Ye olde skiff racing


Elizabeth II follows Contest III around the weather mark seconds before disaster...
 

Elizabeth II follows Contest III around the weather mark seconds before disaster...

James Boyd witnessed Sunday's match between two of the hyper-extreme Bermuda Fitted Dinghies
If you think the 49er, 18ft skiff, International 14 and other modern-day lightweight, asymmetric-driven skimming dishes are the machines to separate those with 'cajones' from those without, then it is time to spare a thought to the Bermuda Fitted Dinghy. These 14ft long beasts in various incarnations have been racing around Bermuda for well over a century now, and are up there with the Atlantic island's shorts, blazer and long socks attire as national icons. They even feature on the Bermudan $1 coin. Four boats regularly race, the two main contenders being the Royal Bermuda YC's Contest III and her arch rival Elizabeth II, fielded by the Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club a stone's throw away. The Bermuda Fitted Dinghy comes with as many as four different rig sizes to suit conditions. Contest III, the regular winner at the moment in this somewhat eccentric class was built about a decade ago in the WEST System, has a 14ft 1in long hull (with a substantial bowsprit) and weighs 250lb (around half the weight of her 1952-built predecessor, Contest II). It's largest sail plan allows around 1,500sqft of sail to be flown downwind from a 38ft 6in tall mast and 13ft 6in long boom. With the small rigs the maximum wind the crew tend to dare to go out in is around 20 knots. The boats are sailed usually by a crew of six and like other traditional craft of this kind bailing is carried out manually, normally by a someone lightweight like one of the crews' children going at it furiously with a bucket. Like the Sydney Harbour skiffs of old, the class allow crew to be 'ejected' during racing. "If we put the big rig in and it is very light we will probably eject somebody and they can dive off and

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