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Sunfish Sailing

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The Sunfish is a little boat with a big following. Fourteen nations from around the globe were represented at this year’s Sunfish World Championships held October 1 to 7 in Charleston, South Carolina. Of these, it was the U.S. Virgin Islands that ranked highest from the Caribbean, thanks to the St. Croix Yacht Club’s Peter Stanton’s stellar fourth place finish out of 100 competitors. This level of accomplishment from the Caribbean might seem amazing since Sunfish fleets are few and regattas are rare. However, the boat has a lot to offer – for those who have the knack to sail it and are willing to think of it as more than simply a day sailer.

Curacao’s Cor Van Aanholt knows the potential of the Sunfish. He reigned as Sunfish World Champion in 1980 and placed 11th at this year’s Worlds. “It’s a fun, and competitive, boat to sail,” says Van Aanholt.

Recapping this year’s Worlds, Stanton says, “I must say, I had a wake up call in the practice race – finishing 60th out of 80 some competitors. But after that race, I had a long chance to think about what I needed to work on for the rest of the regatta. That is—starts, clear sailing lanes, currents and consistency. Consistency is everything, winning the race is not.”

Stanton’s fourth place finish qualified the Virgin Islands for a slot at next summer’s Pan American Games. Personally more important, he says, “I have put my name and the Virgin Islands in the back of the mind of the Sunfish community. My ultimate goal is to become the Sunfish World Champion. I still need a lot more experience to reach that level and will first try for a medal in Rio.” (The Pan American Games, July 13 – 29, 2007.)

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Stanton hopes his finish sparks interest in the rest of the Caribbean for the Sunfish. “I believe that the design of the boat may not be appealing to a laser sailor or many sailors because they may simply not know how to correctly set it up for racing. There is a Cunningham adjuster, outhaul, vang, gooseneck adjuster and, for depowering the sail, you have the Jens Rig. In the Worlds, I could depower my sail more then you could ever dream of doing to a laser sail.  My outhaul was easier to control than a laser, as well was my Cunningham.  The lack of knowledge of the racing Sunfish hurts the class a lot.”

Setting up the Sunfish properly is one thing, sailing it competitively is another. “You have to sail the boat differently on either tack. And, the steering isn’t as sharp as a laser, Opti or 420. It really makes you learn more about sail trim, body placement and the way your dagger boards works with the water.”

Sailors who aren’t big enough to competitively hold down a laser are ideal for the Sunfish. “The ideal body size for a Sunfish for the past 10 world championships’ winners has been around 5 foot 8, 150-165 pounds,” says Stanton.

Numbers of Sunfish sailors and Sunfish fleets in the Caribbean are unknown. “When the Sunfish Worlds have been held in Antigua or Puerto Rico, the class in the region didn’t grow as one would think. To me there is a limited supply of Sunfish in the Caribbean,” Stanton says.

In the future, he’d like to recruit young sailors to the class. “I plan to recruit young sailors to start sailing Sunfish on the side, because the boat is not forgiving— and when you mess up a tack, or don’t control your boat well through a puff, you can see easily as boats start to pass you. Also, entering the Worlds championship is easier then most can imagine. I know that the Sunfish class wants to see more non-USA sailors in the Worlds.”


Manufactured for over 40 years, the Sunfish is a sailing dinghy with the following specs:

LOA: 13-feet, 9-inches
Beam: 4-foot, 1-inch
Draft: 2-foot, 11-inch
Sail Area: 75 square feet
Hull Weight: 120 pounds
Cost for a Standard Rig: US$3400

As for upcoming design changes, Stanton says, “The design changes have been limited, but the International Sunfish Class Association is always looking for new ideas to keep the boat simple and sailing better. The latest that will be brought up next year is a different design in the rudder. To enable the boat to have better steering and durability, they have added new fiberglass rudders that are a big improvement over the old wood one.”

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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