Hull Weight: 38.5kg
In 1924 a small unorthodox yacht appeared on Tauranga Harbour, only seven feet long with a flat triangular bow. This was Harry Highet's prototype of the present day Tauranga "P" Class. Another local sailor, Percy Carter, looked at this boat, saw “learn to sail” potential, and a New Zealand sailing phenomenon began. Like the other two junior classes sailed on Hamilton Lake, there are both fibreglass and wooden P Class boats. If anything, the good wooden boats have the edge, performance-wise. If you are looking to buy second hand, there are some good deals around but we would advise asking an experienced sailor about the planned purchase before committing to the sale. Carbon masts, for instance, are a definite advantage.
The P Class is very similar in size to an Optimist but the philosophies of the two designs are pretty much opposite. An Optimist forgives mistakes and seldom capsizes, letting a sailor learn at their own pace. A P Class punishes mistakes, frequently capsizing, making a sailor acutely aware of the merits of good boat handling. Having capsized, though, the difference between the boats is just as evident. The Optimist, when righted, becomes a partly-submerged bathtub, needing a lot of bailing before the sailor can continue. The P Class, meanwhile, comes up with minimal water in the cockpit and the boat is basically ready to race again straight away.
Nationally, the P Class fleets have become smaller over the last 10 years. With the drive to create elite sailors, the international classes like the Optimist have extra appeal. However, Hamilton Yacht Club is fighting a rear guard action to keep the class alive and well. We have an active fleet sailing on the lake and some of the local races are won or lost by centimeters. Last year, Justin Reiter came out top in the club champs and now has his name added to the illustrious list of sailors on the Presidents Cup.
Rob Ebert published an article on the P Class website, likening the P Class to Futsal - a form of 5-a-side soccer developed in Brazil, played with a small ball on a small field. As you can imagine, Futsal fosters excellent ball control and the ability to find a way through a congested field. Many of New Zealand’s current crop of professional sailors rate the lessons they learnt sailing a P Class as some of their most important lessons.
The 91st P Class Regatta was held in Tauranga last year. The faith New Zealand Yachting has shown in the P Class is now being supported by scientific studies of how elite performers are developed. We need to keep the faith!