Rupert Holmes explains the extraordinary appeal of the Sunfish, a crab-claw rigged sail board-style dinghy that rules the waves
Today Britain is the world’s largest producer of sailing dinghies, but the story was different 50 to 60 years ago, when many countries produced huge numbers of small boats as sailing rapidly gained popularity across the developed world.
Connecticut-based Alex Bryan and Cortlandt Heyniger launched the 11ft 8in (3.5m) Sailfish – a beautifully simple, but narrow, board style sailing dinghy with a crab claw rig – in 1945.
Available as a fully-finished boat, a kit of parts, or built from plans, it proved massively popular and contributed in a huge way to the growth of sailing in North America.
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Eight years later the duo updated the concept with a slightly larger design. The 13ft 9in (4.2m) Sunfish dinghy had proportionately far more beam which, allied to an almost flat V-shaped bottom and hard chine, conferred a lot more stability.
But the same attributes of easy sailing with minimal fuss and a lot of fun were retained. A fibreglass version was introduced in 1960 and class racing established by the end of that decade.
The concept proved hugely popular, with the result that the Sunfish dinghy has been the most popular sailing boat in the world by a big margin for some five decades.
By 2001 more than 300,000 boats had been launched and they continued to leave the factory at a rate of around 10,000 per year.
Most boats remained in the Americas, both north and south, as well as the Caribbean and they can be seen on most beaches and lakes. There are also established fleets in Spain, Italy and the Netherlands.
Sunfish dinghy specification
LOA: 4.19m / 13ft 9in
Beam: 1.24m / 4ft 1in
Displacement: 54kg / 120lb
Sail area: 7.0m2 / 75ft2
Current market value: £800-£1,800 / $1,100-$2,500