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2016 Olympic Womens Skiff chosen after tense political stoush

by Richard Gladwell on 5 May 2012
Molly Meech and Alex Maloney put the 49er FX through her paces off Takapuna. © Richard Gladwell www.photosport.co.nz

The FX by Mackay Boats carried the day after a tense debate over the choice of the selection of class, for the Olympic Womens Skiff, on opening day of the ISAF Council Meeting in Stresa, Italy.

The FX had undergone eight months of development, particularly in the rig, which is carried on a 49er hull, designed by Julian Bethwaite and selected for the Mens Skiff event at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

Both the FX and 49er were selected after the International Sailing Federation conducted Evaluation Trials. For the Men in Torbole, Lake Garda Italy in 1996, and for the Women in Santander in March this year

While some will be quick to point out that the Womens Skiff will make its Olympic debut in 2016 using a boat designed 20 years ago, the fact of the matter is that the FX beat its rival in Santander in 10 out of 11 races using a variety of crews.

The surprise from the Mid-Year Meeting of the ISAF Council, was the re-entry of the 29erXX, also designed by Julian Bethwaite and others. The 29erXX which was not one of the two boats preferred by the Evaluation Team in its report from the Trials, emerged as a strong contender, supported by the Asian and South American bloc.

The 29erXX is an established International class, but with pockets of fleets around the world, rather than a massive following. The class will hold its inaugural World Championship in Lake Garda this September.

Clearly the 29erXX had done the political lobbying, despite the recommendations of the Evaluation Team, and the overwhelming endorsement by 14 votes to 2 in favour of the FX at the Events Committee Meeting, the previous day at Stresa.

Underlining the strength of politicking at the ISAF Council level, the matter was debated for over two hours, and for a time the 29erXX looked to be holding the sway. However speakers towards the end of the debate urged those present to think of the Womens sailors and listen to their preferences, which had been clearly for the FX in the trials.

Even so on the first vote, with a requirement for a class to get more than 50% support, the FX could only carry the day with 19 votes, and a massive 14 in favour of the 29erXX, and just two delegates voting for the RS900. The latter was expected to have stronger support, being the other preference of the Evaluation Team.

In a yet another display of politics prevailing over sailing, that has become only too familiar at ISAF level, it surprised many that the 29erXX even made it onto the Council floor, let alone coming close to carrying the vote.

Fortunately common sense prevailed and women sailing now have an extremely exciting boat, that will pull the much needed media attention into the Olympics. Already the FX has been clocked at 22kts in her development process, and will lift the media perception of Womens sailing to a whole new level. Those images and perceptions will be pushed down into the Junior and Youth sailing ranks and can only help grow participation in Womens sailing.

Developed primarily by Dave Mackay and John Clinton of Mackay Boats, based in Auckland, New Zealand, the FX is expected to be re-badged as the 49er FX. Production will be undertaken by the existing 49er building teams around the world. The rigs will be manufactured by Southern Spars and North Sails, as for the 49er and will be available in the very near future. Initially most countries are expected to purchse rigs to be put onto existing 49er hulls which currently sell for about UKP3,000 secondhand. A 49erXX rig will sell for 5,500 Euro.

Decision deferred
The other key decision was expected to be the Mixed Multihull for which there are two preferences on the Council table, from the Evaluation Team. The 16ft long Viper and the 17 ft Nacra 17 were considered by the ISAF Events Committee, who could only make a decision on favour of the Nacra17 on the basis of a casting vote from the Chairman.

The decision was deferred to the second day of the Council meeting, and is expected to be a close run debate and vote. Given what has happened on the first day, Councillors could expect to see a new class emerge into the decision frame. Alternatively the support for the Viper could be overwhelming based on the fact hat it an established International class.

Or the Council could listen to the preferences of the Evaluation Trial crews who were overwhelmingly in favour of the Nacra17, which has yet to go into production.












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