In 1996 the 49er was chosen to be the twin trapeze skiff choice for Olympic sailing. It was designed by Julian Bethwaite and is an evolution of the International 14’s and Aussie 18’s. The 49er was an overnight success, with 80 boats competing in the class’s first international regatta a year after being named the new Olympic skiff. Now 5 Olympics later the 49er has evolved into the top skiff boat for the Olympics.
The 49ers history starts back in 1996 where top sailors from around the world traveled to Lake Garda for a trial of different classes to see which would be the new twin-trapeze skiff for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. The 49er proved to be the favorite for the sailors, and by November 1996 it was named the new Olympic skiff. Once named the Olympic skiff the production for the 49er was in high demand, with a waiting list developing within a matter of days after the Olympic announcement. Boat builders around the world worked hard to fill the demand. Two of the major boat builders that helped to grow 49er class are Ovington Boats based in England and Mackay Boats in New Zealand. The European Championships in Weymouth was the first international regatta held in September 1997. A total of 80 boats were already competing only a year after being announced as the new Olympic skiff. Since its launch in 1996, the 49er has been an instant hit and has evolved into the favorite skiff boat around the world.
The name of the 49er comes from its hull length in meters, which is 4.99. Julian Bethwaite designed it, and it incorporates ideas from his design of the Aussie 18. The 49er is easy to handle and is controllable in conditions over 20 knots. Build out of fiberglass and carbon fiber the 49er is strong and light, weighing in at 275 pounds when fully rigged. As with any boat, the construction has gone through some changes through the years. In 2009 Mackay Boats build the new class molds which are now used by all builders worldwide. Also during this time, other improvements were made including a significant upgrade to the wings which are now pinned in place instead of sitting on sliding tracks. The wings are 9 feet wide with allows the crew to have maximum leverage. The sail area is 639 square feet which makes this small boat very fast! The vang uses a “ram vang” system; this system benefits the boat in three ways. First, it is a safer system because it pushes the boom down from above rather than pulling it down from below, which holds the mid-mast forward and prevents it from inverting when under pressure from the spinnaker. Second, it leaves the front cockpit open which allows for the crew to move more freely and efficiently across the boat. Thirdly, it brings the mainsail working area down to the deck level which helps reduce the drag. These boats are built for speed with top speeds over 20 knots, which makes it essential for the skipper and crew to work together to avoid any mistakes which can lead to capsizing. To be competitive on the water 49er sailors need to be reactive and quick-thinkers.
The 49er introduced a new exciting form of sailing to the world. Mackay Boats in New Zealand found a way for more sailors to get involved and developed a smaller rig that fit into the 49er, the 49erFX. They trialed the 49erFX against several other boats, and it was selected to be used for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. The 49erFX has made the experience of the 49er available to top women sailors. The FX uses a main with a wider head and only five battens, with the wider head a stiffer mast is needed to keep the boat in control through different wind conditions. The FX sail design makes it so that it can compete with the 49er in most upwind and downwind conditions. Two differences sailors notice the most between the 49er and FX is the rig depowers the boat, making it more easy to handle in winds 20-25 knots. Another positive difference is the performance downwind; the FX more easily bears away as the spinnaker is much flatter and flies further off the boat. Also, the bow lifts more out of the water which means sailors can go through waves without nosediving as they would in the 49er. This skiff requires sailors to be on top of their game with their skills, balance, and be in top shape. The 49erFX is a thrilling skiff that has paved the way for women sailors to compete in a high- performance boat and has shown the world that women sailors are amazing athletes!