The UON SB20 World Championship at Hamilton Island has turned the spotlight on the class that began a decade ago and now boasts 700 boats worldwide, strong orders and a line-up of world and Olympic champions who own and crew the sporty 20 footers.
This is the first time an SB20 world title has been held in the southern hemisphere and a healthy fleet of 42 boats representing nine countries are in the closing stages of their six day series to crown the 2012-2013 world champion.
Half the fleet is Australian and the rest have shipped their SBs, thanks to a generous Queensland government grant, and travelled to the glorious Whitsundays.
“We were very fortunate to get funding from the Queensland government and that allowed us to make shipping boats to Hamilton Island cost effective,” said Sportsboat World co-founder Jerry Hill who is currently eighth on the pointscore on the penultimate day of racing.
“It’s not a cheap exercise shipping boats half way around the world, and the exchange rate is not in our favour at the moment” said the Southampton based Hill.
This year the class has undergone some major changes with a new manufacturer and distributor, Sportsboat World, founded by SB20 designer Tony Castro in partnership with Jerry Hill and Alan Hillman.
Jerry Hill is a former UK Class Chairman and 2010 SB20 world champion while Hillman, Sportsboat World’s full time manager, came from the SB20 specialist firm, Rigging Gurus.
Once Sportsboat World was up and running Castro appointed White Formula in the UK, who built the first 50 boats in 2002, as the licensed SB20 builder.
“This year has been about consolidation, getting the new company set up, working with the dealers and making people feel confident we are going to support the class,” said Hill.
“Once we consolidated the next step was getting the quality of the boats back to the right level. It’s important people aspire to buy new boats so we moved production back to the UK. The moulds were retooled and to date eight been launched with another six in the factory.
Four of the new boats are competing at the SB20 world championships: Team Russia, Cube II from the Netherlands and the two UON boats from Western Australia.
There have also been some further changes in Australia this year with the original dealer Rod Jones stepping aside. “I acknowledge all the hard work Rod put into the class,” said Hill.
“The class in Australia is now being serviced by three individuals representing the local fleet, Nick Rogers in Tasmania, Robert Jeffreys in Melbourne and the Keogh family in Perth. That’s how we are set up at the moment.
“Servicing Australia is very different to Europe because of the vast distances. We will work with those individuals to put the best structure in place and we’ll give the Australian fleet whatever support we can” added Hill.
The calibre of sailor being drawn to the class is unique. Sprinkled among the top 10 boats at the UON SB20 World Championships are many Olympic and world champions in the SBs and other classes.
“When you look at the quality in the fleet at the top at these worlds, pretty much all have been to the Olympics. The top end is very high, which attracts other top guys,” Hill points out.
“I think we have a good balance because it doesn’t put off the guy with a regular job who goes sailing on the weekend for fun, the ‘weekend warrior’, and occasionally they might beat the top guys to a top mark or in the odd race.”
“One design sailing means everyone is sailing the same boat, it becomes highly tactical and great fun” said Hill. “It’s also very social because you are all facing inboard and working together, unlike some other classes where the helmsman is sitting by himself.”
This month the SB20 World Council announced the launch of the SB20 Grand Slam circuit in Europe next year at three favourite SB20 sailing locations, Hyeres in the south of France, Lake Garda in Italy and at Cowes Week in the UK.
Hyeres has been announced as the venue for the class’ next world championship and the Council is now going through the process of determining where the worlds will be staged in 2014.
At this world championship Hill has been delighted with the level of competition and the feedback on the new boats.
“If I believe half the stories I’ve been told this week we are going to be pretty busy, which is great news.”
This could mean Hill’s order is pushed further back.
“Unfortunately we didn’t have time to build me a new boat for these world titles as we sold them all to customers. Somewhere along the line I might be able to shuffle things around and get one for myself.”
Further information on Sportsboat World at http://sportsboatworld.com