Mildly resembling that mad scientist from Back to the Future, both in action and in thought, Fran Charles continues to push our community, and sometimes drag others, toward sailing innovation. Because it is often very comfortable to get stuck in the past, using antiquated ideas, equipment, and rules, over and over again, it is important to guard against complacency, and to look forward to new innovation and progress. For several decades now, through the MIT Sailing Pavilion, Fran has done just that, tirelessly focusing on making sailing better, more accessible, and more fun, especially for those that are the future of our sport: young sailors. From carbon Techs, FJ innovations, colored boats & sails, team racing management, to Fireflies, Fran has kept the thought curve moving forward. This latest innovation, however, will launch this spring much further north, at Mount Desert Island in Maine, where Fran serves as the summertime sailing master. In what will surely be an exciting development for the youth sailing world, Sail1Design introduces you to youth/institutional sailing’s Flux Capacitor, the Rondar Turbo 420, a 420 hybrid that in its development assumed (almost) nothing, re-evaluated everything, employs very modern construction techniques. This platform promises to be a great deal of fun for kids. This boat is being developed now at the Rondar boatbuilding facility in Peabody, Massachusetts. Sail1Design plans to cover, first hand, the first ever high school regatta held in Turbo 420’s. Stay tuned right here.
THE FUTURE, FINALLY
While change simply for change’s sake can be bad, what may be worse is never changing, and never adapting. All too often we read about where, how and why the sailing community is dwindling, that regatta participation is down, we read articles about “saving sailing”, and the like. Simply put, at the youth level, to attract kids, sailing has to be, well, fun. We risk irrelevancy if we don’t at least attempt to keep up with technology and innovation curves that usher in exciting developments to our game. Youth sailing today, along with institutional sailing, is certainly well-organized, well-meaning, and competitive, but could it be better? Could it be more fun? Does it need to be better and more fun than it is now? If you imagine youth & instituational sailing today, from Opti sailing up through club 420’s and Lasers, to high school and college regattas, what words come to mind? Is holding on to the Opti, the club 420, the FJ, to the Laser, the thing to do simply because they are the platforms we’ve been using for so long? Is it time fundamentally to change the game? What are other countries doing? What about college sailing; how many post-collegiate sailors pack it in after their senior spring, never to return? Many complain of permanent “burn-out” and droning, over mechanical sailing. Given the recent conversations about official equipment (see recent articles posted at the bottom of this piece), might the Turbo 420, or LaserPerformance‘s “New Collegiate 420” help re-energize college sailing by virtue of being a vastly higher performing boat? A good test would be to interview those that sail the unique Tech dinghies and Fireflies at MIT, or those that sail the carbon-rigged Larks at Tufts. Do these boats make college sailing more interesting, and/or better? We welcome your comments at the bottom of this article.
For now, if one had to constructively criticize the vast pool of youth sailing, or institutional sailing, what might one say? The boats we are using for major youth sailing, and for high school & college sailing development, to put it diplomatically, are, well, old, and somewhat bland. Some argue we are not adequately preparing the top-end sailors, while others argue we are not engaging everyone else. And while adult, contemporary, forward-looking one-design classes have exploded, and many feature very modern design concepts, from composite construction to exciting rig development, our one-design kids and school sailors still too often are sailing around in the same boats their parents, and even grandparents, were. Not a bad thing, necessarily; for example the Lightning class is still as strong today, if not stronger, than it was years and years ago, and there is nothing wrong with a great class and association, regardless of age. However, even old, established classes have updated their philosophy and class rules to acknowledge, if grudgingly, progress. Furthermore, other than the 29er (which is very difficult for intermediate-level kids to sail and not for light air at all) what real options do we provide, or better yet even encourage, our most important generation? If our goal is to develop a life-long passion and a love for sailing in our youth, we need to employ business concepts that work for any successful corporate institution: we need listen to our clients. If participation is down, or stagnant, then what are our next-generation sailors saying about sailing, and how well are we responding to their ideas?
