This article is about a success story, the development of an approximately 30 boat large fleet of RS Feva XLs in British Columbia, with both community sailing centers and private clubs such as the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club involved. The boat, which is simply referred to here as the Feva, is proving to provide a great platform for youth sailing, as it welcomes beginners and advanced sailors alike, boys and girls, in the 10 to 16 age group.
Year after year, youth sailing in Canada typically remains pretty similar. Boys and girls join learn to sail programmes, usually in Optimists, and then move to dinghies for teens, mostly the 420 and the Laser. The 29er is also an option for more advanced competitive sailors, but over the past ten years has seen its ups and downs. The general picture looks very similar year after year. People in charge of the sport, from the club to the provincial and federal levels, try to increase participation, but without much effect. In many clubs, there is actually a decline in participation in youth sailing.
Against this background, a truly noteworthy development occurred this past year in BC. It is the emergence of a substantial fleet of Feva dinghies. Several clubs decided to purchase such boats and, within a year, there were fleets attending regattas. The peak participation was 24 boats (i.e. 48 sailors) representing six different clubs at the Commodore’s Cup held at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club.
The clubs, from BC’s Lower Mainland, were the:
- Hollyburn Sailing Club;
- Royal Vancouver Yacht Club;
- Deep Cove Yacht Club;
- Bowen Island Yacht Club;
- West Vancouver Yacht Club;
- Surrey Sailing Club
No such rapid development has been seen in Canada over the past years in any youth dinghy classes.
Why the Feva
The Feva is a 12 ft dinghy with main, jib and gennaker, designed by Paul Handley in 2002. It is produced in the UK by RS Sailing. There are now over 7,000 boats all over the world. The boat can be used at all stages of a youth sailor’s development, from the very first steps to competing at the international level. It’s a double-handed boat, which is appreciated by many youth sailors who prefer sailing together rather than alone in traditional training boats like an Optimist. Lots of learning can actually be achieved with a transfer of knowledge from the helm to the crew.
It’s a robust boat, with a rotomolded hull and aluminum spars. The boat accommodates a wide range of ages and sailor physiques, as a light younger crew can be paired with an older slightly heavier helm. It’s also possible to have a complete beginner as a crew, as young as say 10 year old, with a helm who has already mastered the basic sailing skills. The boat features a gennaker, and enables youth sailors to learn asymmetric downwind racing. It immediately provides lots activity for both the helm and the crew, and makes it a fun, exciting boat. It’s a fast boat, yet sturdy enough for club ownership.
Contrary to single-handed youth dinghies, the boat allows for teamwork to be learned at an early stage. This helps youth sailors to develop the social interactions skills that are necessary to succeed in boats with two or more crews at later stages of their sailing career. Unfortunately, in Canada, most youth sailors presently either learn such double-handed skills at a relatively late stage (say at age 15 or 16) or not at all, if they choose to sail the Laser 4.7 or the Radial just after the Opti.
Now, how was it decided to opt for the Feva in British Columbia? The Director of Youth Sailing at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, Hunter Lowden, who is an accomplished sailor having represented Canada at the 2012 London Olympics in the 49er, explains:
“RVYC selected the RS Feva XL when our Club 420 fleet was due for replacement: we split the purchase into five 29ers and ten RS Feva XLs. For us, the 29er class is the most appropriate double-handed platform for the club’s developing youth racers, yet it’s not an appropriate class for beginner or intermediate sailors. We required a supplemental class that offered a suitable learning platform to take novice and intermediate sailors in the Learn to Sail program and give them the skills to progress into our 29er development and Laser development teams.”
“ The class that led the selection criteria for this development boat was the RS Feva XL Race. It was lighter and more modern than the C420, had an asymmetric spinnaker, and was much more suitable for smaller children who often struggled with the C420’s size/mass in CANSail 1 through CANSail 4 programs. We really want to make sure we’re not being left behind, and want to ensure our future sailors have the opportunity to experience good levels of competition, and a chance to develop using modern equipment.”
The Feva as a Transition Boat
The most common boat in Canada for youth sailing under age 15 is the Optimist, which is suitable for competitive sailing up to a sailor weight of approximately 110 lbs. Some sailors will reach this weight at age 11, others at age 15. So the longevity of a youth’s time in the Optimist can be physically limited. Sailors too heavy for the Optimist typically move to the 420, the 29er or the Laser. Actually those three boats require significantly heavier sailor weights than 110 lbs, and the immediate transition towards those boats is often problematic.
