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Back in 1988, Sailing World did an early review of the Sonar
CLASS PROFILE: THE SONAR
THE BACKGROUND: Club sailors asked for the ideal day racer-and got it, then spawned a model class organization to match it.
Where did the Sonar come from?
Sailing World's own backyard, of course. Back in 1979, the Noroton
Yacht Club in Darien, Conn., did a survey of club sailors asking what
they thought the ideal club racer would be. The answers all seemed to
point in the same directions, but for kicks, the survey went on the
road to other clubs in the area. Ditto - everyone described a
comfortable, 23-foot, keelboat with lots of sail. Noroton then
naturally turned to their local design guru, Bruce Kirby, designer of
the highly successful Laser and the San Juan 24. Kirby had toyed with a
23-foot design for Peter Harken, but shelved it when Harken decided to
concentrate on fittings, not boat building. So through different
rumblings around the neighborhood, Wally Ross, a local businessman and
author of the monumental book Sail Power, linked up with Kirby. "You
design the boat local sailors want," Ross said to Kirby, "and I'll
finance the tooling."
"That was great," Kirby later said. "Exactly the type of commission I
like." What he eventually designed was nothing like his plan for
Harken, but it did take seriously the desires of the local club racers.
They wanted a boat with a large, comfortable, cockpit that could
accommodate a gaggle of kids or non-sailors as a good teaching machine.
They also wanted good light-air sailing performance, so Kirby went with
a high sail area/wetted surface ratio. They wanted a light boat that
could be easily drysailed and trailered. (At 2,100 pounds, the Sonar is
1,000 pounds lighter than a J/24). They wanted a fun dinghy-like boat
to sail, so Kirby drew a fairly flat hull and planned for a jib, not a
How did the Sonar take off?
By early 1980, the first Sonar was tooled up and sailing. Though
they've been through a few builders, Kirby and Ross now feel that
they've got the perfect situation. Since 1986, Dirk Kneulman, a young
and active sailor (he won the 1987 Sonar NAs, and the 1986 Etchells 22
NAs) has been cranking out the hulls at Ontario Yachts. "He understands
the boat, because he sails it," Kirby said.
How did the class grow?
Fleet No. 1 formed at Noroton YC, and Larchmont YC followed quickly on
its heels with an enthusiastic fleet. A strong fleet developed in
Sachem's Head, Conn., and fleets in Nyack, N.Y., Lake Norman, N.C.,
Toronto, Ont., Oklahoma City, Okla., Freeport, Maine, and Marblehead,
Mass., followed. Fleets in Lake Minnetonka, Minn., Lke Geneva, Wis.,
and Kansas City, Kan., got together in 1988 to hold the first annual
Great Lakes Sonar Championship. And a new fleet of 12 has just been
incorporated at Seawanhaka Corinthian YC on Long Island. While the
fleets have begun to spread from their birthplace throughout the
country, Dirk Kneulman reports that Sonars are all over the place, from
Colorado to Florida, from Argentina to the Chesapeake Bay.
What makes up the backbone of this strong class?
Some very dedicated people with some great ideas. Class President Peter
Galloway, along with Craig Sinclair, publish the professional-looking
Echo four times a year on Pagemaker software and a laser printer. The
sleek, easy-to-read look reflects quality content, which includes
extensive race reports, at least an instructional article from an
expert, professional photography, a column from the chief measurer and
a feature on a yacht club in each issue. The Echo is just one way the
class keeps communication open. This fall, Galloway, along with former
president Bill Thomason, also staged a weekend for fleet captains where
ideas for fleet building were discussed and a seminar on boat tuning
was held. Everyone agreed that one excellent way to bond ties between
class and fleet is class dues collection by fleet. Already a few of the
clubs have succeeded in rounding up dues from all members and sending
one check to the class.
From all corners of the class, sailors name Peter Galloway as the guy
who has been most responsible for making the Sonar class "grow like a
weed." Galloway took hold of the class rules and nailed them down. He
simplified them, made them easier to understand, and eliminated
loopholes, making them more airtight. He has also concentrated on
enforcing those rules while resisting a lot of new ones. This
conservatism has garnered him hero status among the fleets.
Because of his engineering background and his drive towards simplicity,
Galloway has been a big asset in coming up with simpler ideas for the
Sonar - from packing the chute to building mast blocks at home. But if
you talk with Galloway, he is quick to point to the boat itself as the
No. 1 reason for class growth. "What we have is unique. I just don't
think there's another boat that is so comfortable to sail and yet
performs so well. And the quality of construction is excellent. We now
have a class measurement certificate which Ontario Yachts completes for
every boat. Each Sonar is as close to one-design as a boat can get."
And in the interest of keeping the Sonar's one-design status as strong
as possible, the class has developed an active and concerned technical
committee which aims to "keep the spirit of the class - namely one of
stability with progressiveness and fairness to all." In that vein, the
committee recently decided after much debate to allow electronic
compasses (but no other electronics) on the Sonar, as long as they do
not offer functions (such as a lift/header indicator) that a standard
compass could not perform.
Who sails the Sonar?
Just about everyone, according to Bruce Kirby. "Women have been in it
from the beginning. It's a good couples boat, and the range goes from
little kids at the helm to crews of 65-year-old guys. But it does seem
that more and more young people are getting into it."
Dave Franzel, former North American champ, and three-time New England
champ, said, "That's what I like about the class. It's a good mixture -
young, old, and in between. Basically, we're all a bunch of expatriats
from other classes. I was a very active Soling sailor, but I think the
Sonar outperforms any boat like it, and I don't have to have two
220-pound jocks who can twist their heads 180 degrees for my crew! I've
raced Sonars with my six-year-old daughter. You can bring along anyone
you want, and neither you or your crew gets beaten up on the boat,
because it's so comfortable."
Dirk Kneulman says that people of all ages and in all different types
of professions are buying the boats. "We get a real cross-section,
because I think it's a good boat for every kind of sailor." In an
effort to get more juniors involved in the boat, Ross and Galloway
succeeded in arranging for the Sonar to be the 1987 Sears Cup boat.
Over the past few summers, a number of hotshots have started to get
interested in the boat. John Kolius, Scott MacLeod, Craig Sinclair, and
Neal Fowler, to name a few, have all taken a shot at racing it. Most of
the Sonar class members are excited to see this, because rather than
just going out to win, these champion sailors are often local crews.
The class has been lucky to have the help of Andreas Josenhans for
several years now. Josenhans, who's been a part of countless winning
crews - the Canadian gold-medal Soling team in the 1976 Olympics, Buddy
Melges' Star Worlds winning efforts in both 1978 and 1979, and two
Soling World Championship teams - works for North Sails. But he doesn't
just supply the Sonars with new sails. He's constantly on hand to give
seminars on tuning, trim, and tactics (targetedtowards the Sonar sailor
who isn't winning top honors), and has put together a 10-page tuning
booklet that most Sonar sailors have come to follow.
What's it like to sail in a Sonar regatta?
Pretty sweet, if you're Dave Franzel, or Bruce Kirby, or Lois and Bill
Brewes, this year's North American champs. But if you're Team Sailing
World, jumping to a Sonar for the first time to race in the New England
Championship last fall, the competition can be a little rough! No
matter, the good-natured Sonar sailors all volunteered to take the
Sailing World team aboard as crew some other time and get us up to
speed. These guys just can't get enough Sonar sailing.