You are here: HomeThe ClassClass News

The Class

Another year, another island

- this time Sicily! The event looked like being another Brit benefit, until, on the last day, Andrea Bonezzi came from behind to take the title, watched by his friends and family.

After a Europeans at Bastad in Sweden (it’s not the word, but how you say it that counts), won by Graham Scott, it was time for another trip to Australia.

With the boats all now sporting the new wonder material, Pro-Grip (how did we manage before??) Chris Burrough again looked the man to beat until Barry Watson, making a one off return to the class in a borrowed boat, snuck through to win yet another title.

Chris Burrough, one of the fastest sailors
never to win the top prize!

Stuart Jones at his best (i.e., not a sheep in sight, nor has he been sick
in the back of his car!) showing top class control at Garda.

With so many new boats around, the Contender fleet tried once more for Olympic glory, yet despite the best efforts of Torkel Lindhal and Frank Havik, the Finn retained the single handed slot and the chance for the Contender to experience greater glories had passed.

No matter, there was still a World Championship to win and with the venue a class favourite, Medemblik, a 100+ boat fleet was assured.

It went to the wire in the last race as Nigel Walbank and Andrea Bonezzi slugged it out in a tacking duel. Whilst they were otherwise engaged, Stuart Jones sneaked through to grab his first Championship win.

21 today!

Steve Daniels, showing the poise and form
that brought him two world titles.
But still no key to the Olympic door for the Contender!

The third decade of the Contender started with the fleet back in Europe (just) as they travelled north to the Swedish town of Hamburgsund. The usual suspects were there, Barry Watson, Keith Paul, Schappi Harpprecht, but so too were the forerunners of a new breed of Contender sailor. Conditions that week varied from rough to ‘interesting’, a term that failed to do justice to some of the jury decisions about what constituted pumping. Watson, looking for revenge after Santa Cruz, found what he described as the “biggest ****ing hole in the history of sailing”. No such problems for Jon Webb, who sailed a consistent series to take the title ahead of Frank Suchanek.

Watson took solace by winning the next Europeans, then it was a case of ‘off to Brisbane’. In very windy and testing conditions that should have favoured the fearless Australian sailors, it was another Brit, Steve Daniels, that blew them away on their home turf. Steve retained his title when the fleet went to Travemünde; other hopefuls John Browett, Steve Grimes and Nigel Walbank failed to pull together good results across the series.

At about this time, the old chestnut of Olympic status became a hot topic once more. Despite the obvious charms of the Contender and some excellent lobbying by the class, the entrenched Finn clung on to its position.

The whole sailing scene was changing though as skiffs started to appear in many shapes and sizes, including a number of single handed versions. Suddenly and through no fault of its own, the Contender was no longer the hottest trapeze harness in town.

1990… and with a zero at the end of the number, it had to be Hayling Island.  Steve Daniel was the next sailor to aim to ‘do the Pitman’ and go for three titles in a row. A rapidly improving Andrea Bonezzi could also have won, but got a horror story redress judgement after another boat damaged his rig. Chris Burrough joined John Browett as the fastest sailors NOT to win the Championships, which instead went to John Hardman.

It was Stuart Jones who was best known for his liking for lamb; John Hardman preferred his prey to get their own drinks. Well, if you’ve just won the World Championship, what is a man to do?
(Photo courtesy of Jim and Dee Mackonochie)

California Dreaming

“Say, okay man, this is California dude, chill.”
Gil Woolley demonstrates the IYRU approved bong pipe!
This second phase of the Contender history ended with the Class back in the US, at Santa Cruz YC (home of Gil Woolley).
Watson was there to get that all important third win in a row, but a poor event by his standards coincided with local Mark Starratt putting together an excellent series to become the first – and only American to take the title. Sadly, Mark’s undoubted skills were soon lost to the fleet as he was to die at an early age, leaving the third era of Contendering seeking yet another new Champion.

