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.
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)|
|H Jolle||2||1 trapeze||Sym||22|
|Flying Junior||2||1 trapeze||Sym||20||38|
|49er||2||2 trapeze, wings||Assy||15|
|12 Sq M Sharpie||2||Hiking||No||13||9|
|49er FX||2||2 trapeze, wings||Assy||8|
|Laser 2||2||1 trapeze||Sym||6||13|
|Musto Skiff||1||1 trapeze, wings||Assy||5|
|Int 14||2||Trapeze, wings||Assy||16||36||14|
Schwertzugvogel 2 Hiking Nil 23 42
VB Jolle 2 Hiking Nil 9
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.
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.