What we’re sailing today Pt 3 – Germany


One of the most striking things about the German dinghy scene (or should that be Jolle scene?) is the strength of the classic doublehanders – the sort of round-bilge boats with a symmetrical spinnaker and one trapeze that are best known in the form of the 420, 470, 505 and Flying Dutchman. The Korsar, created as a sort of smaller FD in the late ’50s, is still a strong class. Pics from the Segelclub Ville site (above) and https://bootsport.sprenger.de/ (below)


To try to kick this blog back into action, I went back to an old hobby and started counting national championship attendance, to try to track what’s really happening in our sport. This time I’m looking at Germany, one of the powerhouses of the dinghy sailing world. It’s not easy to navigate the German sailing scene, which like every major sailing nation has a unique culture and organisation, but with the aid of Google Translate and a bit of luck it seems that we can get a reasonable picture of what Germans sailors are racing.

As sailing historian Dougal Henshall has also noted, Germany is a land where classic dinghies dominate. If we look at 2017 national titles attendances, the most popular class is the inevitable Opti, with the Europe the third most popular and followed by the Laser Radial, Laser Standard, Laser 4.7 and Contender. The Finn is the 8th most popular class in terms of 2017 national titles attendance, followed by the OK and the Finn’s predecessor, the O-Jolle. Together, these older singlehanders make up 36% of national title entries.

Where Germany really stands out is the love of classic doublehanded dinghies with symmetrical spinnakers and one trapeze. The most popular trapeze boat (and second in the rankings overall) is the ubiquitous 420, but there are strong fleets of Flying Dutchmen as well as local classes inspired by the FD (such as the Korsar and Ixylon), the 470 and the 505. The love for trapeze doublehanders goes all the way down to the 10ft Teeny, probably the world’s smallest trapeze class. Such boats make up 27% of national title entries.

The 5.1m long Ixylon is another classic trap-and-spinnaker doublehander. Like many European boats it was designed for cruising and use in sailing schools as well as racing. The Ixylon is the only class created in the former communist DDR to survive; that fact, together with its lack of pretension, has caused it to be called “the Trabant of the water”. Pic from the class builder’s site.

As in so many other areas, there are few new designs that have achieved significant sales success. The Laser 4.7 (5th most popular class), the little 1983-vintage singlehander Seggerling (11th on the list) and the 29er (16th) are the newest designs (or re-designs) that have achieved significant popularity.  The skiffs and foilers (29er, 49ers, Int 14, Musto Skiff and Moth) make up just under 10% of the national title fleet.

CLASS Crew Type Spinnaker National championship National ranking Notes (see end of page)
Optimist 1 Hiking No 204 703 1
420 2 1 trapeze Sym 131 218
Europe 1 Hiking No 129 135 2
Laser Radial 1 Hiking No 81 249
Laser 1 Hiking No 72 147 3
Laser 4.7 1 Hiking No 64 107
Contender 1 Trapeze No 62 102
Finn 1 Hiking No 60 141
OK 1 Hiking No 57 105
O Jolle 1 Hiking No 54 120
Seggerling 1 Hiking No 53
FD 2 1 trapeze Sym 53 89 4
Korsar 2 1 trapeze Sym 52 89
Ixylon 2 1 trapeze Sym 49 64
29er 2 1 trapeze Assy 41 98
470 2 1 trapeze Sym 40 90 5
Conger 2 Hiking 38 122
505 2 1 trapeze Sym 35 82
Teeny 2 (junior) Hiking Sym 34 83
Pirat 2 Hiking Sym 59 123 6
Moth 1 Foiler No 26 33
H Jolle 2 1 trapeze Sym 22
Vaurien 2 Hiking Sym 21 7
Flying Junior 2 1 trapeze Sym 20 38
49er 2 2 trapeze, wings Assy 15
Taifun 1 Wings No 13 8
12 Sq M Sharpie 2 Hiking No 13 9
Jeton 2 1 trapeze Sym 8 10
Javelin 2 1 trapeze Sym 8 11
J-Jolle 3 Hiking Sym 8 12
49er FX 2 2 trapeze, wings Assy 8
Laser 2 2 1 trapeze Sym 6 13
Musto Skiff 1 1 trapeze, wings Assy 5
Z-Jolle 3 1 trapeze Sym 10
Cadet 2 Hiking Sym 43 79
Int 14 2 Trapeze, wings Assy 16 36 14
Elbe H-Jolle 2 Hiking Sym 15