The magical 3 figure mark

By now the fleets at the top events were reaching that magical three figure mark, a milestone that was passed when 114 competitors turned up for the Garda Worlds. This time it was Australian Barry Watson who would be the man to beat, ahead of Keith Paul who was busy showing that he could still handle the breezy conditions in his old age! Third place went to the leading German boat, as Joachim Rosler confirmed his status as a front runner in the fleet.
“Come up and see my hi-fi”!  At the end of the week, the weather at Struer improved enough to let Keith Paul sneak into third place – and the prize of a Bang & Olufsen hi-fi system.
Liz Andrews, who sailed well in conditions that many found really difficult, has just said “but you’re old enough to be my father!”
(Photo courtesy of Jim and Dee Mackonochie)

After the warmth and sunshine of Garda, Struer, the Class’s first visit to Danish waters for a Worlds, was wet, windy, windier, wetter, windier still and then it rained even harder. The campsites flooded; sailors were forced into trying to ‘pull’ girls so as to get a dry and warm bed (their intentions were of course completely honourable), yet none of this seemed to bother Watson, who dominated the first 6 races. Tony Smith was the best of the rest, with Keith Paul third. Spare a thought for poor Greg Lamb, who wiped out at high speed and broke his leg. It really was that sort of week!  


For 1981, yet another new venue beckoned, Toronto. This time the front of the fleet was dominated by a battle between Newlands and Smith, that was finally decided in favour of Newlands, as he ‘did a Pitman’ in taking three consecutive titles. After so much globe trotting, the Contenders then returned to more familiar territory, with Medemblik hosting the next Championships. At long last, ten years after joining the fleet, Tony Smith finally won the Worlds, a resulted that also confirmed the Smith hull and rig package as the best replacement for the existing Rondar / Banks set up.

After giving the impression for a year or two that the sailors in the fleet had finally grown up, the Medemblik dinner undid all their good work; candles were turned into javelins, whilst the one handed sailor Mike Hartley was ambushed by a barrage of airborne whipped cream!

Sneaky Keith Paul wriggled his way onto the final podium place to prove that when the conditions were trying, he was still a difficult sailor to beat.

"I only wanted to win a new pair of jeans”
– Tony Smith makes it to the top of the podium at Medemblik, flanked by Peter Newlands and Keith Paul.
(Photo courtesy of Jim and Dee Mackonochie)

The Contender fleet then faced a major dilemma about going to South Africa for the next Championships. The moral right won the day and a hastily convened event was well hosted out in Australia, an event that Smith made clearly his own by winning the first 6 races. Meanwhile, more bad behaviour, this time out afloat at the San Alpidio Europeans. It started when a visiting Pitman led the ‘we want a blast’ brigade out for a sail, after the Race Officer had thought it too windy and so had gone for lunch!  When the wind finally eased, it was crafty Keith again who used his big event experience to win through to take his first Contender Championships.

Antipodean heaven

With the Contender now very much an established international class, many of the names and personalities who had been so much a part of the scene in the early years, now moved aside.

For a while Pitman’s place looked as if it would be taken by the new ‘young gun’ Geoff Whitfield, but the second decade would belong to the very fast and committed sailors from New Zealand and Australia. Tony Smith may have won the 1978 Garda Europeans, but when the fleet made their one and only trip to the ‘Land of the long white cloud’, for the Takapuna Worlds at Auckland, it was local Pete Newlands who best survived the conditions experienced in the tail of Tropical Cyclone ‘Henry’, to win a hard fought series.  


Peter Newlands put in many months of hard preparation, for the first Contender World Championship to be held in his homeland in New Zealand.
(Photo courtesy of Sea Spray Magazine)
One of the best heavy weather sailors the class has ever seen, Geoff Whitfield winning the Junior World Title at Takapuna Bay, Auckland.
(Photo courtesy of Sea Spray Magazine)
Then it was back to Hayling Island and that rarity in Championship racing, a dead heat, as Newlands held on to his title, albeit shared with Whitfield.

For those who couldn’t make the journey out to NZ, there were always the Europeans at Silverplana in Switzerland. Such a beautiful location with great breezes but capsize at your peril, the water was freezing. To add to the discomfort of the fleet, one night it snowed…in August! Whitfield raced away to his first full title, whilst behind him Schappi Harpprecht and Ray Collins battled it out for the runners up spot, with Collins just winning it on the last day!

