Evolution, not revolution
Of course, like the sailors, the Finn itself has also evolved. Materials have improved, fittings have improved, rigs are space age compared to the wooden masts and cotton sails first used. The boat has evolved, without losing anything of its original spirit. But, from wood to fibreglass and carbon, and from cotton to Kevlar, the sailors remain some of the best and the most powerful athletes in the sport of sailing. Classic Finn tradition.
The Finn became a classic dinghy before many of the current top sailors were sparkles in their father’s eyes, but it has kept pace with the times. It has some of the strictest equipment control rules in the sport of sailing. While these rules do not make every boat identical, they do make sure every boat is a Finn within the strict building tolerances laid down by the designer, Rickard Sarby, seven decades ago.
The famous seaworthiness of the boat allows race organisers to run races for the Finn even in extreme wind and wave conditions. A good example of that was the exceptionally tough medal race at the 2008 Olympics in Qingdao, as well as two days in Rio in 2016, when the Finn fleet was one of the few fleets allowed onto the open ocean on the big wind days. Those two days outside Guanabara Bay provided some of the most spectacular and dramatic sailing footage and images ever seen by viewers of the Olympics.
The shape used today, is, give or take the tolerances, the same shape that Sarby drew all those years ago. Over those decades, the class has embraced new technologies both for construction and materials, but also for controlling construction and materials, while maintaining the integrity of the original concept. The swing test introduced by Gilbert Lamboley in the 1970s was a revolution in keeping boats as alike as possible.
In fact the Finn rules, combined with the dedication and expertise of the Finn equipment manufacturers, has enabled the production of almost identical boats, and within any production line of Finns, the boats are more alike than perhaps any other class.
But that is only half the story; the tolerances in the boat and the adaptable rig enable a hugely diverse group of people to race on even terms. There is no need to be a certain weight or a certain height – though certainly the upper range of either would help – as the rig can be modified to suit a sailor’s style and physical traits so he can sail as fast as the guy in the next boat. That’s easy in theory, but hard in practice, and that is a large part of the challenge, and the attraction, of the Finn.
Throughout the coming year we will again be bringing you the sailor’s stories, of the successes and the defeats, and the trials and tribulations of a group of elite athletes sailing a classic power dinghy with one thing on their minds. Timeless Finn ambition.