THE NEXT-GEN DINGHY CONCEPT
In comes the new Rondar Turbo 420. It will be interesting to compare this boat to the “New Collegiate 420” that is now built by the official college championship dinghy supplier, LaserPerformance. (Please see our earlier article on this new LaserPerformance collegiate 420). The “Turbo” features very modern vacuum-bag resin-infusion construction techniques, producing a very strong, very light hull (50-70 lbs lighter than a club 420 hull). The hulls are brightly colored for looks and for team racing. Hen
ry (“you can have any color Model-T as long as it is black”) Ford is rolling over in his grave. Rondar boats has vast experience with high performance dinghy construction, so the job is in good hands.
The rig is modernized, updated, ergonomic, and simple. Unlike it’s sistership, the Turbo 420, among other things, has thoughtfully updated jib leads, floating spinnaker poles, and a newer slightly higher aspect sail design for the jib. In its first deployment, the Turbo 420 will fulfill the mission of the Mount Desert Island Sailing consortium, spearheaded by the Northeast Harbor Fleet, the MDI Community Sailing Center & Fran Charles, known as the “Great Harbor Dream.” The plan is to keep all 21 boats in one central location during the summer months, so that all clubs can take part, share, and benefit from being together with these new high performance boats. It reads:
“The mission of the Great Harbor Dream is to bring together Mount Desert Island’s youth 420 sailors. By rallying the various resources of local yacht clubs in one location for instruction, we will foster a compelling and fun teaching environment and create beneficial learning opportunities through more competitive racing. Bringing our sailors together will potentially reduce the operating costs of our collective sailing programs, more effectively use the 420’s we own during peak seasonal demand, and inspire and challenge our area youth by jointly promoting 420 sailing in the Great Harbor for generations to come.”
While teen social community building is the overall focus, the Turbo 420 is the real tangible key to making it happen on the water. Fran explains: “To further stimulate The Great Harbor Dream we made a decision to abandon the Club 420 Class boat and create a boat that would be more durable, much faster, safer by making changes to the rigging yet simple and easy to rig/de-rig.” These are not at all standard 420s but a hybrid which will be much more lively, fun, AND durable than any of the equipment on the market today. And, they cost virtually the same as club 420s.”
TAKING A CLOSER LOOK
SAILS– Sail designers from North Sails visited the builder to review the Turbo’s newly designated jib fairlead location. It is a bit further forward and inboard from the current position to get the cleat out of the sailors butt (crews, this is a welcome upgrade!) and to make it easier to release the jib sheet while tacking in big breeze. This will also eliminate the need for weather sheeting. The jib will be a bit longer on the leech, shorter on the foot and fuller hoist. This will simulate sheeting on a 470 or a 505 so the transition to higher performance dinghies will be more natural. Ample windows will be supplied on both sails. The sails will have out-of-the-box factory options for colored graphics and very large colored numbers on them. The mainsail will have the top two battens full length, a low-profile foam pad in the head to keep them from going turtle and a reef point for breezy conditions. Spins will be white and also offer a colored custom graphic (think: your club burgee or logo here).
North Sails Marblehead has done extensive rig analysis for the Turbo. Above, the Turbo rig model being run in 9 knots TWS. This extensive VPP modeling work was done to determine exactly where and how much to move inboard the jib fairleads, how that would affect main trim, and how best to set up the entire rig plan and sail shape. Pretty cool. These images are shown courtesy of North Sails, and lead designers on this project Doug Slocum & Will Welles.
FOILS– Cassette style heavy duty rudder head which remains bolted to back of boat. Rudder and centerboard will be epoxy cored, and very durable. Rudders to float. Centerboard to have both uphaul and downhaul lines and cleats. Hull will also feature recessed centerboard gaskets to alleviate gasket damage when boats are stored/dragged on their hulls.
RIGGING– The Turbo 420 spar will be approximately 6″ longer than current 420, however the hounds height will remain the same from deck level. This will get boom higher and reduce head impact and likelihood of concussive head injuries. Spars will be Selden with the innovative gnav kicker system which pushes down instead of pulling down, a stainless-steel fixed gooseneck, 3mm sidestays, 2.5mm trap wires and quick release safety harnesses in a variety of sizes.
