by Pete Vinton
This is a brief coverage of Finn development intended to be a starting resource for owners of older Finns in the UK and those considering ownership. Much fuller histories and technical articles are available, some of which are referenced in the Further Reading section. The opinions are personal views of the author.
Although the Finn at its current level of development is an expensive highly developed piece of kit, the hulls are very strongly built and as a result last for very many years. The continual updating of rigs at the top level means it is possible to buy a very old hull and update the rig fairly cheaply to achieve a good club racer. The Finn is generally sailed by heavyweights, but since it rewards good techniques almost more than any other single-hander it’s also hugely satisfying to sail for lighter helms, and since I started sailing Finns at the age of 16 and weighing 10 ½ stone I’ve never really considered then to be exclusively for heavier guys.
The Finn was first designed in 1949 by a Swede, Rickard Sarby in response to a design competition for the Olympic single hander. In previous Olympics the single-handed dinghy had been selected by the host nation and sailors found they had to get used to a new dinghy for each Olympics (in 1948 at Torquay it was the Firefly). The Finn came last in the competition but won all the sailing trials!
Because it could be built by anyone and required a high level of skill to sail it became very popular and remains the Olympic single hander today. However continual development has meant significant changes in technology and ensured the Finn remains up to date.
From 1949 to 1960 all hulls were wooden, either cold moulded as the original, strip planked or hot moulded by Fairey Marine. Development of the wooden mast to change the bend characteristics and sail development to match was the main theme. The class was dominated by Paul Elvestrom, a Dane, who carried out much of the development himself and won the Olympics in the Finn in 1952, 1956 and 1960.
Fibreglass was first allowed for the hull in 1961, leading to its dominance for several years which many thought was a bad development, until Raudaschl won the Gold Cup with a home built wooden boat in 1964. Masts continued to be built of wood with Georges Bruder of Brazil leading development.
In 1972 the class changed with the introduction of Needlespar masts at the Olympics in Germany. Initially the 3B was a stiff brute, with an oval bottom section and tapered sleeved top section. This was followed very quickly by the 3M with a round bottom section and this remained the standard rig right up until the introduction of carbon fibre. In the late 70s North sails began their virtual domination of the class which continues to this day.
Some good wooden hulls were still being built, notably by Peter Taylor in Salcombe and then in the mid 70s he started making glass fibre, double bottomed boats which dominated for some years.
Meanwhile in Canada Vanguard boats were building good Finns and by careful exploitation of the hull shape tolerances, good weight distribution and a good combination of stiffness and flexibility they began a very long domination of the class from the late 1970s right up to 1993. The Vanguard Finns also lasted very well and are still a very good club racer.
The new era started in 1993 with the introduction of carbon masts and plastic (Mylar) sails in 1998. The rules were changed to allow the mast to be moved forward at the deck to suit the new rig’s characteristics and really good boats were built in the UK again, by Tim Tavinor of Devoti Boats at Burnham on Crouch. (Devoti boats are still built now but in Eastern Europe.) In recent years other builders have also been successful.
In summary Finns neatly divide into three eras. Many of the Vanguard Finns have been updated with carbon masts, plastic sails and adjustable deck rings so Vanguards can be considered to be the current era, along with Devotis, Lemieux, Pata and such like, all with carbon/plastic rigs. Current tuning and sailing guides are applicable to these boats.
The ‘classic’ era (using the term loosely) is for those boats built before Vanguard’s domination and carrying a Needlespar/Dacron rig. In the UK these are boats built by Taylor along with earlier boats updated with a Needlespar rig. The setting up, tuning and sailing of such boats is covered very well by the British Finn Association produced Finn Sailing Manual. This is written for the 80s standard Vanguard / Needlespar 3M / North combination.
The ‘vintage’ era are those boats with original wooden masts. Not many wooden masts have survived, as popular modifications included planing them down or gluing extra wood on to get the right bend characteristics and breakages were very common.