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Sailing: a healthy game of Darts
June 10, 2011 | By:

For £50 a week – less, once you’ve bought the basics – you and your family could start a competitive watersport. That certainly floats Julie Welch’s boat

Catamaran sailing_the healthy game of dartsAlthough sailing has a reputation as a rich person’s sport, it is less expensive than you think once you do the sums. Look at the Dart 18, for example. Second-hand, one of these can cost less than you’d pay for a decent pre-owned racing bike.

The Dart 18 is an 18 feet-long glass-fibre catamaran (the one with twin hulls). It is capable of speeds of up to 20 knots and intended to be sailed by two people. It’s been a hobby sailor’s favourite for more than 30 years and, give or take a few improvements along the way, is pretty much the same as in 1975, the year it came off the drawing board of Rodney March, designer of the Olympic Tornado class catamaran.

It has a rotating mast, main sail and jib sail, and for the crew an essential gadget known as a trapeze. This is a wire that, from a high point on the mast, clips onto your harness, letting you position yourself outside the hull, braced against it with the soles of your feet while you discover your inner Ben Ainslie. The trapeze gives you leverage to keep the boat flat by allowing your centre of gravity to balance the force of the wind in the sail.

It also lets you hotfoot it along the gunwhale (the upper edge, along the side) to rearrange things fore and aft, so that the boat stays balanced –  a necessary skill to prevent a nosedive followed by a spectacular dunking.

If you have £1,000-1,500 to spend, you should be able to buy something that is perfectly good for knocking about in for a year. At that point, having got the bug, you can think of upgrading. What’s more, if you decide you want to try your hand at racing, one of the beauties of the Dart 18 is that there’s only one design, defined by a set of ‘class rules’.

Roughly speaking, this means that any changes to the boat are prohibited unless the rules specifically allow it.

It follows, therefore, that none of your fellow competitors can steal a march on you by adding those go-faster gizmos that regularly cause knuckles to be rapped in Formula One.

Better still, it means that a ten-year-old Dart is just the slightly senior twin of a brand new one, and as a result your boat hangs on quite impressively to its resale value.

You’ll also need a trailer and, in terms of average spend after that, the cost of getting to events has to be factored in, as well as membership of a sailing club. (A family membership will set you back £300-400 a year.) But if you work out how much it costs to go shopping en famille at Bluewater or Westfield for two weekends a month, you’ll probably find you’d be better off taking everyone sailing. Especially with all that healthy sun and fresh air thrown in free of charge.

All the basics you need to know about the Dart 18 are on the UK Dart 18 Catamaran Association website, which contains information about events, a classified section, technical advice, a club-finding guide and essential tips on buying a used Dart. You can also see the masters of this class of boat in action at the Delphs Dart 18 Worlds 2011, taking place at the end of next month at Knokke-Heist in Belgium.

Meanwhile, the Dart 18 National Championships at Sheppey finished at the beginning of June, which gives you just under a year to buy one of these fantastic little boats, get to grips with sailing it and have a go next year.