The 14 foot Skate is a high performance two-person racing dinghy known for exhilarating rides. It is commonly held by skate sailors, both forward hands and skippers past and present, to outclass all other sailing craft for consistently providing the sensation of speed on the water at the very edge of control in winds ranging from 15 to 25 knots.
The Skate is a national class unique to Australia, originally developed 65 years ago to offer high performance at an affordable price. A quick look at the classifieds and boat building areas of this site will show that this is still the case today!
Fourteen feet long, they have few restrictions and so can be configured to suit individual preferences. Most Skates have a 10-foot long plank for the crew, and an 8-foot plank for the skipper. Planks are slid across the hull from one side to the other when tacking. Other configurations include short wings with two trapezes, longer wings with one trapeze, or trampolines.
The Australian 14' Skate Sailing Dinghy is a two-man dinghy designed in 1956 and was the original performance development class, with the sail plan created by J. Herrick and the hull by Vince Minter.
Extract of an email from the owner of the very first registered skate to the skate website hosted by Softrade dated 03 May 2005:
"Congratulations on the Skate web page. It's just great to see the class alive and well and progressing as it has over the years. It sure looks like a frantic ride these days just as it was 50 years ago when we launched the first Skate. We have been checking the site for the last few years and the wife said I should contact you, so here I am.
"My name is Richard Wilson and along with my three brothers, Gordon, Ken and John, we had the first Skate built by Vince Minter. Vince's idea was to design a boat that was easy to build, cost effective and would keep the older and bigger sailors of the day who were mainly sailing VJ's to stay on the water. And that was exactly the Skate did in those days.
"We did try the VJ and VS associations to adopt the Skate as a class but they were not interested so the Skate association was formed in 1957 and 1958. The Skate was actually launched in 1956 and we had 14 races over that season with 14 wins against all comers from Lake Macquarie to Lake Illawarra. 1957/1958 saw three clubs sailing Skates with as you know the first title being won by Ray Young at Georges River Sailing Club, this boat was the original Skate.
"From there the class boomed over the next couple of years and culminated in the Australian titles being held at Nedlands Club in WA. Between all the family, we have a lot of old memorabilia from the early Skate days if you are interested we could forward these on to you.
"We have attached a photo of the first Skate taken in August 1956 at Port Hacking. Sure a lot different from the boats of today. Once again congratulations to all concerned in the Skate Associations Australia wide. It's great to see the class 50 years on still with a group of enthusiastic sailors promoting a terrific boat.
"Would love to be present at the Australian titles for the 50th year, so we will see what we can do.
"Kind regards, Richard W
"PS Others involved in the original Skate were:
Boat - Vince Minter
Sails - Jack Herrick
Spars - Ray Keating
Skating Insignia - Bill Denman
Naval Architect - Don Dixon"
The hull was redesigned and widened in 1971 by Doug Jefkins and the measurement tolerances were tightened, and the size of the mainsail and spinnaker were increased in 1983-84 season.
The first fibreglass hulls appeared in 1971, with foam sandwich hulls being produced from 1979.
During the 1990s the rig was lengthened and the sail plan modified to improve the aspect ratio.
The class further evolved in 2000 with thoughts of using an asymmetrical spinnaker mounted from a bow pole. Skates are now configured with the taller rig and bow pole (either carbon fibre or aluminium, extendable or fixed depending on personal preference).
These changes have made the Skate easier to sail, and crew weight is now less critical, as evidenced by the number of younger sailors competing at a high level in the fleet.