Schwertzugvogel     2         Hiking              Nil             23                   42

VB Jolle                      2         Hiking              Nil                                     9

The German passion for single-wire symmetrical doublehanders extends all the way to the little Teeny, designed in 1986. At just 3.15m/10.3ft, it seems to be the world’s smallest trapeze class and is slightly more popular than its older rival, the International Cadet. Pic from www3.tsv-schilksee.d
A typical scene at the Alster, a small lake in inner Hamburg. As in many European areas, there is little open ground for dinghy sailors. Here, many dinghies are stored at tiny marinas along the lakefront. This sort of facility encourages sailors to use more stable boats that can easily be stored and rigged on docks. Wiki Commons pic.


In part, this stability is apparently because the german national sailing authority, the   Deutscher Segler Verband (DSV) exerts strong control over the class structure; for example small classes are not allowed to have a national championship. On the other hand, the same tight controls appear to favour the Olympic-stream 9ers, yet they have not overtaken the comparable conventional boats in terms of popularity. The Seggerling home-built singlehander has also apparently managed to achieve popularity without recognition from the DSV or a large commercial builder.

Perhaps the major reason for the strength of the traditional classes is simply that they suit Germany’s conditions so well, both afloat and ashore. Expatriate Australian sailor Andrew Landenberger, an Olympic Tornado silver medallist and Moth world champion, found the downside of newer designs when he tried to introduce the Australian NS14 dinghy to Germany. Andrew’s home club, like many in Germany, had such tight restrictions on dinghy storage space that boats had to be wheeled into the water and tied to the jetty to allow space for others to rig up. The traditional European classes would sit happily on the end of the painter while their sails were hoisted and before and after racing. The fast but tippy Australian boat was too unstable to be moored to the dock, which made it impractical for club racing.

The Schwertzugvogel is one of several northern European designs that is also available in a keel version. Like many other European classes (including the O-Jolle, Finn, and FD it was also designed for camping use and can sleep two people. Pic from the Segel-Club Ville site.

So what can we learn from German dinghy sailing? One is that yet again, we see that there are significant differences between the major sailing nations. No other country has quite Germany’s passion for the classic doublehanded dinghy. On the other hand, as with so many other countries – perhaps all – the most popular segment is the classic hiking singlehanders, and the adoption of new skiff and foiler designs has been very limited.  And perhaps the most important lesson is an old one; local conditions both ashore and afloat will play a major role in a class’ popularity, and not even high performance or heavy promotion can make a type popular if it is is not suited to the local wind, water, culture and facilities.


NOTES TO TABLE – almost all German classes run a Ranking List according to national sailing authority prescriptions. These take into account various regattas during the season. I’m not sure whether the fact that the national title fleets are normally half as big as the ranking list reflects a qualification process, or a coincidence. I use the number of officially-ranked boats; some classes also give information about boats that competed in some ranking events but did not qualify for official rankings for various reasons such as not doing enough events. Some very small classes (Int Canoe, Aquila) have not yet been included but seem to get only a dozen or so boats to championships and in official rankings. 
1- A and B divisions only counted in rankings
2- May include some double counting of Masters and Opens.
3- As above.
4- Over 130 crews compete in ranking events.
5- Combined Swiss/German nationals with Swiss boats excluded.
6- Separate Youth and Master championships. Biggest regatta had 66 boats.
7- Championship fleet total refers to biggest event, not the nationals.
8- Biggest regatta – may not have had enough active boats to run an official nationals. The Taifun is a sailing canoe and it seems that 3 International Canoes also raced a separate series. Details later.
9- German Open – most entries were from the Netherlands.
10- As 13 per note 8
11- As per note 8
12- As per note 8
13- As per note 8
14- Not all ranked boats qualified for official rankings.






Author: cthom249

A former sailing journalist and magazine editor, I was lucky enough to grow up in Sydney, one of the world's sailing hotspots and to win national and state championships in classes like J/24s, Windsurfer One Designs, offshore racers, Laser Radial open, Windsurfer OD Masters, Raceboard Masters and Laser Radial Masters, to get into the placings in a few other classes, and do a few Sydney to Hobarts.

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