Menu
Allianz and Afloat - Supporting Irish Boating

Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

SB20s Will Come Of Age At World Championship With Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire

3rd September 2022
Putting the “sport” into Sportsboat…..SB20s revelling in a real breeze as other boats scuttle back to port
Putting the “sport” into Sportsboat…..SB20s revelling in a real breeze as other boats scuttle back to port

In 2002, the ingenious Laser SB3 was unleashed on an unsuspecting world by Performance Sailcraft as one of several innovative craft that enabled the leading Laser builders to offer loyal Laser sailors – already in their several thousands with the Laser itself becoming an Olympic class in 1996 – the option of a size upgrade without having to leave the familiar comfort of the Laser fold.

Thus (according to some mathematical pedants), as there is no Year Zero in the history of organisations, then this year the SB20, as the boat is now known, is coming of age. But whether the SB20 is accepted as 20 years old in 2022, or 21, is really neither here nor there. What matters is that next week’s Worlds in Dublin Bay at the RIYC will be providing truly global competition for a boat whose concept still seems as modern as tomorrow – she’s “Bad na nOg”, the Boat of the Ever-Young.

The Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire has been hosting events since 1831, and its 1850-built clubhouse is the world’s oldest complete purpose-built yacht club HQ.The Royal Irish YC in Dun Laoghaire has been hosting events since 1831, and its 1850-built clubhouse is the world’s oldest complete purpose-built yacht club HQ. 

DOES THE SB20 HAVE CORK HARBOUR ORIGINS?

Yet although Dublin Bay is no stranger to hosting the worlds, with a major staging in 2008, if you scratch around Cork Harbour you’ll soon find sailors who believe – with a great deal of justification – that the germ of the SB20 was generated in their part of the world.

After all, the creator was Tony Castro, who had started as a yacht designer on the staff of Ron Holland’s office at Crosshaven in the 1970s, and stayed on in the neighbourhood when he branched out on his own. His name came up in lights when he designed the One Tonner Justine IV for Frank Woods of Dun Laoghaire’s National Yacht Club in 1981, the boat duly being guided to the World title at Crosshaven by Harold Cudmore that same year.

So when - around 1990 - some bright sparks in Crosshaven wondered how they might transfer the marvellous spirit of their National 18 class to a larger stage in a developing concept to which cruiser-racer types made an input, the result in 1994 was the 26ft Cork 1720 Sportsboat, designed by Tony Castro.

“The Boat of the Ever-Young” – SB20 romping across a sunlit sea“The Boat of the Ever-Young” – SB20 romping across a sunlit sea

That characterfui class has had its ups and downs since, but there’s no doubting that in 2022 under the thoughtful chairmanship of David Love, the 1720s in Ireland have been experiencing a great year, turning out in such numbers – with many boats beautifully restored – that they were the backbone of this year’s Volvo Cork Week.

Yet there’s no escaping the reality that with their deep fixed bulb keel and that inescapable hull length of 26ft, the 1720 can be quite a beast for regular road-trailing. So around ten years after the boat appeared, the new Millennium found the Performance Sailcraft people and Tony Castro considering a 20ft version with a retractable keel.

THE ENGINEERING CHALLENGE OF A DEEP BALLASTED BULB KEEL

It was quite a challenge, as this was to be a real keel offering very positive stability with a substantial ballast bulb, and not some glorified centreboard. But in the final analysis, the maintenance challenge with boats is that in due course, things that should move easily don’t move at all, and things that definitely shouldn’t move inevitably do so in the fullness of time.

A relatively heavy retractable ballast keel covers these options from both angles, particularly as you’re almost always battling the corrosive effect on moving parts of salt water. Yet the keel conundrum was a challenge to be solved, and once that was done, the Laser SB3 could be offered to the world.

The SB20 profile. Even with a fixed keel, carrying that high-leverage ballast bulb presents a real engineering challenge. But if you plan to make it safely retractable, yet with a minimum of intrusion into the hull, it becomes an MSc effort to get it right.The SB20 profile. Even with a fixed keel, carrying that high-leverage ballast bulb presents a real engineering challenge. But if you plan to make it safely retractable, yet with a minimum of intrusion into the hull, it becomes an MSc effort to get it right.