Competitive high spirits



The Europeans at Hayling were won by one of the sailors from the early days of the class, Joachim Harpprecht, who beat a newcomer to the class, Keith Paul, in one of the few weeks of light airs. Then, in 1978, to end the decade, the class headed off to the sun at Lake Garda, an event that became famous for the emergence of Tony Smith as the new man to beat at the front of the fleet.

Geoff Whitfield leading David Pitman, as they race out towards the top mark at Lake Garda in the 1978 Europeans. The pressures of being front runners at this regatta kept them out of the high spirited behaviour ashore.

Garda also went down in history, as the location of some of the highest spirited behaviour the class had seen. The sight of the 'British Contender Team’ Transit van, parked in the town centre flower beds was ample testimony to the fun that could be had in the class.

Yet, as the Contenders moved into their second decade, some of the relaxed atmosphere would be lost, as the Contender matured into a top international dinghy, albeit one that was still being denied its place in the Olympic Regatta scene.

Feared throughout dinghy parks across Europe, not
to mention the odd ornamental flower bed or two
(and a post box), the social hub of the fleet
revolved around the British Team van.

First world championships


  An action (?) shot from the first World Championships at Hayling Island in 1970.
The boat on the left is K1, the original ‘Contention’!

In 1970, the first World Championships were held at Hayling Island, an event won by ‘wild man’ Dick Jobbins.

Dick was destined not to stay on in the class and for the next few years, it was the Australian sailor, Peter Hollis, who was the man to beat on the International circuit.

The UK though had a secret weapon in the form of the an aggressively physical sailor, who would answer to the name of David Pitman – before going afloat and doing a total horizon job on the whole fleet.

The Class Constitution called for the World Championships to rotate between the North and South Hemispheres, plus, where possible, events in the Americas. When the Worlds went south for the first time, Pitman beat Hollis on his home water to take the World Championship title for the first time. With the Worlds being held out of Europe, the first European Championship was held, with Kiel, up on the Baltic as the chosen location.

As the first ten years of the class drew to a close, the UK was very much the place to be, with many of the top New Zealand and Australian sailors basing themselves at Weston Sailing Club, to sharpen up their skills on the excellent competition there. The sailors and their boats were now becoming far more proficient at racing in breeze, which was just as well, as the summers of 1976 and 1977 were very hot and sunny…but breezy.

The class is launched

To help the Contender along, through the difficult early days, a Launch Committee was formed from the ‘movers and shakers’ of the day to see the Contender through the process of getting builders and National Associations formed.

In this task they were soon to be joined by an irrepressible bundle of perpetual motion that went under the name of Freddie Gale. Freddie did not just get the boat established in the UK, as with his ever present partner in crime, Mike Baker, they promoted the new boat throughout Europe, making sure that the class had a true ‘international’ flavour.

Freddie Gale, 3rd from left, complete with friends,
a cigar clamped between the teeth, and a drink,
at an event either in the Netherlands or Germany.

Note Mike Beggs (with hair) in Slick Chick / K16 overall.
(picture courtesy of Mike Baker / Suzie Gale)


The Contender today

The International Contender class now has fleets in more than twelve countries throughout the world. There are over 2400 Contenders built in various parts of the world, with 148 boats built in the last five years.

Gil Woolley in action.  (Photo with kind permission from

A star is born

La Baule was hot, sunny and with light winds. This suited some of the competitors, but not those boats with a high wetted area. The Contender looked very racy; very light and with an incredibly low freeboard, and showed flashes of form when the wind did briefly arrive.  For the rest of the time the helm was either in the cockpit or hunched up on the side deck, a feeling that we all know is hardly conducive to sparkling sailing. With this second set of Trials again inconclusive, the IYRU called for yet more, this time at Medemblik.

A revised Contender, with more sail area and freeboard competed and once the breeze arrived, ran away with the Selection Committee’s nomination.  With the Contender now selected by the IYRU, the powerful ‘Finn = Olympic singlehander’ lobby defended their self interest, in preserving the status quo of classes selected for the Games. 

How would the IYRU turn their new singlehander into a fully fledged class with international appeal?
"Okay - where are the other 146 boats?"
By putting the number 147 on the sail,
Bob Miller tried to give the impression
that this was an existing class.
The IYRU were 'not amused'
Bob Miller sailing ‘Skippy’, the boat that would eventually win the IYRU Selection Trials at Medemblik.

