There has always been a strong interest in sailing in the British Isles, where there are 1,605 sailing clubs. The south coast of England, the west coast of Scotland and the lochs of Northern Ireland are popular cruising grounds, but throughout Britain’s often hostile environments, recreational sailing has always taken place. The television series Howards Way and media coverage of the Observer Single-Handed Transatlantic Race (OSTAR), which started in 1960 and is held every four years, have catered to such interest.
   From the 1950s on, plywood (later GRP) sailing dinghies such as the ‘Firefly’, ‘GP14’ and ‘Merlin Rocket’ became popular and opened sailing up to a mass market. ‘GP’s (General Purpose) and Mirror dinghies (started by the Daily Mirror) have sold many thousands. But sailing is more often a low-key pastime, practised locally by people uninfluenced by national or international trends. So, for example, of the seven sailing classes used in the Olympic Games—Soling (three crew), Flying Dutchman, Star, Finn (singlehanded), Tornado, 470 and windsurfer (singlehanded) — only the last named is popular in Britain.
   Dinghy sailing has given way to windsurfing, which is largely restricted to the younger generation. Cruising/racing boat owners are older and now have a wide range of GRP boats available to them: Westerly & Hunter supply this market, and the French manufacturer Beneteau caters for racing enthusiasts.
   Due to conservatism (and conservation), numerous local one-design classes (where each boat is identical) remain throughout the UK. There are Rhyl ‘Jewels’, Hoylake ‘Operas’, Salcombe ‘Yawls’ and Solent ‘X’s. The Howth ‘17’s, built at Carrickfergus in 1898, are believed to be the oldest class still sailing. There has been a revival of interest in wooden boats and boat building. Lancashire Nobbies, Bristol Channel Pilot Cutters and Falmouth Quay Punts are examples of working boats, now called ‘classics’, which have been convened to purely recreational and racing use.
   Public interest in sailing has been fostered by visits to Britain by participants in the Tall Ships race (when they visited Liverpool in 1994 there were fifteen-mile traffic jams and two million visitors, in addition to the 2,000 crew members enlivening the port). The ships saluted the visiting Royal Yacht Britannia as they left the Mersey. Organizations such as the Ocean Youth Club run large yachts like the Malcolm Miller and the Winston Churchill and accept people for specific trips around Britain. Participation in these events has become part of the culture.
   See also: angling; rowing; yachting

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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