This frequently-used SB20 photo is popular because it tells us so much about the design. Simplicity seems to be the dominant characteristic, yet it took complex thinking to keep the cockpit clear when the keel is lowered and held immovably in place. And even something as straightforward as an above-boom vang has been incorporated to optimise space. This is Michael O’Connor’s TED of the Royal St George YC, current favourite in the Irish contingent in the up-coming worlds. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’BrienThis frequently-used SB20 photo is popular because it tells us so much about the design. Simplicity seems to be the dominant characteristic, yet it took complex thinking to keep the cockpit clear when the keel is lowered and held immovably in place. And even something as straightforward as an above-boom vang has been incorporated to optimise space. This is Michael O’Connor’s TED of the Royal St George YC, current favourite in the Irish contingent in the up-coming worlds. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien

NATIONAL 18s REMEMBERED

Sage observers around Cork Harbour noted that - at 20ft in hull length - the new boats were only 2ft longer than the National 18s from which, through the 1720s, they could trace their origins. But such intriguing circular connections were soon forgotten under the sheer exuberance of the SB3’s instant popularity. After all, here was a properly-keeled sportsboat that you could keep in the driveway through the week, or in some handy yard, and then at the weekend you could join the trail to some major event where – after a few moments of winding handles and whatnot – your 20ft dinghy was converted into a full-on properly-keeled sportsboat which precluded hiking. And unlike the 1720 which needed a crew of five, the new boat could be raced by three.

It was boom time in the noughties, and people went crazy for the SB3. You could buy them off the shelf, you could even buy them ready-delivered and set to go at a major event. By 2005 they seemed to be all over Cowes Week with 66 entries from far and wide, and by 2006 they’d become the biggest one-design class at Cowes with 102 boats.

 A flotilla of SB20s looking very much at home in Dublin Bay, but it may well be that their ultimate origins are to be found in Cork Harbour. Photo: Annraoi Blaney A flotilla of SB20s looking very much at home in Dublin Bay, but it may well be that their ultimate origins are to be found in Cork Harbour. Photo: Annraoi Blaney

In other words, the SB3 was having a decidedly boisterous adolescence, and as is the case with adolescents, some of the newcomer “sailors” had the attention span of a gnat, and their sporting focus soon turned elsewhere.

But for those who appreciated the SB3’s true quality, maturity was finalised in 2012 when contracts expired, and the Laser SB3 was properly confirmed as the SB20, marketed and distributed by Sportsboat World for dedicated sailors for whom racing came first and regatta festivities were well down the line.

WORLDS PROVIDE OPPORTUNITY FOR MEANINGFUL STOCK-TAKE

Yet so versatile are they in their ease of movement ashore that it’s sometimes difficult to assess their local strength. Thus you might get some Commodore proclaiming how proud they are of their club’s SB20 fleet, yet often there’s no evidence of their existence about the place at all. So when a club has the courage to take on the staging of the Worlds with enthusiasm, it’s fundamental to the class’s wellbeing, for apart from the high-quality sport provided, it allows an opportunity for a meaningful stock-take.

We last had that in Ireland in 2008, when the National YC hosted the Worlds even as the SB3 was beginning the process of transformation into the SB20. Despite the turmoil of such backroom goings-on, they mustered a very international fleet of 143 boats, with the winner being Geoff Carveth, one of the class’s super-stalwart who next won the Worlds in 2011 at Torbay.

However, by 2011 Ireland was into economic recession big time, and fleets were often only shadows of their former selves, but gradually the SB20s came back to life, and for next week’s Worlds – not a challenge to be undertaken lightly – Ireland’s home fleet will be mustering 17 boats – the most numerous national entry - to take on the competition of ten nations in a fleet of 55 boats, including specially welcome participation from Ukraine, and a hot squad from Australia.

