“Serious racing, serious fun…” The Snipe class motto neatly sums up the appeal of this ubiquitous dinghy. Fifteen and a half feet long, light and uncomplicated, easy to trailer and launch, the Snipe is a boat that never gets old. Go to any Snipe regatta and you’ll see septuagenarians mixing it up with teenagers, pro sailors battling it out with Sunday-afternoon amateurs.
The boat’s deceptive simplicity is one of the secrets of its success. There are plenty of lines to tweak, but no spinnaker, and no acrobatics are required of its two-person crew. Strict one-design rules and a boat weight limit make for a level playing field, and because there are few advantages to be had over the competition in terms of boatspeed, tactical acumen is a hallmark of successful Snipe racers. Many top sailors have cut their racing teeth in Snipes, including Olympic medalists Paul Elvstrm and Torben Grael.
Bill Crosby, former editor of The Rudder magazine, designed the Snipe back in 1931 in response to requests for a small boat that could be easily transported to regattas; hence, it was also one of the first trailer-sailers. The plans duly appeared in the magazine—which named all its designs after seabirds—and Snipes began to take shape in garages and basements all over the country. The dinghy’s length was dictated by the then-standard 16ft plank, and the hard-chine design made for easy amateur construction.
The design caught on quickly. An estimated 30,000 Snipes have been built in two dozen countries. Over the years, the original design has changed very little, except for a weight reduction from 425 to 381 pounds. The plank-on-frame construction of the early boats gave way to plywood and fiberglass in the 1950s, but there are still builders who can set you up with a gorgeous traditionally built wooden Snipe. A new fiberglass Snipe complete with trailer will set you back around $15,000, but you can buy an older boat for short money.
Snipe regattas are renowned for their easygoing, family-friendly atmosphere. With fleets on each coast and the Great Lakes, there is no shortage of competition. Two key regattas this year are the Masters World Championship set to take place next month in Syracuse, Indiana, and the Women’s World Championship this November in St Petersburg, Florida.
For more information, go to www.snipeus.org.