Building to the Future – 420s in the USA

29 JAN 2015

Catching up with how the Gulf Coast Youth Sailing Association (GCYSA) and KO Sailing are helping to inspire and develop the 420 fleet in the United States.

This article, which was first published in the US back in November 2014, highlights the critical role the 420 Class plays in developing sailing skills.

Technology adapts to the requirements of the people.  Sailing needed some excitement and so foils were born.  Occasionally however, there are advancements that outpace what the community is ready to utilize.  Such is the case with the I420.  The original double-handed youth trainer, the I420 is a fast, exciting and technical boat that until recently had been cast aside in North America.  Enter Gulf Coast Youth Sailing Association (GCYSA) and KO Sailing who aim to reverse that trend and hope to get more of today’s upper level youth sailors into what is the premier youth trainer around the world, the I420.

With every new Olympic class come trainer classes that are created to help junior sailors bridge the gap from their learn-to-sail boat with a rig suited to their smaller size.  When the International 470 was adopted as the Olympic double-handed boat in 1976, the International 420 saw an increase in popularity as it became the stepping stone into the 470 and thus, the pathway to the Olympics.

The same transition occurred in the US, but after a while, the market sought a more durable boat than the finicky I420, and the builders met that demand with the design and popularization of the Club 420.  Heavier and more inexpensive to produce and sell, the Club 420 was quickly adapted by yacht club junior programs sick of doing boatwork and the nuances of caring for a high performance boat.  The Club 420 was more accessible and less expensive than the I420, giving youth programs a cost effective option that was better suited for learn to sail programs, but this came at the price of performance.

Despite having the same name and overall length, all three 420’s [Club, Collegiate,  and International] are very different.  The I420 has a slightly different hull shape from the Club/Collegiate, much more similar to the 470 and much lighter, thus quicker to plane.  The I420 is [also] much more technical with a fully tapered mast, and you can control everything in the sail plan, basically everything you’d do in a 470.  For someone who is looking to gain more experience in a more technical boat, the I420 is where you want to be” Says Sarah Lihan of GCYSA.

Lihan and GCYSA are part of the movement within US youth sailing to get the I420 back into the limelight.  “On the international stage, the I420 is the double-handed boat that everybody sails.  [The] I420 fosters the development of the technical and tactical skills that are required in the Olympic classes.  Kids who didn’t sail the baby brother of the Olympic boats are lacking knowledge that their French, British, and Australian counterparts already have before they enter the World Cup stage.  The popularization of the Club 420 did some damage in development of high level technical skills for older generations of teenagers.”

Making it all happen with Lihan at GCYSA is Mike Guerrero, helping to push the I420 agenda.  “The Gulf Coast Youth Sailing Association was founded with the idea of taking [junior] sailors to the next level.  [Initially] it concentrated in Lasers, but we decided to open it to a double-handed boat when we realized that many of our kids wouldn’t be big enough to sail Lasers long term.  We decided on the I420, because we believe it provides the best platform to learn high performance double-handed racing.” The GCYSA fleet is parent owned and part of the challenge was to get everyone on board with the same class.  Currently there are six boats in Texas with ten hopefully by the spring and as many as 15 by this time next year.

This where the GCYSA plan comes into effect, along with Mark McNamara of KO Sailing, to create a racing and training circuit around North America to make the transition into I420’s easier.  “The I420 is a growing fleet [in the US] so in order to foster that growth and build regional fleets, we’d like to get as many boats in one place as possible,” said McNamara.  The plan is to build the circuit around climate and trailer logistics.  “The long term vision is to develop a recognized, repeating annual circuit of events:. Miami in December and January, Texas in February and March.  April out in California at CISA, and then up to the Northeast for the summer,” detailed Lihan.  McNamara added, “Moving the boats around as a class allows there to be more boats on the line racing against each other and ratcheting up as a country.  As the class expands we would like to see a more concerted movement on the west coast [to develop their existing fleet] as well as in the Midwest.”

The I420 class, traveling together on a yearlong circuit around the US: this is the short-term goal of GCYSA and KO Sailing.  As the only US distributor for I420, McNamara has already imported over 50 boats.  He prefers the BlueBlue I420, which have essentially swept all the international events— like the I420 Worlds and Junior Europeans—in the past few years.  He has a lot of confidence in the boat and has a full line of BlueBlue equipment as well as spars, sails, and blades from other manufacturers to optimize performance in accordance with the international standards.

Behind this push for the I420 is a dedicated group of parents, coaches, and interested parties around the country with GCYSA the latest to put forth the effort.  “The addition of the I420 as the double-handed boat at US Youth Champs has been a huge move forward toward the goal.  There will always be a place for the Club 420 in the US, the biggest question is how do we best work together (Club and I420) to improve American results at the Olympics and beyond.”

I sailed 470s at the Games in London [and] before a couple months ago I had never sailed an I420,”  Lihan admitted. “I missed out on so many lessons as a teenager that I had to learn while also learning how to run an Olympic campaign, and it put me at a disadvantage.  We are trying to get kids into the boat that best prepares them for their competitive future.”

Basically we are targeting the older Optimist sailors—they have had success, they went to Nationals, they went to Team Trials, .  They know what it takes to achieve success in the Opti.  Our high level American coaches are trying to get the right-sized kids into the I420.  The answer is talking to kids at the high-level events, kids who have the passion and ambition but are unsure of the next direction.  Perhaps the most critical part is talking to the parents, convincing them why they have to buy this $10,000 boat, why they have to travel across the ocean to compete, etc.  We are looking to build the domestic fleet at home to give our teenagers a competitive fleet without having to fly to France, giving them the opportunity to have high level racing in the United States.”

The boat that was before its time, the I420 has finally rediscovered its pied pipers in North American youth sailing.  As an advanced trainer for the Olympics, the skills developed in the I420 also carry over nicely into the Club 420, Collegiate 420 and skiffs.  Involving the parents of the advanced sailors and increasing the interest of the sailors themselves is key to this process.  With KO Sailing on board now as the official BlueBlue importer in the US, GCYSA has laid the foundation for what looks to be a very successful resurgence of the I420.  In doing so, the re-introduction of US sailors into the top international events shouldn’t be far behind.

Thanks to Airwaves Writer Tyler Colvin for this article