by Dallas Johnson
Sailing has been perceived as a difficult sport to enter. If you want to crew, you have to know someone with a boat. If you want to own a boat, you have to find the right boat and a place to race it; assuming you can afford it. And learning to race competitively is a whole other story; it can all be pretty daunting.
But perception can be far from reality. At Wayzata Yacht Club on Lake Minnetonka, reality looks pretty welcoming. A new racing fleet of Capri 25s is in its third year of racing at WYC. So far, their fleet has doubled in size, making them one of the largest fleets on the lake. They havent done this by having the newest and hottest boat on the market, but by focusing on what makes racing fun.
The boat is the Capri 25. Originally, it was built in the early 80s as Catalinas answer to the then new and very hot J-24. Like many of its contemporaries, these boats never reached the critical mass needed to support a one design fleet, and they eventually merged into the handicap racing fleets. But the Capri 25 was an ideal boat for Lake Minnetonka with its light wind sailing ability, a comfortably sized cabin, and a cockpit the size of a small country. Eventually the boats began to build in numbers until they started to look like their own fleet within the handicap fleet.
When the fleet decided to become a One Design fleet, things really began to take off. One design racing has its natural attractions. The racing is more enjoyable because everyone is racing against each other instead of racing to beat the handicap clock. Similar speeds keep the fleet close together, and the first boat across the line wins. Experienced racers like the closer racing and increased emphasis on tactics. On the other hand, new racers found it easier to learn tactics and sail trim by racing against identical boats from which they could make comparisons and glean racing knowledge more quickly.
But what was a surprise to everyone was how it made the fleet more fun. It provided a common ground and identity, and the close racing gave people more to talk about. Fleet socials became the norm and stern mounted grills started appearing out of cabins and lazarettes. The fleet has raft-up parties after some races, and sponsors several parties throughout the year. At the very least, the post race discussions on the dock can go on for hours.
Crew members also reap the advantages of a one design fleet. They find its easier to meet people when they are part of a fleet within the club. To race on one boat means youre instantly welcome on any of the other boats within the fleet. And if you dont know anyone, simply walking down "C" dock, which is lined with Capris, and asking for a ride will always produce a positive result.
The affordability of racing Capris has also contributed to the growth of the fleet. In most handicap fleets around the country, a Capri 25 is just another handicap boat. Thus, the prices are lower than you would expect for a one design boat, typically under 10k, and sometimes down in the 6k range. And the fleet has specifically designed their fleet rules to keep the racing affordable. There are limits on the number of new sails boats can buy, and expensive boat lifts for "dry sailing" are not allowed.
The fleet even maintains a listing of boats that are available for sale around the country. When new fleet members are shopping for a boat, they save the information concerning boats they have found but not bought, and share it with the next person interested in joining the fleet. At any time, the fleet maintains pictures and surveys of between six to ten boats. And when prospective fleet members are looking for advice on buying a boat...well you can imagine theres no shortage of that. You know how sailors like to talk about their boats.
There isnt any single factor that has made the Capri 25 fleet such a success, but rather a variety of them. Close and competitive one design racing certainly doesnt hurt. And making it easy for new racers to join the fleet by helping them find a boat and learn to race it has been a good thing, too. Of course everyone is happy to own a competitive racing boat thats affordable to buy and doesnt depreciate every season by half of its value. But when you ask people around the fleet why they like racing the Capris, its always the same response. We like the camaraderie, we like the socializing, and its fun.
The Capri 25 fleet at WYC can be contacted at their web site (http://www.wyc.org/capri25), by contacting their Fleet Captain Dallas Johnson at 612-931-9108, or by simply walking "C" dock on a racing night and saying hi.