How can a 50 year old design still be modern?

Radical, classic, old, but modern. How can that be?

The Contender was originally designed way back on the late sixties as a potential Olympic succcessor to the Finn. A completely radical design rigged with a trapeze (against the design specification of the IYRU), it comprehensively won the trials regatta in Medemblik, but despite this was never selected as an Olympic class.

This may or may not have been a good thing, as the ongoing development of the class was left in the hands of the class association membership without too much external influence. Although the boat was considered a very difficult sail, and the class populated with many of the alleged 'wild men' of the sport, the membership has proved to be remarkably careful and conservative in allowing any radical develpments that would risk splitting the class between 'old' and 'new'.

As a strict one-design the original shape has remained relatively unchanged, refined by builders over time, but still within the original design tolerances. Hull weight has remained unchanged despite the progressive changes in construction material, from GRP  (with a timber internal structure), and GRP composite, through to the vinylester and beautiful epoxy wood boats seen today. The result of this slow but steady evolution is exceptionally durable hulls that stay competitive for many years, and sailable for many more.

The class were early adopters of carbon fibre for foils (but not in hulls), although size profiles were not changed. Possibly the greatest change was the long debated change to allow carbon spars, the final tipping point being the increasing lack of availability of the most popular aluminium mast sections at the time.

Boat layouts and controls have changed little since the 1980s - after some initial experimentation with travellers and the like, the class ended up with a refined and fairly universal simple and practical setup, allowing sailors to focus on sailing the boat rather than wasting time tinkering with unnecessary pieces of string.

The final result? A classically beautiful design, built using the best of modern techniques, that has progressively, yet conservatively allowed the use of new materials and ideas to keep itself completely up-to-date, without rendering older boats obsolete, thus maintaining the value of the Contender boat park, and making it easy for new sailors to enter and progress within the class without excessive initial cost or depreciation.  


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