With a boat such as the Feva, two Optimist sailors can essentially jump in the boat right away, and race in the boat for one, two or three years. As simple as that. So the boat is excellent not only as a learn to sail platform for beginners, and a learn to race platform afterwards, but also as a transition race boat after the Optimist. It allows youth sailors to learn the much needed double-handed skills as well as advanced techniques such as asymmetric downwind gennaker sailing.
What about after the Feva? As the boat can be sailed up to approx 140 lbs (with a lighter crew of say 100 lbs), and age 15, 16 or even 17 — the class is pretty flexible on this –, many options are possible after. This includes double handed dinghies (420, 29er, etc), single hande dinghies (Laser 4.7, Radial), modern one-design sportboats (J70, Melges 20, etc.) or more conventional club racing (Albacore, Shark, J24, etc.). Having developed advanced double-handed skills, sailors out of the Feva can easily adapt to all these platforms.
So there are many options after the Feva, and the choice will depend on the sailor’s interest and ambitions, the fleets existing locally, the availability of a crew for double-handed boats, the available budget for the sailor’s annual programme, the opportunities to attend nearby regattas with significant fleets, to name just a few factors. This choice will typically happen at an age comprised between say 15 and 17, when sailors will have a good understanding of their medium and long-term sailing goals.
Canadian Participation in the World Championships
What was great with this Feva initiative in British Columbia was for several teams to go to the 2018 Worlds, which were held in Clearwater, FL in April 2018. There were 4 teams from British Columbia, as well as 2 teams from Ontario. Indeed, several clubs in Ontario now have fleets of Fevas, the main one to date being the Sturgeon Lake Sailing Club. Other clubs with fleets include the Nepean Sailing Club in Ottawa and the Etobicoke Yacht Club in the Toronto area. See the picture of the Ontario and BC teams in Clearwater.
Jonah MacKinnon, Race Coach at the Hollyburn Sailing Club, coached the Canadian team at the 2018 Worlds in Clearwater. Here is what he has to say about his experience:
“ It had only been just under a year before the 2018 Feva Worlds when the first shipment of boats arrived at our club. Three clubs, Hollyburn Sailing Club (my home club), Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, and West Vancouver Yacht Club, invested in them initially, and they were an instant success. With the Feva’s inception into our provincial circuit, the class quickly gained momentum.”
“ Upon hearing of Feva Worlds happening on North American soil, we found ourselves on the way to Florida. It was a wonderful experience and a well ran regatta overall. It was really one of the more affordable events of that caliber that I’ve seen and it really cemented the classes status here in BC. We are looking forward to continued growth and potentially finding ourselves next July in Tuscany, Italy, for the 2019 Feva Worlds.”
Towards a Recognition of the Feva as a Youth Development Boat
Several countries have already formally recognized the Feva as a youth sailing development platform. It’s already big in the UK, with over 100 boats at the national championship. There are growing fleets in Italy and France. In the US too, the boat is now more and more present, including in the North East – which provides opportunities for Canadian sailors to go to race there, and vice-versa.
The Feva is growing in Canada. How fast it will grow will depend on how fast clubs embrace it. The experience in BC shows that it can happen pretty fast. Let’s hope that in 2019, or at the latest in 2020, the Feva will become part of the mainstream of youth sailing, and will be well represented at Canada’s Youth Sailing Championships, prominent regattas such as CORK in Kingston, as well as international events such as the Worlds.
Such development of the Feva will constitute a milestone to strengthen youth sailing in Canada and introduce our wonderful sport to many more children and teenagers, across the country, and to keep them enjoying sailing in the future.
No Trapeze: An important point is that the absence of trapeze on the Feva is actually an asset, as it enables both sailors on the boat to alternate, at least during training, in the roles of helm and crew. In boats such as the 420 and the 29er, the taller/heavier sailor will typically be limited to the role of crew, which can be frustrating, as often it’s the older, more experienced sailor, who needs to be crew, while, in terms of sailor development, his/her natural role would be the helm. Trapeze skills can easily be learned later on.
Stayed Mast: Another important aspect is that the Feva rig, with its stayed mast, is fully functional and tuneable, allowing the sailors at a young age to learn the essentials of rig tuning, vang role and sail control. The stayed mast allows the mast to bend in different areas which allows adjusting the air flow and the power of the sails. In Israel, youth sailors used to race a local class called the Seagull which resembles a primitive Rs Feva and geard them towards success in classes such as the 420 and the 470.
Cross Training: Some of the most advanced youth sailing programmes in Europe implement cross-training, i.e. for youth racing sailors to sail both single-handed, typically in the Optimist, and double-handed, the latter being done in the Feva.
The author is thankful to several individuals having kindly provided comments on drafts of the article.