Rig will be tensioned through a lever on headstay at the bow and jib will hank on with snaps. Main will cleat at either side of mast head in open clam cleat. Jib cloth tension will be adjustable on top of centerboard cap. Outhaul, main halyard, jib halyard will all use plastic stopper balls at end of tail to loop through and hitch to sail cringle. Spin poles will float! Twings will be used for the spin as they are used in every other boat which the youth would progress into. These masts will be half the weight of the current sections used by the Club 420.
CONSTRUCTION– The Rondar Turbo 420, as mentioned earlier, will employ high-end construction techniques, separating it from virtually all other institutional youth sailing dinghies. The precision-oriented vacuum bag, resin-infusion system creates an extremely strong, very light product when finished. The whole process takes as little as 90 minutes.
Above, the vacuum pump is humming and the vinylester resin is bled into the layup. Full saturation and nothing more. No air bubbles (voids). The whole saturation process takes about 20 minutes. Ki
cks off hard in 90 minutes. All up weight of boats will probably be in the neighborhood of 185-190lbs. This is 50 lbs less than club 420 rule and 70 lbs less than most.
Unless that guy is really, really strong, this boat is really light.
PUTTING IT IN PLAY
A collective effort of several Maine sailing clubs created the drive to purchase twenty-one new Turbo 420s. The goal is to rejuvenate youth sailing, retain and invigorate current sailors, and attract new up-and-coming sailors to the sport. The goal also is to promote a centralized, color-coded fleet for team racing, which encourages this up-and-coming part of the sport. Explains Fran, “In sailing, as in many sports, there is a dropout rate as the participants get into their teenage years. By creating a cohesive, centralized, team race-ready, exciting to sail fleet, the hope is that teens will stay with the sport a bit longer.” Time is ticking down to the launch of this new fleet. The first event scheduled is a high school regatta this spring, and then they’re off to their summer duty as a collective youth sailing fleet. Part of the logic of this boat, and future fleets they will assuredly inspire, is also to lend themselves well to team racing, which many young sailors love, and see as a fun alternative to racing around in long ovals in indistinguishable boats. Will it catch on?
THE DINOSAURS HAD THEIR CHANCE
The Turbo 420 hybrid represents a bold, unapologetic embrace of next generation youth dinghy concepts, designed to continue to stimulate our young sailors not only to enjoy the sport but to stick with it. Some will see it as a threat to the establishment, and others may call for even more changes. To wit, why not make this Turbo 420 have an asymmetrical spinnaker with retractable pole? This is easier to rig and to sail, arguably a lot more fun, and clearly (just look at the J/70) the wave of our downwind future. Change is coming. Acknowledge, accept, debate, embrace, and then apply wisely, or risk obsolescence, or worse.
Our kids aren’t as impressed with our toys as we once were, especially in the rapidly changing landscape of the 21st century. You may not like it, but someday Google may well be driving all of our “cars”. There is an argument to be made that for the future of sailing, we need to learn to adapt our approach to our next generation to survive. Nothing lasts forever, and this boat moves us to that discussion.
To research some similar concepts and debates, we suggest the following:
Meet the New Collegiate 420, by Zach Brown. This article analyzes the new collegiate 420 built by LaserPerformance.
The Firefly Returns to the Charles, by Dan Rabin. This article profiles the forward-thinking MIT sailing dinghy, the Firefly.
Controversy in the ICSA: The Future of the College Sailing Dinghy. This article explores the recent decision by the ICSA to standardize championship equipment based on boat builder.
Zim Sailing Responds to ICSA Sponsorship/Championship Boat Agreement. This editorial from Zim Sailing offers thoughts on the ICSA boat decision.
Rondar Boats. You can learn more about the Turbo 420 here.
The Sail1Design Turbo 420 Poll. Take our poll and see where people stand.
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