Dorothy is dropped

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, an Australian Skiff designer and sailor had also picked up on the IYRU search for a new dinghy. Away from the European influences that had resulted in boats such as the Trapez and Unit, Bob Miller instead drew on his skiff background to produce a boat that became known as ‘Miller’s Missile’.

With a simple box section hull, featuring little rocker in the keel line, a fully battened main and a trapeze for the helm, the boat flew in breeze, but as Bob was to later admit, the boat “Sucked in the light stuff”.

When it came to the next phase of the design process, Bob simply lifted the hull shape of the Flying Dutchman and shrunk it down until it met the design criteria. This was a far more seaworthy and practical boat, that Bob was to name the Dorothy, after his wife.

A very old but rare picture of ‘Miller’s missile’,
Bob’s first attempt at designing a single hander.
With the next Trials as La Baule approaching, Bob needed to get his boat to Europe and being short of money, sought out a sponsor. An Australian company had recently launched a new sailcloth, that they had named ‘Contender’. They offered financial support to the new boat, which underwent a name change; Dorothy was dropped and the boat that was despatched to La Baule was now known as the ‘Contender’.

On trial

To choose their new class, the IYRU held a set of trials at Weymouth in the autumn of 1965. The International Canoe was there, despite having been told in advance that even if it were to win the Trial Series, that it would not be selected.

The Finn was there, as a benchmark of performance.  Solos, OKs and single handed Fireballs were sailed, along with a host of new designs. There was some consternation at Weymouth when Paul Elvstrøm turned up with his new Trapez dinghy, which as it utilised the trapeze, was clearly outside of the design remit. With four consecutive gold medals in the Finn, sailing in a boat that was hi-tech when compared with most of the other entries and that he knew very well, Elvstrøm was expected to race away with the nomination, but only if he was allowed to compete.

Faced with prospect of turning away the biggest name in dinghy racing, the organisers relented. Elvstrøm raced, but although he quickly proved the potential of racing a dinghy from the trapeze, his performances were far from the expected horizon job. As the series progressed, it was the Canoe out in front, race after race, followed by the Trapez. Behind these two came the star turn of the series, David Thomas in his own designed ‘Unit’ dinghy.

The IYRU now had a problem, as the Unit had a very valid claim, that having been the best of the correctly designed boats, that it should be rewarded with International status. The response of the IYRU was to call for a second set of Trials, this time to be held at La Baule.

Elvstrøm practising in his Trapez dinghy at
Lymington, on the South Coast of England.
The rig was incredibly complex, with two sets of diamonds that Elvstrøm could adjust whilst sailing.
The boat also featured some novel features, such as a one piece moulded rudder and tiller.

AGM Minutes 2008

Draft Minutes of Annual General Meeting 2008
21 August, 2008 at Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Meeting started at 1740 hrs and ended at 2000 hrs
The meeting was opened by chairman Neil Smith.
Apologies from: President Jan von der Bank and Treasurer Tim Holden
The draft minutes of the 2007 AGM were approved as posted.

Chairman's report

Canada continues to use its club boat to help build the class - we have seen two members join after using for a while.
Have used Duncan Ellis to generate content and are looking for help managing content on our website - we will pay for it.
Tim Holden is stepping down as Treasurer, we need a new treasurer.
Mol Mollatt is stepping down as Technical Chairman. Need a new TC.
The class is growing in most sectors of the World, this last year we saw that Italy, Denmark, North America are doing well.  The UK scene seems a bit stalled but should be helped with a Worlds coming up in Weymouth.
A big focus for the ICA will be trying to find out how to help builders access new clients and make more boats.

Treasurer's report

Payments of dues have been received from the following countries:

  • Australia. In addition, payments have been received from Australia for 9 boats built in the moulds paid for by the ICA. That leaves a balance of 11 more payments expected until the cost of the moulds is fully amortized.
  • Great Britain
  • France
  • Italy
  • North America.

Current bank balances include approximately 21000 Euros and 280 Sterling (British pounds)

Technical Report

Alan Mollatt reported that the ISAF started a project to rewrite the Contender class rules but the
project person had been retasked with other work. Technical Chairman will endevour to have the
ISAF renew and complete the task. The reason for the rewrite is to bring the rules in line with
ISAF model rules practices.

