The 29er and the Skiff generation stage

By Philippe Muller, Head Coach and Founder, 2NINER / Skiff Generation

What is the 29er sail? What is the attraction for young sailors and why do they migrate from traditional “boxy” youth boats or other traditional classes to the single scull?

The 29er is the small version of the Olympic-class male and female 49erFX. It is a two-person skiff where the crew traps while the skipper hikes from the wing. The low profile hull is light (185 lbs) with an oversized sail plan, making the boat very responsive and powered for the crew.

The 29er is tippy and harder to sail than traditional dinghies, but as with all things, the harder the challenge, the more opportunities for growth.

There are so many attractive qualities in the new high performance classes like the 29er compared to traditional white sail dinghies. The speed of the boat is thrilling and adds a new dynamic to the race that many young sailors have yet to experience on the water.

Apparent wind racing is different from displacement dinghy racing and learning the new game is fun and challenging. Most sailors looking for the 29er are drawn to the performance of the boat. The speed gets them, not only in a downwind straight line at 20mph, but the pace of quick decision-making and tactical moments make the race thrilling. This attraction brings together many sailors who have not followed the typical route of youth sailing through Optis. Teens who find sailing in the Laser or 420 not particularly engaging make the jump to the 29er because of the fun and physical challenge.

A unique feature of single scull sailing is that the crew cuts the mainsheet from the trapeze, elevating the role of the crew over that of traditional double-handed boats. The skipper and the crew are on an equal footing and it is essential to develop a strong team that works well together. Teamwork is at the origin of a dream job.

For anyone who grew up “too fast” for the Opti and spent too many races in the light air stuck in a small ball, lying on the 29 inch wire feels good. The boat is so sensitive and responsive that the instantaneous return of power is exhilarating.

The 29er is an open class, so sailor pairs can mix and match so any single or mixed gender combo will work and the class has no age limit. Our major events and world championships are open. This means sailors can represent their country on the world stage with our team at 2NINER once they’re ready. For all those who narrowly missed the Opti worlds, this is the opportunity to test your metal with the best.

Why “The Skiff Generation”?

While the learning curve is steep, high performance classes welcome new sailors into a supportive environment that is more akin to high-level racing. The Skiff culture consists of sharing best practices within the fleet. We like to say, “There is no secret recipe. Sailors of all stripes are working together to raise the bar. It is a more inclusive national effort rather than a club-to-club rivalry. We believe that a rising tide lifts all boats. As a fleet, we develop bonds and friendships where sailors can share knowledge and information. This means that on the race track it all comes down to the performance and execution of the athletes.

This is what inspired us to launch the Skiff Generation Grand Prix Series, a mix of young and elite from the Olympic class.

The Skiff Generation Grand Prix, a brand new training platform for the development of high performance sailing in the United States, offers three classes of single sculls in one regatta: the 49er, 49er FX and 29er. 29er Sailors can share the course with America’s top sailors in their own progression to Olympic-class boats.

My personal history of sailing is unique. I was fortunate enough to grow up with an Olympian as my neighbor and coach. This closeness gave me the opportunity to train with him and his training partners, who were all the best sailors in the world at the time. My development in sport has been exponential. I learned at a young age of those at the top of our sport. This format of bringing together the young and the elite is part of my personal history and the concept of the Skiff Generation Grand Prix is ​​to do the same.

We have put in place an ambitious program of hosting six events throughout the winter in Miami. We are two events and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Sailors of all ages love to get together to run. The Olympic class group loves to see the next generation of young people, and our young athletes can walk up and ask questions of the pros right in the boat park. It’s a very cool experience.

How does getting involved in single-scull sailing as a young sailor help them make the transition to the adult world of one-design sailing?

The skills we focus on and develop in high performance racing inspire sailors to be successful in sport and in life. The speed and pace of the race forces you to be ahead of the curve. I spent a lot of time as a young sailor talking to myself, frustrated by struggling on the course. Learning to focus on a solution rather than the problem is what high performance racing is all about. Something is going to go wrong, and it’s up to you to put out the fire and resume the race. If that’s not a metaphor for life, I don’t know what is.

In terms of life opportunities, high performance sailing opens doors. Our role at 2NINER is to develop and connect talent to a larger network of experts within our sport. Whatever a sailor’s goal or interest, we support them and introduce them to our great sailing family. The graduates of our youth program are current Ivy-League college athletes, Olympic-class activists, professional sailors and world champions.

What future for these young sailors growing up? Is the vision that they stay in skiffs or foil boats? Or do they learn skills from dodges that can be transferred from one class to another?

The 29er class is a direct pipeline to higher level sailing. Crews develop explosive strength, coordinated precision, and precise foot and hand play. Setting the sails is an ever-changing target in upwind sailing, it takes a lot of focused training to handle so much in order to consistently set the sails in the right spot.

Skippers develop an increased sense of sensation and awareness of the boat’s performance. The ability of the skipper to put the boat in the right place and to remain calm, cool and serene under pressure is a skill that every human needs.

Communication between the helm and the crew is essential. Being in tune with the boat and with each other, and then scanning the water to make split-second tactical decisions, requires a deep skill that prepares athletes for all the challenges our sport has to offer.

So what does the future hold for us?
The future is fast. After the practice, we will foil or kite for fun. These skills require dynamic athleticism learned in trapeze, hoisting and trimming while knife edge prepares athletes to the next level.

Teamwork, communication and discipline skills are universally welcomed. Take a quick look at the Etchells, Melges and J professional circuit fleets and you’ll find high performance sailors scattered all over the place.

If you want to get involved, find us on 2NINER.org. We offer year-round programming in Miami. And in 2021, we will be holding a series of clinics across the country. We’re also planning to hit the Skiff Generation Grand Prix route, at a location near you. It is our privilege to share skiff navigation with those who are up to the task.

Please visit One Design Central for more one-design sailing resources and information.

A message from 2NINER
At 2NINER, we would like to warmly thank the title sponsor, The Kolter Group, for their support and commitment to making this dream come true. We could never have attempted this endeavor without their support. We also thank our supporting sponsors 49er.ca, Zig Travel, iUniforms and Sailing Performance Training.

About the Author
Phil Muller is the head coach and founder of 2NINER, a Miami-based high performance sailing program, coach of the US Olympic Development Program and Youth World Championships team, and organizer of the Skiff Generation Grand Prix.

*All photos are courtesy of 2NINER

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