50 Years of SAIL

Sail News

Back in early 1970, Bernie Goldhirsh and the recently founded “Institute for the Advancement of Sailing,” publisher of an annual sailboat and gear guide, launched something called SAIL. A half-century later, a look back at the magazine’s first few years provides a glimpse into a whole other world—albeit a world that still looks refreshingly familiar.

Long Live the Cup

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Here in the second decade of the 21st century, it’s hard to imagine just how important the America’s Cup once was. Before the advent of such events as the Whitbread race (now The Ocean Race) and the Vendée Globe, the Cup was the world’s premier sailing competition, bar none. Twelve-meters represented the sport’s cutting edge; sailors like Ted Hood (far left) and Ted Turner (near left) were larger than life; the boats were crewed by amateurs from their country of origin; and corporate logos were strictly verboten. A simpler time, perhaps, but a no less competitive one!

The Age of the Ketch

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Looking back at SAIL and sailing in the early 1970s, one of the things that stands out is the profusion of ketches. Today, even the largest boats are typically sloops. But 50 years ago, when things like self-tailing winches and headsail furlers were either nonexistent or still in their infancy, it only made sense breaking up your sailplan into a number of smaller, more manageable pieces. Aesthetically, you’ve also got to love how salty some of those old boats looked.

Sail Tech

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In the early days of SAIL, polyester, or Dacron, sails were still noteworthy. It wasn’t long, though, until even this iconic “miracle” fiber began feeling the heat from such new kids on the block as Kevlar. Then, of course, there was the “blooper” (or “Streaker” as Watts sailmakers so charmingly called their version), which sailors of a certain age will recall was once all the rage (like streaking). Alas, it turns out sailing dead downwind is slow—not to mention downright scary aboard boats designed according to the old IOR rule—no matter how much sail you set. That said, those sails did make for some great covers while they lasted!

New Gear

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As much as boats and sails have changed over the last 50 years, the various bits and pieces that make them work have changed even more. Hard to believe that when SAIL first came out in 1970, mass-produced furlers were only just coming to the market; windvane self-steering was still state-of-the-art; and VHF radios were a rarity. As for GPS, it was still only a gleam in the Department of Defense’s eye, and radio direction finders were king. If anyone out there actually has a Whistler handheld radar in their possession, please let us know. We’d love to check it out.

The Shape of Speed

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The world of competitive sailing was a very different one back in the early 1970s. The IOR rating rule was dominant, and Florida’s SORC (Southern Ocean Racing Conference) series was the place to be for any designer or boatbuilder looking to make a name for themselves in between America’s Cups. Hints of the future, though, could be seen in the form of early wingsails, sailboards and increasingly speedy multihulls.

October 2020

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