50 Years of SAIL

Publish date:

Back in early 1970, Bernie Goldhirsh and the recently founded “Institute for the Advancement of Sailing,” publisher of an annual sailboat and gear guide, launched something called SAIL. A half-century later, a look back at the magazine’s first few years provides a glimpse into a whole other world—albeit a world that still looks refreshingly familiar.

Long Live the Cup


Here in the second decade of the 21st century, it’s hard to imagine just how important the America’s Cup once was. Before the advent of such events as the Whitbread race (now The Ocean Race) and the Vendée Globe, the Cup was the world’s premier sailing competition, bar none. Twelve-meters represented the sport’s cutting edge; sailors like Ted Hood (far left) and Ted Turner (near left) were larger than life; the boats were crewed by amateurs from their country of origin; and corporate logos were strictly verboten. A simpler time, perhaps, but a no less competitive one!

The Age of the Ketch


Looking back at SAIL and sailing in the early 1970s, one of the things that stands out is the profusion of ketches. Today, even the largest boats are typically sloops. But 50 years ago, when things like self-tailing winches and headsail furlers were either nonexistent or still in their infancy, it only made sense breaking up your sailplan into a number of smaller, more manageable pieces. Aesthetically, you’ve also got to love how salty some of those old boats looked.

Sail Tech


In the early days of SAIL, polyester, or Dacron, sails were still noteworthy. It wasn’t long, though, until even this iconic “miracle” fiber began feeling the heat from such new kids on the block as Kevlar. Then, of course, there was the “blooper” (or “Streaker” as Watts sailmakers so charmingly called their version), which sailors of a certain age will recall was once all the rage (like streaking). Alas, it turns out sailing dead downwind is slow—not to mention downright scary aboard boats designed according to the old IOR rule—no matter how much sail you set. That said, those sails did make for some great covers while they lasted!

New Gear


As much as boats and sails have changed over the last 50 years, the various bits and pieces that make them work have changed even more. Hard to believe that when SAIL first came out in 1970, mass-produced furlers were only just coming to the market; windvane self-steering was still state-of-the-art; and VHF radios were a rarity. As for GPS, it was still only a gleam in the Department of Defense’s eye, and radio direction finders were king. If anyone out there actually has a Whistler handheld radar in their possession, please let us know. We’d love to check it out.

The Shape of Speed


The world of competitive sailing was a very different one back in the early 1970s. The IOR rating rule was dominant, and Florida’s SORC (Southern Ocean Racing Conference) series was the place to be for any designer or boatbuilder looking to make a name for themselves in between America’s Cups. Hints of the future, though, could be seen in the form of early wingsails, sailboards and increasingly speedy multihulls.

October 2020



Newport International Boat Show Announces Dates

This year marks half a century for New England’s largest boat show, and the celebration will be in person. In a statement released yesterday, Nancy Piffard, Show Director of Newport Exhibition Group said, “We are excited to kick off the boat show season in-person this year… We ...read more


World Sailing Trust Launches Global Participation Study

Two years after its global survey on women in sailing, the World Sailing Trust is surveying the entire sport in order to assess equity, diversity and inclusion. The survey will be conducted bi-annually to monitor trends and progress. "By researching the sport, the aim is to ...read more


DIY: A Better Saloon Table

The original saloon table in my Down East 45 schooner was a single heavy sheet of 3/4in laminated plywood, 27in wide by 57in long. It was supported on two substantial aluminum pedestals locking into a set of large round collars screwed to the sole. There were two annoying ...read more


Salty Dawgs Recognized by CCA

The Salty Dawg Sailing Association (SDSA) has long been the go-to organization for high value, affordable rallies, but when Covid forced the sudden closure of borders in the Caribbean, it pivoted to organizing the Homeward Bound Flotilla. Its experience organizing rallies came ...read more


SAIL Black History Month Series: James Forten

James Forten was born on September 2, 1766 in Philadelphia to free Black parents Thomas and Margaret Forten. Forten attended a Quaker school as a young child, then went to work with his father who was a sailmaker. His father died when he was still young, and Forten worked ...read more

sailme-app_ SAIL

5 Ways Sail.me Helps You Monetize Your Boat

Ready to earn some extra funds by renting out your boat or yacht? Sail.me is an interactive service that allows you to monetize your boat in a secure, safe, and easy way. A user-friendly app and website will help you manage reservations, add-ons, and set customized routes to ...read more


2020-21 Vendée Timeline

As a spectator event, France’s Vendée Globe never disappoints, and the 2020-21 edition of the quadrennial round-the-world race was no exception. From equipment failures to climactic rescues, heartbreaking abandonments and a breathtakingly close finish, this edition, which ...read more


BVI Chartering in the Pandemic

The week before I flew out to the British Virgin Islands for a bareboat charter, I was having a few second thoughts. The islands had broken out of their Covid-enforced tourism hiatus in December, but the conditions of entry seemed a little stringent: a negative Covid test within ...read more