President's report
Read by Chairman Neil Smith

Firstly, as the PRESIDENT of the class I would like to give everyone sailing in Canada my warmest greetings. You are the core of the class!  At the moment I strongly regret I can't be with you racing (And that is despite of sitting in warm and calm sundown-conditions outside of Corfu-Yacht-Club). Now I will have to wait till cold and most likely rainy Denmark next year to have a go on another title - and for sure will have to battle hard against Sören... ;.)  Anyway... for my part of the business I must say I'm quite satisfied with how we have performed and what we have achieved. Several big turnout-events and a very important Worlds on the American Continent show everyone outside our circle, we are a very lively class. Let's keep it going that way!
Now into some details...

When I started, I wanted to help the French to establish sth. like a Contender-fleet in France. This is just starting to happen and I am very grateful to welcome the French with their just established national association.
I will try and put even more of my focus (and class money... at least 2000 Euros - please discuss this under "treasurers business"!!!) on their Europeans in 2010. I think we should support them by displaying the Contender on the Paris boat show, accompanied by sth like a class portrait in any French yachting magazine., plus invitations and free charter boats for some top french sailors (from 505? Hobie cats? Lasers? Europe?) Again, please discuss and let me know the outcome!!!

As for our Internet-presence, I still have the feeling we urgently need to "sex up"... both from the contents and from the presentation! We still need someone being an editor for articles on our page, as seemingly none of us "officials" seems to have the will or skill to do it... I remember our discussions about how much money Jan Tofaute from Germany should be allowed for maintaining the page on the technical side... We should come up with at least the same amount of money to find someone helping to advertise the class!
My feeling still is: The Contender will only survive the severe changes within the Dinghy scene, if we make sure we present ourselves as a young, attractive SKIFF-LIKE class. We desperately have to work on our Image to attract young sailors. It does not help much to gather old farts like Neil and myself... We need the Kids! People like Christoph Homeier or Marcus, or Marco Versari!

There has been some quarrel about the interpretation of our class rules.
In the Championship-rules, for instance, we seem to be desperately needing something clarifying the need and the use of fleet- or qualifying-races. My feeling is: We shall not have qualifying-races in fleets under a minimum size of 120 Boats! This number has proved to be still quite manageable off one starting line in recent years and it saves a lot of people feeling stuck in the strongest group or in the second best fleet only.
Another important issue will be a more efficient management of the class. Here we shall have to have a close look (and maybe propose some refreshments and changes) on our rules that were designed some 40 years ago. Especially regarding the use or the function of "national representatives" within the AGM-elected ICA-Committee (as we knew it in recent years). Neil will probably give a shortcut of what has happened lately... We need a good information-structure on the one hand, that makes sure nobody feels left outside. But we also need a very limited circle of persons that really are allowed "to talk". Otherwise, that is my feeling, it will be even harder in the future, to recruit volunteers for doing ICA-jobs!
But I am sure we can work out sth. before the next AGM that will find a majority of Contender sailors approval.
So much from me this time,
good sailing to you all in Canada and see you all next year!
Jan von der Bank

Secretary's report

Currently there are 590 members of yahoo-groups compared with 513 in 2007, 664 in 2006, 559 members in 2005 and 386 members in 2004.  Note, we count email addresses. There are certainly duplicate and/or abandoned email addresses in the count.

New boat sales figures
29    2007
35    2006
43    2005
28    2004
16    2003
26    2002
50    2001
18    2000
33    1999
25    1998

2424 boats have been issued plaques representing new boats since the inception of the Contender class in 1969. (Through the end of 2007)

< Go back to main list           Go to page 2 >
                                                  (Contender Class Rules 2008, Business Arising, Election of Officers,
                                                   Upcoming Events, Proposals for Rules Changes)

The Boat

The Contender is a high performance racing dinghy, light, fast, spectacular. A single hander, where the helmsman controls the boat from the trapeze wire to balance the forces from the large sail. Its excellent performance in stronger winds and waves reflects its Australian origin. The Contender was designed as a potential successor to the Finn dinghy as a class for Olympic single handed racing. For the last 40 years, the Contender has been the only high performance single-handed dinghy that offers international racing in competitive fleets. Worldwide, about 2,400 boats have been built and sailed in 17 countries.

