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It may not be the biggest...

by Mark Jardine 6 Mar 20:00 GMT
RYA Dinghy & Watersports Show 2023 © Paul Wyeth / RYA

It's no secret that I'm a massive fan of the RYA Dinghy & Watersports Show, held in the UK on the final weekend of February. It isn't anywhere near the scale of boot Düsseldorf or the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, and it doesn't have the glamour of the Cannes Yachting Festival or the Sanctuary Cove Boat Show, but it has energy and enthusiasm in abundance.

What's unique about the Dinghy Show, as it is commonly known, is that the Class Associations make up a huge proportion of the exhibitors. These are overwhelmingly manned by volunteers, and the boats you'll see on each stand are a sailor's pride and joy. Ask a question on a class stand and you'll get a passionate response as to why their class is the best class in the world. Go on to the next class stand and you'll get an equally impassioned view of that boat, and so on...

For this reason, it is the perfect start to the sailing season in the UK, as you come away from it feeling enthused for the season ahead. After the short days of winter, you know spring is just around the corner, and it makes you want to go and check on your boat to see it's all ready for racing.

Visitors come from all over the world to see what all the fuss is about, and I've met people from Europe, the USA, Canada and Australia during the show and they all say the same thing: "We don't have anything like this where I live," and it's true, the Dinghy Show is unique.

Sailors from dinghy cruising and grassroots club sailing, all the way through to Olympic medallists, rub shoulders at the Dinghy Show, and a massive part of what goes on over the weekend are the expert talks and presentations. Some of the UK's top sailors and personalities freely give their insights and reveal their secrets to packed audiences. As a learning experience the show is priceless, and there's no doubt you can come out of it a better and more knowledgeable sailor that when you went in.

A highlight for me is judging for the Concours d'Elegance, the boat of the show trophy we hand out each year. The list of past winners is eclectic, and this year I was joined by 2021 ILCA 7 European Champion Micky Beckett to judge which boat should win the trophy. There's no doubt that over the fifteen years the award has been running, the standard and presentation of boats has shot up.

Dinghies from the classic National Redwing and Hornet through to the ultra-modern latest International Canoes and foiling Moths have won the trophy, showing there's no set 'type' of boat that wins, and it's unashamedly the subjective view of the judges on the day, which can cause controversy and consternation, but all that does is underline the passion people put into presenting their boat, which all makes the show itself better.

This year Micky and I chose a Shearwater catamaran called 'Nebuchadnezzar' as the winner. The boat was adorned with Matrix-themed symbols on the sails and hulls, and had a very novel carbon spinnaker chute which doubled up as an end-plate for the jib. We also loved the enthusiasm of owner Peter Jary and his son Joshua who showed us around the boat.

The Shearwater is by no means a modern catamaran, having originated in the 1950's when Roland and Francis Prout experimented by lashing their two kayaks together with bamboo poles, developing a racing version 'Shearwater I' in 1954 which went on to win the Burnham-on-Crouch Dinghy Regatta. It's great to see that a 70-year-old design is still attracting young sailors into the sport and continues the excellent tradition of parent and child sailing together.

Talking of which, one of the great chats I had during the show was with Ben McGrane of Hyde Sails, who is campaigning a Mirror this year with his daughter. Ben is a champion in many classes, ranging from the 505 and International 14, through to the venerable X One Design, and is a huge believer in the benefits of sailing with your child. They can get to 'know the ropes' crewing to start off with, but before you know it you'll be turfed off the helm and asked to crew for them; exactly as it should be.

Ben was brought up this way, and what's interesting is he's just as comfortable crewing as he is helming a boat. I've often thought that the best crews are also helms, and vice versa, and his sailing résumé definitely backs this up. Have a read of the interview I did with him back in 2021 to find out more.

There's a ton more to read about from the Dinghy Show, and you can read more articles and watch more videos here. Finally, an absolute must-read is our very own Magnus Smith's look at some of the more unusual things at the show, from the return of the remote-operated self-bailer, to a titillating rudder blade, and an incredibly detailed GP14 model, he found some interesting details which were all too easy to miss.

All-in-all it was a great weekend that went by too quickly. The RYA Dinghy & Watersports Show may not be the biggest, but in our eyes it's the best.

Mark Jardine and Managing Editor

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