No. 3 Bulldogs Excel in New Boats

Photo of a test sail during design of the new Z420 collegiate dinghy (photo credit: LaserPerformance Sailboats)

HANOVER, N.H. – The No. 3 Yale women's sailing team took a commanding lead at the Mrs. Hurst Bowl on Saturday and never looked back.  After 16 races, the Bulldogs finished 24 points ahead of the second-place Dartmouth Big Green who hosted the event.

It was the second regatta of the fall sailing season, but the first time that sailors have gotten to race in a new model of boat that was recently designed for collegiate racing.  Known as the "Z420," the boat is a lighter-weight, higher-performance version of the "club 420," which has been the preeminent two-person, collegiate dinghy since the 1970s. 

In fact, past Yale sailors are responsible for the birth of the club 420 class.  In 1967, the Yale sailing team purchased the first fleet of 420s to enter the United States.  They were called "international 420s" and they were designed in Europe to be a training boat for the Olympic 470 class.  Lighter and faster but much-less-durable than club 420s, the international 420s helped Yale to build a powerhouse sailing team during that time.  Steve Benjamin '78, who led the Bulldogs to their 1975 national dinghy championship title, said that "the 24 boat fleet at Short Beach was a major factor in attracting me to Yale."

"My generation was the beneficiary of the terrific work done before us and primarily by Steve Taylor '73," reports Benjamin. 

In 1973, Taylor actually traveled to the international 420 manufacturing plant in Israel to help construct a new fleet of boats for Yale.  In 1977, when it came time for another replacement fleet, he led the decision to have the boats built by a company in the US.  According to Taylor, at that time they also decided to "'beef them up' and improve them for the wear and tear of college sailing."

The sturdier design that Taylor and other Yale sailors of the time produced is what came to be known as the club 420.  In Taylor's words, "it took off in the USA… by virtue of it being more durable and cost-effective for junior sailing programs as well as college racing."

Almost 40 years later, another revolution in collegiate sailboat design is now occurring.  Dartmouth is the first team to acquire a fleet of the Z420s and several other teams, including Yale, are scheduled to receive fleets later this year.

But the Yale women's sailing team is already fast in the new boats, as proven by its Mrs. Hurst Bowl performance.  Seniors Marlena Fauer and Eugenia Custo Greig, who sailed A division for the Bulldogs, started the weekend in Z420s and finished top-five in all but one of those races. After race eight, A division switched to FJs and B division took the Z420s, but it did not affect the Bulldogs.  Junior skipper Urska Kosir and sophomore crew Emily Johnson, the Bulldogs' B division sailors, had six top-five finishes, including two race wins, in the Z420s.

With the 2014 dinghy national championships also scheduled to be sailed in Z420s and FJs, the Bulldogs hope that their performance this past weekend was early foreshadowing.  Looking into the less distant future though, the Bulldogs will head to the Charles River next weekend for the Regis Bowl, hosted by Boston University. 

Report filed by Chris Segerblom '14, Yale Sports Publicity