The Contender has been a recognised International Class by the International Sailing Federation since 1968. It has proven to be suitable for a wide variety of sailors, both male and female. The weight of successful sailors range from 55kg to 95kg (120lbs to 210lbs) and heights from 165cm to 200cm (5ft 4 to 6ft 4). Sailing a Contender requires a good deal of agility and athletic ability. The close racing during championships rewards outstanding boat handling as well as tactical skill. A race in a Contender is a combination of physical and mental challenge, with equal chances for the fittest youngsters and the more experienced sailors. Contender champions' ages vary from 20 to 50 years. The developments of the boat have enabled the boat to be raced even in rough open sea conditions.

Design: Ben Lexcen
(Australia, 1967)
Length: 4.87 m
Beam: 1.50 m
Hull weight: 83 kg
Sail area: 10.8 m2
PN: 994


The early years B.C?(Before Contenders)

There are so many classes today, that it is hard to imagine a time when the choice of dinghy for a single handed sailor wanting to race internationally consisted of the International Canoe, the Finn or the OK.

The Finn of course was very much ‘top dog’ as since 1952, it had been the Olympic dinghy, difficult to tune and with the then unsophisticated rig, making it something of a brute to sail.

No wonder then that as the 1960s started to swing, sailors started looking for a boat where agility, rather than weight and body strength, would play a greater part in determining results. The path to improved performance had already been highlighted in 1962, with the lightweight flying scow from Peter Milne, the Fireball. This was a boat that was fun, fun, fun.

What was now needed was a single handed dinghy that could offer the same thrills and spills.

Eventually, the IYRU (now ISAF) agreed to sponsor a new performance single handed dinghy and published a set of criteria that allowed for a more powerful rig than was set on the Finn, that could be balanced by a sitting out ‘aid’. The choice of words is important, as sliding seats and other aids to extending the helm's weight outboard were deemed acceptable, but a trapeze was not. The view of the yachtsmen of the day, who ran sailing as a sport, was that sailing a boat single handed from the trapeze, let alone racing it, was ‘unseamanlike’!


  In the early 1960s, Finns, like this restored Fairey boat from that era, were very much the top singlehander.
The IYRU wanted a more modern boat and would accept a sliding seat but not a boat rigged with a trapeze.

2007 Class Rules Approved and Published! Effective Now!

           Hi Contender sailors       
Contender Class Rules 2007 
             Have been Published          
                  Best Regards            
 Gil Woolley, Soren Andreasen  

Continue Reading

National Associations

  flag españa
Great Britain

Class Rules

The International Contender Class Rules are regularly reviewed. The aim is to both develop the class and keep old boats competitive. 

The latest class rules of the International Contender Class are available on World Sailing:

Every year a World Championship is being held. These truely international events as well as European Championships are governed by the following rules:  ICA Championship Rules 2018

Jason Beebe Runner Up

Facts and Figures

The Class Rules

The International Contender Class Rules are regularly reviewed in order to prohibit the
use of exotic materials or expensive equipment. This prevents the escalating cost of sailing
"the Ultimate Singlehander".

In recent year the costs of spars from aluminium have been rising while availability
is decreasing, the cost of carbon fibre spars has been decreasing, therefore the class
has approved the use of carbon fibre masts and booms. Loose footed sails are now permitted.

Class members have repeatedly refused to reduce the bare hull weight because members
wish to preserve the market value of older hulls. Change the rig, protect the hull

The rules permit licensed and amateur builders to construct this boat. Hulls are
built successfully in all wood, composite glassfibre hull/ wood deck and all glassfibre.

You can view or download the Class Rules by clicking here.


The International Contender has proven to be suitable for a wide variety of sailors,
both male and female. The weight of successful sailors range from 55kg to 95kg (120lbs to 210lbs) and
heights from 165cm to 200cm (5ft 4 to 6ft 4). Contender champions' ages vary from 20 to 50 years.
The developments of the boat have enabled the boat to be raced even in rough open
sea conditions.

World Championships 2008 Boat Data

If you want to know why the top 10 Contenders at the 2008 Worlds were so fast, take a look at the boat data below.
pdf Worlds 2008 Boat Data