By Airwaves writer John Storck
Recently, I had the opportunity to take the new Zim 15 out for a test sail. The whole experience was pretty cool, as the Zim team assembled sailors, boat designers, and sail makers at their “super secret test site” for a great afternoon.
When we arrived at the site, we found Steve Perry (founder and President of Zim Sailboats) beginning to rig the boat, and so we walked down to help out. At first glance, the boat seemed way more complex than what I anticipated. I suppose my first mistake was having a preconceived idea that had me comparing it to my beloved V15. It is nothing like a V15. The mast is more similar to a 49er than the aluminum telephone poles that we are so used to in U.S. dinghy sailing. And the rigging is also much more advanced, with a pretty sleek control area at the base of the mast, as well as the cunningham and vang being led back to a place where either the skipper or crew can easily manage them, which is really important given the higher performance design of the rig and sails.
As more people showed up, including Bob Adam (VP of Sales at Zim) and Steve Clark (designer of the Zim 15), there was a definite excitement in the air. It was clear that these guys were as fully committed to this project as anyone can be about anything. They also stressed to us that all of the rigging was still open to change, and encouraged us to give them any feedback that we could. After a few more short discussions about the plan, we put the boat in the water.
It was a long sail out of a river into the Mount Hope Bay on a breezy afternoon. Inside of the river, conditions were flat and shifty, and the boat was very responsive; tacking extremely fast. Out in the bay, conditions were windy and wavy. The boat didn’t seem to enjoy those conditions as well, but if you were sailing against a bunch of other Zim 15s it would still be fun. I should also keep in mind that we have no experience sailing this boat, and were likely doing some small things very wrong. Off the breeze, the boat performed about the same as a V15 would.
More apparent was the higher degree of technical challenge. The skiff-style rig, square-top main, “dangle-pole” to change the jib profile, and other rigging controls all lead to a sailing experience that is far less dumbed-down and much more comparable to the modern world of sailboat racing. Racing this boat will be more of a mental exercise in changing gears than what most young adults are used to. I know that was part of the goal when Steve Clark designed this boat, feeling that we needed to keep people engaged.
You don’t have to go far in the sailing community to stumble upon a discussion regarding the participation drop off post-college in our sport. Stay in that discussion 30 seconds longer and you’re likely to hear a few profoundly delivered opinions on how to change that reality. I don’t know what is necessarily going to swing the tide on that problem, but I commend the Zim team for trying to do something about it. I have no idea whether or not their project will succeed, but it’s good news for all of us that they’re trying.
Obviously there’s been a lot of discussion about the V15 lately. I think it would be a mistake to compare these two boats. I also wouldn’t be surprised if both boats could have a vibrant future, existing in very different ways within the sport. The Zim 15 is being targeted for Yacht Clubs and other organizations, as a fleet of exciting boats to be raced by and attract young members. I actually think that it could be a great fit there. On the other side, as good as provided boat sailing is, it is exclusive in its very nature. The grassroots type of sailing that the V15 once was will never exist in the world of provided boat sailing because of that exclusivity- there’s only so many boats. So perhaps the answer for what’s next is more than just one thing.