The Soling history actually began in the mind of Jan Linge during the late 50’s while he was doing design work and tank testing on a 5.5 metre to be built for a Norwegian friend for sailing in the 1960 Olympics. The friend, Finn Ferner, was a successful businessman and an outstanding helmsman, an Olympic medallist and winner of many international events. Linge had become convinced that a slightly smaller boat with a detached spade rudder and short keel could be a fast seaworthy boat with the likelihood of great popularity – though such features were not allowed under the 5.5 rules.
After 1960 Linge completed his design sketches to demonstrate his ideas for promoting a Norwegian national class. These seeds fell on barren ground for about two years, while the IYRU was reaching a decision to encourage more international classes – to take advantage of the research and materials developed during World War II, then becoming available for new domestic products – materials like plastics, synethetic yarns, glass fibre, as substitutes for wood and cotton.
IYRU seeks new classes
By the time of the 1961 IYRU meetings, the forces for change had organized themselves to seek four new classes – a single hander as companion to the Finn, a two-man keelboat to complement the Star, a three-man keelboat like the 5.5 or Dragon, finally a catamaran. The FD already had its companion in the 5 0 5., so there was no need for another centreboarder – 470’s, Lasers and Sailboards were to come later.
There was to be a step-by-step process, starting with an announcement in a prominent yachting magazine willing to monitor a class, with generalized dimensions; then there would be a design competition not to choose a boat but to allow the IYRU to illustrate the type of boat desired. Thereafter, the IYRU would hold trials under the supervision of a “Selection” Committee which it would appoint.
High performance and popularity
The underlying goals for these new boats was not explicit, but hinted: “high performance” and “popularity” were key words for whatever boat was chosen. There was sentiment among some countries, particularly those not performing well in existing classes, that new classes might displace existing ones in Olympic competition, though it was vigorously denied, perhaps out of political wisdom. Some thought the IYRU had a leadership role for promoting changes, others believed that international status should depend first on substantial levels of sailing activity around the world – i.e. a class already popular. The boats sought were all to be designated “Group A”, that is the group from which Olympic classes were picked.
The two-man keelboat process started in 1962 under the auspices of the Dutch sailing magazine “De Water Kampleon” with the announcement of the design competition, to culminate at the 1963 IYRU meetings, and Trials perhaps in 1965.
A design competition by the IYRU
It was the public announcement by the Class Policy Committee (CPOC) in mid 1963 that started events leading to the adoption of the Soling’s Olympic status four years later. The American magazine “Yachting” undertook to accept design sketches for presentation at the November 1963 meeting. “It should be a wholesome boat capable of being sailed from port to port in open water” – not “an extreme type design”, reported “Yachting” – “What IYRU wants is a nice compromise between maximum speed and maximum seaworthiness, with a good measure of both. The boat should certainly be non-sinkable and have built-in buoyancy, and should be capable of racing in open sea conditions. Since it is to be a racing boat, our guess is that an entirely open cockpit, or at most, a minimum caddy, would be most acceptable”. Obligatory maximum limits “LWL 22 feet, Draft 4’6″, Displacement 3799 pounds, Sail area 310 sq. ft.”
A boat for strong winds and heavy weather
The Linge/Ferner prototype
Once Linge had lost his argument at the 1963 meetings for a small boat, he returned to Norway determined to develop his version of a three-man keelboat. His next door neighbour, Sverre Olsen (See S.O. + LING), a successful merchant who had taken over the insolvent Holmen boatyard, became interested in backing the effort as useful publicity for his establishment. Given such resources, a wooden prototype was built, for experimenting with sizes and placement of rudders, keels, and rig. Finn Ferner, the champion skipper and Linge’s 5.5 client of 1960, became an important skilled partner in this activity. By mid 1965, Linge and Ferner were satisfied enough with their work to manufacture mold needs for producing complete fibre glass boats. In November 1965, the IYRU scheduled trials to be held off Kiel during September 1966, but for reasons not certain (perhaps to enlarge the entry list), allowed smaller boats provided “they were well ballasted, not a planing type”.
1966 Trials – Shillalah and the Soling
The high performance revolution was underway: The Tempest was given recognition, Catamaran trials were set for 1967, and a 1966 re-run of the single hander event which had had no wind in 1965 was held. During the Winter of ’65/’66, five fibreglass Solings were built which were extensively sailed against one another during the following Summer. This competition was destined to be helpful in the heavy weather ahead at Kiel – chosen as a windy challenge for what the IYRU desired.
