Someone asked me to drop in and give my 2 cents on this subject since I have been involved in getting a class going in the very recent past.
First off, let me say that I agree with Roy on most points. But I want to add some of my own experiences that expand on some of what Roy had to say.
My class - the Fairwind class - is not based on a new boat. Even though the class is just celebrating our second birthday this month, the boat is well over 20 years old. It has been sold as a kit through hobby shops around the world and as such there are thousands of these boats out there -mostly being sailed by guys that have no idea that a class for these boats exists.
Several years ago, one ambitious guy - Rick Moynahan out in california - decided that the Fairwind was due for class status in the AMYA. He put together a website to register names of people who owned these boats. After a slow start, he finally gathered enough names to meet the AMYA requirement of 20 members in order to form a class. Most of these class members including Rick did not race in fleets at the time. But there were several fleets of these boats that had been formed over the years even before the class was formed. Edina MN had one of the most active fleets within an AMYA club with between 20 and 30 registered boats. My club in Ann Arbor had 8 or 10. THese fleets had formed spontaneously with no push from an organizing group.
Since the boats are sold as a kit, the rules were fairly easy to write after the fact. The hull shape, sail size and most other major speed controlling factors were locked in by the kit. So even though the rules came into effect many years after the boat was designed, the many boats that were already built and sailing easily fit into the one design template of the class.
The boat is cheap. Kits are available for $170 that includes everything you need except glue, lead shot for ballast and electronics. For less than $300 you can buy everything you need including the radio gear. Most hobby shops carry the kit in stock. This cost point makes it easy to get into the class and even start your own fleet. A few of class members own 4, 5 or even 6 boats and have their own club for family and freinds.
So how are we doing?
The growth of the class has been strong. We currently have 85 class members - many of whom own more than one boat. We have assigned 150 sail numbers to class members and prospective class members (we do not require AMYA membership to recieve a sail number, but you do need an AMYA membership to participate in class events). We held 5 class regattas leat year including 3 regionals and the national championships. We will add at least one more regional regatta this year.
Our biggest weakness right now is our lack of racing fleets. This is the point where I agree strongest with Roy. We have only 3 AMYA clubs with more than 10 boats - Bakersfield, Ann Arbor and Edina. This makes it very difficult to organize class events (regattas) and to generate good class participation. But we are making good inroads in this area. In the past two seasone, 6 new AMYA clubs have been formed by groups of guys that were already racing fairwinds. One of these groups is the Bakersfield Model YC which became an AMYA club last season and currently has a fleet of 30+ fairwinds. I expect to add several new clubs this season as several groups have already come to me asking for advice on how to do this. So hopefully this is an area that will not be a problem in the future.
It is essential to have club level fleets. A class is only relavant if it gives people an arena to compete in. The rules create a level playing field, but a playing field is just a lot of grass to water unless you have teams that want to play on it. This requires racing opportunities at the local as well as regional and national level and that requires clubs. Around here there is a lot of discussion on defining the rules for a new class, but little or no discussion on organizing races and fleets of those boats. I think this is what Roy was getting at. Without a group of guys that want to race, there is no point to forming a class. To sit down and write some rules without that group of racers is putting the cart before the horse.
Another area of weakness for our class is the relatively low cost of the boat. These may seem contradictory to some people, so let me explain. If you are willing to invest $1000 or more in an IOM, more than likely you have made a committment to do something with that investment. You have decided to race your boat and have found a fleet to race in. Few people are going to spend that kind of cash to have a toy boat to cruise around the pond alone. With a boat as inexpensive as the Fairwind, many guys are willing to plunk down $200 or $300 and 5 or 10 hours to assemble the kit in order to “try” sailing. They are not comitted to the sport. They do not feel a sense of investment that is required to campaign their boat and participate in local or class events. It is relatively easy to ignore $300 sitting in your basement than $1000 sitting in your basement.
Our biggest strength is the internet. This is where I disagree with Roy. We have been able, through the internet, to share information about where boats were located that allowed guys who owned these boats to find other guys to race against. The internet continues to allow us to communicate with people that we do not otherwise know about. This has helped boat owners find there way to the class and figure out how to participate. For example, there is a guy in Lima Ohio that owns a Fairwind. He has been looking for others to sail with. Last year, he found our club in Ann Arbor by following a link from the class website. He drove up from Ohio for one of our club race days and had a great time. I expect he will drop in from time to time this year and hopefully show up at the regional championship that our club will be hosting. But more importantly, he has seen how a club operates and is determined to get a club going himself on the pond near his home where he sails.
I think the internet can be a very powerful tool for starting and growing a class. The internet at its core is a tool to share information. A class cannot get off the ground unless the guys in the class can keep each other informed of progress and attract new members. This requires communication and the internet is a very powerful way to do that.
While I see what Roy was getting at in his initial post, I feel that his approach is only one of several ways to get a class going. I hope that my experiences demonstrate that there are other ways to get a class going. I’m sure that there are other ways other than the way that Roy and I have outlined to get classes started. I don’t doubt that the a class can start on the internet. But hopefully Roy and I have shown that in order to be successful, you eventually need to form local fleets. That cannot be done in cyberspace alone…