Five Fun Sailing Facts

Are you a newcomer to sailing and interested in hearing more about the sport? Or maybe a seasoned sailing veteran looking for some tidbits to share at the next party when people ask about what you do? Whether you’ve heard each of these fun facts about sailing already or not, they’re worth sharing to demonstrate the depth and breadth of the sport of sailing:

Tougher Than They Look

Girls as young as 16 have sailed around the world alone! Jessica Watson of Australia and Laura Dekker of Holland, both 16 at the completion of their voyages, each sailed a boat singlehandedly around the globe. Watson sailed her boat nonstop and unassisted, while Dekker made stops along the way. Another 16-year-old, Abby Sunderland of California, attempted a singlehanded circumnavigation in 2010, but had to be rescued after rough weather dismasted her boat in the Indian Ocean. The Guinness Book of World Records and The World Sailing Speed Record Council have decided not to recognize attempts for youngest circumnavigator in the future, to discourage kids from making such dangerous record attempts.  Note: Dekker’s journey is chronicled in the recent film documentary Maidentrip.

Worth Their Weight in Gold

Some sailors have taken home medals from 5 Olympic regattas! Unlike many other sports, sailors can only win one medal per Olympiad, because a regatta series can take over a week to complete. For over 50 years, the most successful Olympic sailor was Paul Elvstrom of Denmark, who won 4 consecutive gold medals between 1948 and 1960. This record was topped in 2012 by Ben Ainslie of Great Britain, who has taken home 3 gold medals in the Finn class, as well as a gold and a silver in the Laser class. Another 5-time medalist is Robert Sheidt of Brazil, who has 2 golds and a silver in Lasers, in addition to a bronze and a silver in the Star class. Fellow Brazilian Torben Grael also has 5 medals; 2 golds and 2 bronzes in the Star, and a silver in Solings.

Unbeatable (almost)

Sailing still holds the longest winning streak in sports history! The New York Yacht Club successfully held onto the America’s Cup for a 132-year period from 1851 to 1983, when it was finally won by challenger Australia II. Having won what was originally called the “100 Guinea Cup” from the Royal Yacht Squadron in an exhibition race around the Isle of Wight, the New York Yacht Club renamed the trophy after its winning entry, America. It’s a common misconception that the trophy is named for the nation itself, largely due to the 24 consecutive victories American teams accumulated over time. Since first being won by Australia in ’83,  the Cup has changed hands every so often: it’s been won five additional times by the U.S. (’87, ’88, ’92, ’10, ’13), twice by New Zealand (’95, ’00), and twice by Switzerland (’03, ’07).

 The Boats You’ll See Everywhere

Some of the world’s most popular sailboats are also some of the smallest! The Laser, a lightweight, singlehanded 14-foot sailboat, is a globally-adopted youth trainer and one-design race boat. Over 200,000 have been produced and are registered in 122 different countries. Families enjoy them because they’re easy to transport, simple to rig, and capable of plenty of speed. Serious racers enjoy the physical demands that the boat requires for top performance, and the Laser fleet is the largest in Olympic competition. The 8-foot Optimist dinghy enjoys similar popularity around the world with competitive racing for younger kids and teens, and many of today’s top sailors first learned to race in Optimists before graduating to bigger boats.

Sailing at Freeway Speed

As of November of 2012, the fastest sailing speed on record was 65.45 knots, or over 75 miles per hour! Paul Larsen of Australia set this record with the specially-designed Sailrocket 2, in breezy conditions in the waters of Namibia. Sailrocket 2 is an unconventional design, intended for sailing on one tack in a straight line on flat water. Not the most practical boat for the average sailor, but revolutionary in accomplishing the goal it was designed for.  Speed records have previously been set by multihulls, kiteboards and windsurfers.


Rick Arneson, M.B.A., is the author of Plotting the Course and a competitive sailor with over three decades of sailing experience.


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  1. […] to sailor, coach, and writer Rick Arneson, the most popular sailboats are the smallest! The “Laser,” the most common sailboat, is […]