The Norwegians arrived in Kiel with two boats – one to be raced, the other to remain on its trailer ashore available for inspection. Ferner was the helmsman, Linge and Rudolph Ugelstad the crew. There were eight boats, all prototype one-offs except for the Soling. The first race was in moderate air, but thereafter for ten of the eleven races, Kiel lived up to its breezy reputation.
The final race may have been worth all the rest for the Soling: a meeting of helmsmen gathered in view of the forty knot wind. Not surprisingly, the Committee’s desire to race was persuasive. On the way to the starting area, breakdowns and one sinking left but two to compete. By the windward mark only the Soling was left to sail the course, and so was able to demonstrate her outstanding ability to handle heavy air. The Selection Committee, consisting of Frank Murdoch (Chairman, Holland), Beppe Croce (Italy), Bob Bavier (US), Costas Stavridis (Greece), Sir Gordon Smith (UK) and Hans Lubinus (Holland)) was impressed.
Two boats were recommended: Shillalah, designed and sailed by US Starboat Champion, Skip Etchells, and Soling, the boat referred to as “the undersized entry”. Shillalah won eight of the ten races she entered – her speed was outstanding; although the Soling was about a foot and a half less on the water line, three feet less overall, 7% less sail area, she averaged a little over two minutes behind first place – was never outclassed, was good in rough weather, and was very fast on the reaches. Three months later in London, the CPOC endorsed the Selection Committee’s recommendation, but wait: “The Permanent Committee seemed on the verge of approving this recommendation without any dissent when one of its members who had an unsucessful entrant in the trials expressed the view that the trials were inconclusive because of insufficient variety in weather. Others then cast doubt as to whether Shillalah could be built in fibreglass at a weight comparable to the wooden prototype and if not how might she perform? Despite some assurance that she could be, the damage was done and all of a sudden a number of people who minutes before were all in favour of encouraging both boats, decided instead to delay until additional trials could clarify the matter” – wrote “Yachting” in January 1967.
1967 – Second Trials at Travemunde
So, more trials were scheduled – this time in Travemunde at the end of the 1967 Summer. A Committee now called “Observation” rather than “Selection” was this time chaired by Jonathan Janson (UK) with Beppe Croce (Italy), Ding Schoonmaker (US), Eddie Stutterheim of Holland and Hamstorf from Germany.
While the IYRU proceeded with deliberate speed, the ’66 Trials had generated action in Norway. The three promoters, Linge, Ferner, and Olsen, formed Soling Yachts A/S to build and sell the boats and to license builders. Paul Elvstrom obtained a boat for testing and sailing in the ’66/’67 Winter; he became an enthusiastic supporter. Even before the second (1967) set of Trials, some sixty boats were sailing in Scandinavia – a “local” class, even without international status.
Several new boats, a fibreglass Shillalah, also a 5.5 and a Dragon to compare speeds, assembled in Travemunde for the second Trials – this time in what became a moderate air series. Again Shillalah was the big winner, but again Soling finished respectably. This time she was sailed by Per Spilling (destined to win the first European Championship in 1968) with Sven Olsen and Linge again as crew. Without comment, the Observation Committee recommended Soling alone; this result passed unanimously through the IYRU meetings. The Soling had become an international class, but not without the help of the Norwegian Embassy where hitherto non-existent Class Rules were put together one Friday night by Beecher Moore (subsequent host of many Soling parties), Jan Linge and Finn Ferner, and then reproduced by the Embassy staff just in time for the Saturday morning meeting of the CPOC.
Soling gets chosen
Needless to say a celebration was in order. The supporters of Shillalah could grumble about European politics and IYRU’s misleading campaign for a big boat, but the Norwegians hit the town for an all night blast, with the blessings of a friendly innkeeper selling his brew long after closing hours – one snag: the bill, product of the hours of carousel by fifty happy people unprepared to pay. The innkeeper was willing to wait for his money until Soling Yachts A/S could return to Oslo – a short time, but enough for a 40% drop in the British pound; so the party had been a bargain!
New Olympic Class
The 1968 Games in Mexico were held before the Class acquired its Olympic status. Because there was a five-class limit set by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the CPOC had recommended 5.5, Soling, Tempest (its two new boats), FD and Finn – these at the cost of Dragon and Star. The Permanent Committee was heavily lobbied by Dragon enthusiasts and so dumped the 5.5; in the same process the Star owners forced abandonment of IYRU’s Tempest. It took another four years after the ’72 Games for the Soling to become the single three-man keelboat, when the Dragon was finally retired.
