympic women’s keelboat gold medallist and 470 campaigner Sarah Ayton said she really enjoyed sailing it: ‘I was just constantly grinning… in the 470 it is all so critical that the settings are spot-on. With the Rebel you step in and the reward is in turning corners and sailing the boat well to gain the full speed potential. The challenge is just as demanding but very different and quite refreshing.’
Hull weight 40kg
Sailing weight 89kg
Sail Area: Main 12.5sq m
Jib 5.7sq m
Spinnaker 28.5sq m
RS900: a modern, ‘mini 49er’
When I saw this design from RS Sailing, my first reaction was: ‘Finally! What I have dreamed of for years, a smaller version of the 49er!’ I love sailing the 49er but quite simply I’m too small and lacking the strong shoulders needed to hoist its enormous kite. It’s way too powerful for my 59kg frame, and yet I have never found a boat so enjoyable to sail.
The RS900 started life as a development of the successful RS800, but it has moved way beyond the original design. There is a slight family resemblance in the hull, but the 900 is shorter, lower, and lighter and incorporates the 49er-style solid wings, which make the sailing experience so different, giving the crew a clear, uncluttered 'playground'.
Being larger than the 29erXX the boat seems to be a little less weight sensitive, while being more responsive than the 800, initial reaction to the design has been that it is fast, light and rewarding to sail. The RS team has put a lot of work into developing this design and it will be a real shame if it doesn’t go into production, whether it scoops the Olympic slot or not.
Hull weight 55kg (ex wings)
Overall weight 109kg (ex crew)
Mainsail 11.8sq m
Jib 6.05sq m
Spinnaker 26.6sq m
Throughout the nine-day evaluation, sailors nominated by their Member National Authorities will sail the boats and provide feedback. A report will then be produced at the 2012 ISAF Mid-year meeting in May where ISAF Council will make the final selection. At the end of the day it's likely to come down to politics - whatever boat the sailors prefer, other considerations like cost and availability of the boats will undoubtedly have an influence.
Gael Pawson is the editor of Yachts & Yachting Magazine and the founder of Creating Waves. A keen racer, she has sailed all her life, and started writing about the subject whilst studying journalism at university. Dinghies and small keelboats are her first loves, but she has cruised and raced a huge variety of boats in locations across the world.