By S1D One-Design Class manager Leslie Holt
In 1995, Julian Bethwaite designed the 49er, and since then it has been gaining popularity world-wide for its incredible speed. The boat takes several design cues from the poplar three-man Aussie 18, which is a larger high performance skiff. In 1996, the 49er was selected for the 2000 Olympic Games. This relatively new high performance skiff made its Olympic debut at the Sydney Olympics. It has been in every Summer Games since then and is a continually growing class. Harken calls it “The Formula One race car of the Games”, and perhaps this is why the 49er class has been growing so quickly.
This 16ft long skiff design has a beam of only 5ft 9in without including the wings; that sounds reasonable until you learn that the sail area amounts to 637.49sq.ft. including the spinnaker. The wings add to the beam of the boat and take it to a maximum width of 9ft 6in. This winged design allows the sailors more mechanical advantage while hiking than the narrow hull of the boat otherwise would.
LOA: 4.995m/16 ft 4 in
Beam: w.o/w wings-1.75m /2.9m(5 ft 9 in/9 ft 6 in)
Draft: 1447 mm (4 ft 9 in)
Weight: 70 kg (154 lb)
Main/Jib: 21.2 sq. m (228.19 sq. ft)
Spinnaker: 38sq m (409.3 sq. ft)
The combination of the large sail area and light-weight planing hull make this boat nothing short of a speed demon in almost all conditions. Those attributes also mean that this boat is very difficult to sail well in mid to upper level wind conditions. Any sailor looking to take on a 49er needs to be physically prepared for the power this boat possesses. It is going to take many many hours of practice and a great deal of communication and teamwork for a team to excel at sailing a 49er.
When asked how difficult it is to master these boats Finn Nilsen, who participated at US 49er Nationals, replied, “If you’ve never sailed a skiff, the 49er is not a boat you can just jump in and expect to race well immediately. As the wind ranges increase the boat just becomes more difficult and the margin of error becomes extremely small. For teams that are new to the 49er…the first couple months of heavy air practice are going to be spent swimming”
Charles “Campbell” Woods, who also participated in the 2013 US Nationals says, “The boat is crazy fast all the time and in the right conditions it truly flies. The close coordination of crew, driver and boat creates a system that when sailed properly is rewarding and really blows your hair back. Some of the best times sailing are just out training and raging downwind at mach 10 with your bodies all the way off the back of the boat and the hull just skipping wildly across the tops of the waves. Racing in anything over 10knots is a total blast and is both exhilarating and exhausting.’
The only thing about these boats that sailors seem to dislike is the time between the races in an event. The 49er will not sit upright unless underway which means no real breaks between races. Most 49er regattas tend to be fast paced in an effort to keep from wearing out the sailors in the time between the races.
If you are looking to get into skiff sailing, this is definately a class to consider. As stated before, you do need to be fairly athletic to handle these boats because of the huge sail area involved, but by all accounts, they are blast to sail. According to ISAF, the optimal crew weigh is somewhere between 145lbs and 165lbs; combined weight should be somewhere between 290lbs and 330lbs. The typical 49er sailor is very athletic and can handle high sheet loads and rapid situational changes. Both the skipper and crew on this boat are on trapeze and coordination between the two is essential to good boat handling. The competition in 49ers is fairly stiff due to the fact that it is an Olympic class, but there seem to be a number of 49er teams that do not have Olympic ambitions.
Oakcliff Sailing Center, which has recently been named a US Sailing Team Sperry Top-Sider Training Center, held the US Nationals for the 49er Class in Oyster Bay, NY from August 22-26. There were eighteen 49ers at this top level event including a few Olympic hopefuls. Brad Funk and Trevor Bird took first place on the 49er line.
There are currently 98 boats registered for 49er Worlds which will be held in Marseilles from September 21-29. Judging from the teams that have registered, it promises to be a highly competitive event.
Check out the 49er Class at:
United States 49er Class Association: 49erNA.org
International 49er Class Association: 49er.org
Thank you to the following Sailors and Sources who made this article possible
Finn Nilsen of Team Nilsen
Charles “Campbell” Woods of dinghylocker.com
Oakcliff Sailing Center