In April of 1969, after this bloody battle, the IOC relieved the pressure on the IYRU by allowing a sixth “event”. When the IYRU added the Tempest, a fourth keelboat out of six, sailors throughout the world of small boat racing rose up in fury at the keelboat bias by the elders of yachting. These events, while not quite germane to Soling history, describe the dynamics of IYRU decision making when Olympic classes are changed.
The news of the Trials’ results not only assured the Soling’s status, but stimulated a building spree: three hundred in 1968 and as many or more in 1969. Elvstrom became the dominant builder in Europe, particularly after he won the first Soling World Championship off Copenhagen in 1969. One of the best American helmsmen, George O’Day, was given a licence to build for the US market, just as Bill Abbott Sr. acquired the Canadian market.
Since Abbott, alone of the original builders, has remained a steady supporter of the class and was to become the producer of more Solings than any other world wide, his own story bears telling. The “Chief” (as he is now known in all the hemispheres) had been looking for a small racing boat in 1966 to build in fibreglass for the use of local sailors at the southern end of Lake Huron. Pictures of the Soling competing in the ’66 Trials showed such a boat, and it attracted him as a solution to his search. After negotiations with Jan Linge, who preferred to sell boats rather than license them, Abbott bought a plug which arrived in June of 1967. Molds were then built so that six boats were produced by the end of the year – at a leisurely pace, because Abbott was unaware of the pace of developments at the IYRU. But in 1968, be built 40, 129 in 1969, and then up to one per day as the American market opened to his benefit. Abbott had struck oil without looking for it.
Not all fibreglass boats are identical
It was clear by 1969 that the Soling had arrived. Now it was essential that a responsible class be formed to govern, to encourage measures for its safety and to adopt restrictions against expensive “improvements”. But more important, the class had to control the shape of the hull, keel and rudder. The effort continues even today. Class Rules were therefore a priority, and were built upon those assembled by Linge and Ferner in 1967. Uniformity, the unrealizable goal of one-design mystique, was assured in the Sixties to have been accomplished by fibreglass construction. Experience was to prove a different reality. That called for vigilance by Class Officers.
Many influences were at work even as the Soling was brought into existence. Sailcloth in dacron became available as the replacement for the best Egyptian cotton by 1960, but it took a few years for sailors to learn the significance of draft location and how to adjust it underway. To do that required an assortment of marine hardware for the creation of systems of control. Compare, for example, the vang (alias, kicking strap) of 1968 with its 5:1 advantage tackle to the multi-block 25:1 arrangements on today’s boats. Harken and Holt among others arrived in time to make the Solings a sophisticated boat just as complexity was converting the sport into more science and head work. Leading sailors like Elvstrom were the first to grasp the potential for these developments in boat speed. The Class Rules had to ensure a measured pace.
The first World Championship was won by Paul Elvstrom in a boat named Bes, one of three Norwegian boats built in 1968. Elvstrom spent much time testing his idea, while “customizing” three of these boats – one for himself, one for King Constantine, and one for Erik Johansen, a fellow Dane.
One Design challenge
Said one knowledgeable sailor: “Paul Elvstrom’s boats tested the limits of the Soling class in every direction” (see Article by Graham Hall, “One Design and Offshore Yachtsman”, November 1969, now known as “Sailing World”: 3 pages of detailed photos and comments). When measured and protested “on general principles”, Elvstrom’s boats were faulted on only one point: he “had raised the floor about ten inches and had fibre glassed them to the inside of the hull, making an effective double bottom”. With “Elvstrom bailers”, the boat was self-bailing. The floorboards were deemed to be “overweight”; holes were required to be drilled so that water in the cockpit could collect below in the bilge and be pumped like the rest of the fleet. The article concluded:
“Whenever a boat like Elvstrom’s makes such an impression on a class, there always emerges a re-written set of rules dealing with the major “loopholes” that allowed the development. Such was the case with Buddy Freidrich’s Dragon after the 1967 Worlds in Toronto. The newly elected International Soling Class technical committee will have to deal with any questions that the 1969 Worlds have brought to light. Chief among them will be rulings on floorboards and double-bottoms, hiking straps, devices, handles, hull weight, builder inspections, template enforcement, underwater keel location, and flush-hulled rudders. Recommendations of the ISA technical committee will be forwarded to the IYRU technical committee to ensure that the rules reflect accurately the intention and design of the original boat as adopted by the Union.