COMFORTABLE FIT AT THE ROYAL IRISH YC

 Sealing the deal….Jerry Dowling, Commodore of the Royal Irish YC and President of the SB20 World Council, and John Malone of Provident CRM Sealing the deal….Jerry Dowling, Commodore of the Royal Irish YC and President of the SB20 World Council, and John Malone of Provident CRM

It’s a comfortable fit at the hospitable Royal Irish, which has been hosting events since its formation in 1831. Commodore Jerry Dowling is not only a keen SB20 campaigner, but he’s the President of the SB20 World Council. The Organising Committee is chaired by Joe Conway, who is experienced in several classes, and Principal Race Officer is David Lovegrove, whose widespread experience is rivalled by only a very few.

Because of the pandemic gap, form guides are still a bit rusty even through the 2021 Worlds did manage to get staged in Portugal, albeit at short notice with 66 entries. The winner was Brazil’s Henrique Haddad, but before that there was a three-year gap to 2018 when it was hosted in Tasmania, which really tested the class’s ability to provide charterable boats on site.

 When everything’s balanced, and you have the breeze, the SB20 in Dublin Bay can be cleared for takeoff. When everything’s balanced, and you have the breeze, the SB20 in Dublin Bay can be cleared for takeoff

The winner was France’s Achille Nebout, and before that in 2017 at Cowes, it was Geoff Carveth back on top in the open division while the Corinthian champions were Ireland’s own Mike O’Connor (RStGYC) with his regular TED crew of Davy Taylor and Edward Cook.

2017 now seems long enough ago, and beyond that feels like pre-history - the winner in 2016 at Cascais in Portugal was Russia’s Alex Semenov, though his boat was down as Portuguese, as the helm was local star Hugo Rocha. But if we go further back to 2014, the stage is set in St Petersburg, and the winner was the unmistakably Russian Evgeny Neugodkinov.

Much of the SB20’s attraction is found in the fact that, with her very generous spread of sail, she can give quick sailing in moderate breezes. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’BrienMuch of the SB20’s attraction is found in the fact that, with her very generous spread of sail, she can give quick sailing in moderate breezes. Photo: Afloat.ie/David O’Brien

Swinging into 2022, at the moment Ireland’s best hope has to be RStGYC’s Michael O’Connor, as he and his longtime shipmates have already slipped successfully into countdown mode by winning last weekend’s Easterns at the RIYC in a continuation of remarkably consistent performance.

But part of the attraction of any sailing Worlds is that it acts as a magnet for rising global talent, and next week we could well see history in the making as new names shoulder their way to the top row of SB20 stardom.

The entry list is below

Race Results

You may need to scroll vertically and horizontally within the box to view the full results

WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

Email The Author

William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

We've got a favour to ask

More people are reading Afloat.ie than ever thanks to the power of the internet but we're in stormy seas because advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. Unlike many news sites, we haven’t put up a paywall because we want to keep our marine journalism open.

Afloat.ie is Ireland's only full–time marine journalism team and it takes time, money and hard work to produce our content.

So you can see why we need to ask for your help.

If everyone chipped in, we can enhance our coverage and our future would be more secure. You can help us through a small donation. Thank you.

Direct Donation to Afloat button

William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

Featured Sailing School

INSS sidebutton

Featured Clubs

dbsc mainbutton
Howth Yacht Club
Kinsale Yacht Club
National Yacht Club
Royal Cork Yacht Club
Royal Irish Yacht club
Royal Saint George Yacht Club

Featured Brokers

leinster sidebutton

Featured Associations

ICRA
isora sidebutton

Featured Webcams

Featured Events 2022

Featured Marinas

dlmarina sidebutton

Featured Chandleries

CHMarine Afloat logo
osm sidebutton
https://afloat.ie/resources/marine-industry-news/viking-marine

Featured Sailmakers

northsails sidebutton
uksails sidebutton
quantum sidebutton
watson sidebutton

Featured Blogs

W M Nixon - Sailing on Saturday
podcast sidebutton
BSB sidebutton
wavelengths sidebutton
 

Please show your support for Afloat by donating