A Short History of Sailing - Part II

The first half of the 20th century was the peak age of yachting as a luxury sport for wealthy people. It was probably also the peak of yacht design and the development of a particular nautical style that is still unraveled by modern constructions. In the second half of the 20th century, yachts once again underwent a dramatic revolution due to the use of new materials. The use of plywood had a tremendous impact on boat designs and lead to the development of dinghies that were lighter and still stronger than any sailing vessels before. This also meant that the construction of yachting boats became easier and thereby, cheaper. This made the whole sport more accessible and triggered a diversification of styles and shapes.

Dinghy sailing grew especially in the 1960ies. Almost every month, boat builders launched new designs. Building boats at home became a passion to many people, and alongside with the big, established yacht builders, more and more small firms arose and found their niches on the growing market. With an increasing number of people being interested in sailing, the number of clubs, races and cruises all over the World grew enormously, too.

The late 1960ies saw the rise of glassfibre as an even more flexible and reliable boat-building material. Carbon-based and other modern materials still lead to exciting new designs and innovations in the construction of dinghy sailing boats up to today, setting new records in speed, weight or reliability.

From elitist pleasure to sportive adventure

Much in parallel to sailing, cruising developed from a practical thing – transportation of people and cargo – into something people did as an exclusive form of pleasure. The origins of offshore cruising date back to the early 19th century, when large ships had to be sailed by professional crews and yachting in smaller vessels was just about to develop properly. By then, professionals left coastal regions only if necessary, cruising offshore for the sole purpose of pleasure was something new.

One of the pioneers of cruising in the modern sense was the British sailor Richard Tyrrell McMullen, who sailed thousands of miles around the area of the British Isles in the second half of the 19th century. He died on his yacht in 1891, at a time when he had already inspired thousands of people to follow the calling from offshore. Other early cruisers included the London barrister John Macgregor and the American Joshua Slocum, who succeeded as the first person to do a single-handed circumnavigation of the globe.

In more recent times, the British couple Eric and Susan Hiscock made cruising tremendously popular and well-known; they themselves did three circumnavigations between 1952 and 1976 in a number of different yachts, that were all called “Wanderer”. A combination of race sailing and cruising arose around the same time.

Peaking in popularity after thousands of years...

Cruiser racing proved to be exceptionally popular. Since these days, more and more professionals compete for the most prestigious trophies, and only “private” cruiser races are suitable for spare-time sailors from the club-level. This led to a forking between sailing as a competitive sport and the traditional pleasure yachting.

Both areas remain to gain popularity from year to year. There are more professional, competitive sailors than ever before and the sport attracts a lot of attention with major events being followed by hundreds of thousands sailing enthusiasts all over the World. On the other hand, sailing yourself for joy has never been easier or more affordable.

Despite of common stereotypes of sailing as being exclusive or a non-affordable luxury, today more and more people discover their passion for this sport. Sailing communities in all countries offer opportunities to get involved with the sport on any level of interest – from a completely passive one by doing a cruise with a professional crew, to active sailing as a boat owner. Sailing has never been more popular than it is today – and seems to go into a bright future!

Further Reading

A Short History of Sailing - Part I

Wikipedia on the Age of Discovery

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