The answers to these questions will tell whether and how far the Soling class is actually going in a “one-design” direction. “The thing that bothers me”, George O’Day said at breakfast during the Worlds, “is that we have reached a stage where unless the class makes some far reaching decisions, people won’t buy into it”.
Melges makes the boat “simple”
While the Elvstrom boat of 1969 seemed a miracle of ingenuity that year, it nevertheless offered an extraordinary contrast to the Melges boat of 1972 in which Buddy Melges won the Class’ first Olympic gold medal. The drums used in Elvstrom’s boat to provide mechanical advantage at either end of the cockpit, the centre horse, the four big winches for trimming the jib and spinnaker, the clutter of lines coming into a console at the forward end of the cockpit, the spider web of shock cord to raise the spinnaker boom, the free standing handles on each rail for the crew, the tracks to change clew positions, and even the shroud tracks – all became victims of the Melges systems below decks or behind the bulkhead hatches. Marine hardware had come of age between the Elvstrom boat and Melges’.
The value of the raised floor (now called the cockpit sole) as an essential element in the construction and sailing of the Soling is apparent to anyone in 1996, but it was not in 1969. The ISA meeting of that November adopted it only after a tie compelled Bill Abbott to cast a deciding vote after overnight thought. His agony was in Canada where twenty unsold boats had been built without those floors.
The cockpit sole
A committee of IYRU technical people with help from the class was left to re-draft the rules which could be used by sailors preparing for the 1972 Games. Elvstrom had more ideas for strengthening the boat with support from the floor downward rather than have it rest upon members built up from the keel. He attempted to get IYRU approval without success, but went ahead with his plan in the sixty boats he built in 1970. Although his ideas were ultimately allowed “he had his knuckles slapped”. IYRU too had difficulty in this age of fibreglass: the templates made by the IYRU for the 1972 Games created a major problem because many boats built by licensed builders with approved tooling did not fit – fibreglass construction was more complicated than making muffins.
Jack Van Dyke
It was in this state of confusion that on 1st January 1973 Jack Van Dyke, the then President of the US Soling Association, succeeded Eggert Benzon as ISA President. In 1972 the Soling had been redesignated as an Olympic Class, looking towards the ’76 Games. But the signals at the IYRU were to shape up with better control over the boat’s construction, as well as its potential for high cost improvements contrary to the intention of Section 1 of the Class Rules.
Van Dyke’s previous years with the IYRU helped to make 1973 a watershed year. A “Measurement Seminar” was held in Genoa with the IYRU’s new President, Beppe Croce, Nigel Hacking (Executive Secretary), Tony Watts (IYRU Chief Measurer) and others, for a new and successful effort to tame the tigers of creativity. Since then the class has been able to confront problems, one by one, as they arose. There proved to be many down the years: hiking devices, shroud tracks, jib self tackers, reinforcement of the mast step area, rudders shaped by templates, sail inventories, steps to ensure watertight compartments, more keel templates to discourage excessive fairing and keel shaping contrary to the rules.
Old Friends at the 20th Birthday Party
In 1985, the Class held a birthday dinner party to celebrate its twentieth anniversary. Present to celebrate with us was the late Beppe Croce, then President of the IYRU; and the Chairman of the CPOC during the turbulent years of our birth – Jonathan Janson – who was also Chairman of the 1967 Observation Committee who recognized the beauty of the little boat Jan Linge had designed; and King Constantine of Greece, a competitor at our first World Championship.
HRH King Harald
In 1991 HRH King Harald of Norway graciously accepted the Class’ invitation to succeed his father as Honorary President and he has been extremely supportive of the Class’ aspirations.
Since Jack Van Dyke the ISA has had seven Presidents: Geert Bakker – 1976-1979, Ken Berkeley – 1980-1982, Karl Haist – 1983-1986, Sam Merrick – 1987-1990, Stu Walker – 1991-1994, George Wossala – 1995-1998 and Tony Clare the current President. During this period the major themes of the Class have been the strengthening of its Class Rules to ensure the maintenance of its “one-designedness”, the continuance of its Olympic status (often against significant opposition), the promotion of match racing, and the support of events and opportunities that bring club sailors and Olympic aspirants together.
