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Leaderboard FD July August September 2023

A show like no other

by Mark Jardine 4 Mar 20:00 GMT
RYA Dinghy & Watersports Show 2024 © Paul Wyeth / RYA

I've written a lot about the RYA Dinghy & Watersports Show in the past and am sure I will write more on it in the future. Last year I wrote 'It may not be the biggest...'. The reason I keep coming back to it is that it's truly a show like no other.

Most commonly known as just the Dinghy Show (or the Dinghy Exhibition for those who remember its history back to when it was first held at Picketts Lock) it brings together dinghies old and new, sailors young and old, all under one roof. What ensues is two days of chat, business and sales, which kick start the dinghy sailing season in the UK.

There are many though who now sail throughout the year in the UK (yes, confirming for those in warmer climes, this is possible!) and the show also hosts the prize-giving of the Seldén Sailjuice Winter Series, the brainchild of top sailing journalist Andy Rice, which for the past 15 years has brought together once disparate events into a cohesive series.

In the UK we have an extraordinary number of dinghy sailing classes, and the Dinghy Show is a great opportunity to see many of them, or at least the most active ones. Take a look at the Classes page on and and you'll see a dropdown list which goes on for quite some way - many of these are at the show.

Some of the chat at the show is always about there being too many classes, meaning that class attendance at events is lower and diluted, while others will applaud the range, as they can find a boat which is 'just right' for them.

Having so many classes does mean that handicap systems are all-important, and another major area for discussion. In the UK we have two dinghy systems in use: the Portsmouth Yardstick Number (known as the PY) and the Great Lakes handicaps.

If you're going to have disparate dinghies sailing against each other, you want to feel like your dinghy handicap is fair, and every year at the Dinghy Show the latest PY numbers are announced. These are reviewed annually and adjusted according to previous results submitted by clubs.

The Great Lakes system, which is used for the Seldén Sailjuice Winter Series, starts with the PY numbers as a basis, then a committee meets to review the results of the individual events, and the new race data will be added to the analysis. The results from the latest winter events are considered when setting handicaps for the following season.

If a class has been performing well in handicap events then inevitably their handicap will suffer in each review, leading to much shaking of heads and muttering at the Show, whereas conversely some classes where the handicap has improved will be strangely quiet about it, almost as if mentioning the change might make someone take it back!

Class association stands at the Show are significantly cheaper than the commercial stands, which allow them to attend and try to attract new sailors to their design of dinghy, as well as chat with their regular sailors. They also use it to launch and promote their season calendars, run competitions, and highlight sponsorships they may have.

Showing their class in the best light usually means a gleaming new boat on display, or a well-presented older boat. There were many examples of wooden decks varnished to perfection, and a fair few LED lights under gunwhales to make the hulls shine just a little more.

There is a strong incentive to make a special effort on presentation as each year there is a trophy for the best boat of the show. I've been judging the Concours d'Elegance with various people over the past 16 years, and this year was joined by the British Sailing Team's 49er crew Fynn Sterritt. He understandably was drawn to boats with wings, while I couldn't help running my hand over a shining wooden deck. We both though admired the Firefly F503, Jacaranda, and judged it to be the winner of the 2024 award. This boat was sailed by the British Olympic representative, Arthur McDonald, in the 1948 Olympics, where the sailing was held in Torbay.

The dinghy was discovered 25 years ago in Norfolk, and since was lovingly restored by Alastair Vines. This really was a combination of beauty and rare provenance and had us won over and, judging from the comments I've received since, many others as well.

Over the two days nearly 8,900 people came to the 2024 RYA Dinghy & Watersports Show, which was 400 more than in 2023. It's always nice to see an increase in days when people talk of decline.

The show is vital as it is the sounding board for true grass-roots sailing. Multi-time world champions chat with impassioned club sailors, marine industry icons help anyone and everyone with any questions they may have, companies show the latest sailing equipment available, and clubs and classes try to persuade you to join them.

It's an amazing, passionate, energetic show thanks to the people there, exhibitors and visitors alike.

We're still adding content we created during the show, as well as content from the clubs and classes which is still arriving, but it can all be found here. Videos, photos, and articles aplenty showing the latest, the not-so-new, innovations, initiatives, the latest colour trends and the slightly unusual can all be found.

Enjoy all we have from the show like no other.

Mark Jardine and Managing Editor

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