Can One Design sailboards return to the wide usage they had in the 1970s and 80s?

A couple of phone calls Glenn Taylor received may indicate that may be possible and suppliers are responding.

Glenn's July 12, 2013, report and musings on various sailboard classes and equipment:

In late 2010 I received a phone call from Joachim Larsson, a co-founder of Kona sailboards in Sweden. In the call he said that he had gotten into board sailing by first sailing fun-boards. After more than a decade of sailing those he felt he wanted something different, with a craft that was more generally useable. He wanted a craft that did not require trips to venues that had waves and wind higher than he could find near where he lived. Kona One, a one-design sailboard, was the result. He said his boards were selling well in Sweden and elsewhere in Europe and inquired of me if there were places in California where there might be a market.

I compiled a list of dealers and board sailing schools and emailed them to Joachim. I also added the Kona One sail to the list of sails I wanted to try as a replacement for the sail used by Fleet 18.

Shortly after the call from Joachim I received a call from Ted Schweitzer, the youngest son of Hoyle Schweitzer. Ted, who had done very well running other businesses, thought it would be fun to bring back the Windsurfer to the American market. I was surprised to be told by him that production of the craft had never stopped... in Australia!

Both the Kona One and the Original Windsurfer are now available for purchase in the US.

A few One-Design races have been held for each of the two classes above and these boards have also been sailing in races with mixed types of boards in places where regatta style racing is popular, which is pretty much anywhere there is a person who is an enthusiastic organizer (like here) with no close-by ocean or a Hood River-like windy canyon. Who, In fact, lives in a place that has the normal conditions that sailors worldwide find on an average day. Those conditions are not what one may often find in Hawaii or Hood River. Even in Hawaii, however, there are many days when there is plenty of wind, maybe 7 mph, to explore Pearl Harbor but nowhere near enough to face the Pacific Ocean waves nearby. Of this I have personal experience!

There are other One Design boards now on the market beside the two above. For example: BIC has the Techno 293 which has been chosen as the board for the "Youth Olympic Games". There is also the StarBoard Formula 162 which has a class concept that is different: a "two year product cycle" class. In other words every two years the manufacturer is able to change the design and if your older craft is thought to be now obsolete you may feel pressured to purchase new equipment.

In many places where I have sailed there are no docks from which to launch. Often the water is quite shallow until one is far from shore. Neither of these problems stop folks from sailing really, really fast on SF Bay off the city front on boards with 70cm. fixed fins which are part of the Formula Windsurfing class. These are not One-Design but the limits under which the courses are laid out seems to have forced the craft to become standardized. An interesting part of the Formula class rules say that in wind less than 7 kts the races are to be abandoned. 7 is a pretty high windspeed in many places in the summer. In the summer, in the midwest, 7 kts. would be terrific wind to tour a lake or race, and way less scary than when the wind is 20 mph as a summer storm comes in with clouds laced with lightning.

If you want to sail fast, far, and safely, the best thing you can do is practice. Improving your on-board-computer (located between the ears of most humans) will do more for you than anything you can purchase. It also helps to use a scientific method to exclude variables that may bias your judgement about what are significant issues that affect your performance. Sailing in races with craft of different types and sail sizes does not make it easy to find out that the biggest factor that can make a winner is the ability to recognize when the wind gives one a "header"* and the ability to act quickly and tack to stay competitive in the race. Ted Schweiter talks about that here.

In the blog by Ted Schwietzer referenced in the last line above he mentions that the sail he was using was lighter and needed far less downhaul tension than that used on most modern sails. High weight has made using most modern sails more difficult for beginners. Also, even with 7 to 1 pulley ratios, tightening the downhaul on a modern sail can be difficult. Fleet 18 switched to the Kona One sails late last season. These sails have downhaul block sets that allow 6 or 7 to one purchase which my wife, who is strong and highly experienced, dislikes. The Kona sails also have full length battens but without camber inducers. People who sail with camber inducers in their sails are hindered by the extra weight and the loss of information that comes when the luff of the sail is hardened and paralyzed by the stiffness imparted by the inducers. Especially for beginners the 'bump' a soft luff makes when the wind gives a 'header' is valuable informaition in a race. To make up for the weight of the Kona full length battens the sail panels themselves are made of very lightweight material. The Kona 7.4 sq. m. sails are much lighter than the IMCO 7.5 sq. m. sails we have used for the past 8 years or so BUT they gain the light weight at the price of greater fragility! These are sails made of a plastic film, not a woven plastic like Dacron. A cut or break in the film must be quickly taped to prevent an entire panel from being split. The Kona sails have one offsetting factor that makes their fragility acceptable: a low price! Typical full batten sails in the 7.5 sq. m. size will cost about $800 while the Kona is roughly half that.

The Windsurfer sail is made of laminated Dacron which is pretty durable, though in about 4 years of hard use can look shabby because of areas where the laminate disconnects from the woven cloth. The battens are not full length and the downhaul needs no block though someone with weak hands can add one if they choose. The sail is a LOT more fun to have when you fall on it! It is soft! The Windsurfer sail is also WAY more fun if you are practicing freestyle tricks, you can grab the leech or foot of the sail and not be so fearful of having the loss of a fingernail.

I like the old, soft, sails. They were more fun to use. Luckily they seem to be coming back along with the One-Design concept. Hot Sails Maui makes a pretty nice partial batten sail. Hot Sails Maui also makes some sails with light full length battens. The Super Freak from Hot Sails can be purchased in many differnet custom color patterns. If you want particular colors you should order in winter and expect delivery in 2 months. I called up and bought a yellow 6.0 sq. m. made of woven Kevlar (a super Dacron). The sail was one they had in stock and arrived in 2 days. The light cloth and the lack of battens has made this a favorite sail for my wife in 20 kt. wind.

It is great that equipment manufacturers are going back to designs that give sailors more fun. Too bad the America's Cup folks aren't aboard this trend!

* A header is a wind shift that narrows the angle between the wind direction and the course one is trying to sail. In order to keep the sail pulling with maximum force a sailor can either turn away from the desired destination or turn across the wind to gain the advantage the wind direction change has given to having the wind on the other side of the sail.