Geert Bakker provided a transition that led the Class from its pioneer days to its pre-eminence as the world’s most active and admired three-man keelboat. Katrina Bakker says that she knows how much (her husband) Geert (who died far too young in 1992), “loved the Soling Class and what great pleasure it gave him to be President”. Geert was elected to the Presidency in 1976, the year he represented The Netherlands in the Kingston Olympics.
Match racing became a regular feature of the Class’ European schedule in 1983 when Ken Berkeley (who had just retired) donated a trophy for annual competition based upon experience over several years on Lake Balaton in Hungary and in Berlin. Ken Berkeley recruited the present Secretary in 1980 after the death of Eyvin Schiotz who had been Secretary since the early years of the Class.
Karl Haist had been President of the large and enthusiastic German Soling Class before he became the first central European President of the ISA. He encouraged East Germany (then the DDR) to become more active in the regular events of the Class and arranged for the first European Championship behind the “Iron Curtain”. Karl was particularly concerned to maintain the one-design character of the boat and during his tenure additional templates were introduced to control the shape of the keel. As the number of entries in championship events had become excessive, Karl devised a quota system that assured the participation was equitably distributed amongst the nations. Heike Blok brought forward the concept of an international ranking system and donated the Soling World Trophy.
During Sam Merrick’s Presidency the IYRU heirarchy launched a major programme to make sailing a spectator sport, part of which was to introduce match racing into the Olympics. Sam persuaded the Class and the IYRU that if match racing were to be introduced, the ideal means was to use the Soling in a fleet/match event and he presided over the establishment of the present Olympic format in which the top fleet racers advance to a match racing final. The first Soling manual (a guide to racing the Soling), edited by Heike Blok, was published and distributed to all Soling sailors. The number of sails allowed in a regatta was reduced to one main, two jibs, and two spinnakers. Perhaps most importantly, Uli Strohschneider’s campaign to make the Soling unsinkable was successful and the Class Rules were modified to require that hatch covers be screwed into place. No Solings have sunk since this time.
Stu Walker campaigned successfully to keep the Soling in the ’96 Olympics and to continue the fleet/match format. Early in his Presidency the attempt of a builder to construct “Solings” using an illegal foam sandwich was detected and the builder’s licence was withdrawn. Stu established a strong, well organized Technical Committee that included the major builders and which has been successful in openly recognizing and solving problems before they become significant. As President, Liaison Officer, and Umpire, he actively promoted match racing in the Class, and developed with Mundo Vela Cadiz the Infanta Dona Cristina Match Racing Series as the premier match racing event of the Class.
George Wossala, as Vice-President and then President of the ISA, became a major influence in the Hungarian Yachting Association (he is President of the HYA), and subsequently was appointed to several important ISAF Committees. Thanks to his excellent links with ISAF (and with his ability to communicate in any one of a dozen or so languages) he was, and continues to be, instrumental in maintaining the status of the Soling Class as the Olympic fleet/match racer. During his reign as ISA President he also strove to improve the status of the Class’ club racers, while aspiring to, and achieving, an Olympic berth himself (in the 1996 Olympics). He has also instigated the first Soling Masters’ Championship – to be held at Lake Balaton in September 1999.
After serving as Chairman of the ISA Technical Committee from 1980 – 1998 and as Vice President (Administration) from 1990 – 1998, Tony Clare became ISA President in January 1999. He first became a Soling owner in the Seventies for the best possible reason – he saw it as a boat in which he could have tremendous fun racing against a hard core of like-thinkers based at his beloved Burnham-on-Crouch. And of course he was right. Tony is blessed with an enquiring and analytical mind which he has turned to finding out all about the guts of a Soling and what makes it go. He has spent an enormous amount of time and effort over the last 20 years to make the Soling machine work smoothly and to make the Class and its administration the most respected of all the Olympic classes.
Another very long serving ISA worker, Jean-Pierre Marmier (Chairman of the ISAF Measurement Committee, and also appionted as the Chairman of the 2000 Olympic Regatta Measurement Committee), was the Class Chief Measurer from 1980 – 1998 and became Chairman of the ISA Technical Committee in January 1999. He keeps a very close eye on the Class Rules (and updated them to comply with the new ISAF standard class rules in 1997) and has always required competitors to adhere to the highest possible standards. He has been regularly attending ISA Committee meetings since 1977 (in the early days as a proxy, then sometimes as the Appointed member for Switzerland, and sometimes as an Elected member). We cannot imagine Committee meetings without his wise presence.