The catalyst for the introduction of the Sonar into the UK was Andy Cassell’s Cowes-based campaign for the Paralympics in Atlanta in 1996. Andy’s ‘Paralympic Challenge’ raised the funds to import two Sonars, Josh and Jasmine, that were flown to the UK aboard an Antonov freighter in early 1996.
Andy went on to win Gold in Atlanta and the first UK Sonar fleet started to grow in Cowes as more and more local sailors discovered the fun of Sonar racing.
Late in 1996 the International Class Association came to Cowes to look for a European builder for the Sonar. Chris Pegna and Wendy Owens took on the challenge and created Sonar Yachts to distribute the Sonar in Europe with building subcontracted to Harley Raceboats.
The moulds arrived in the UK in April 1997 and the first seven Sonars were built for the European Disabled Championships. In August 1997, the Sonar raced in Cowes Week as a class for the first time.
The trophy for the Tuesday Race in Cowes Week is the Kirby Cup, named after the Sonar’s designer, Bruce Kirby. On hearing about this, Bruce was delighted and said: “The last time I sailed in Cowes was in an International 14 in the Prince of Wales Cup in 1958. It’s a great feeling to know that there’s a trophy named after me for a Cowes Week race in a class that I designed.”
The first boat for the Island Sailing Club was delivered in March 1998. The Island now has a fleet of nine Sonars that are available for charter by members, non-members, and corporate customer. Seeing the success of the Sonar, several other Clubs are considering purchasing their own fleets of Sonars.
Sonar Yachts has now (February 2003) built 45 Sonars, which sail in twelve countries. They have supported the World Disabled Championships in Cadiz 1999, Sydney Paralympics 2000, World Disabled Championships in St Petersburg in 2001 and Medemblik in 2002.
The Sonar gained ISAF International Class recognition in March 2000 and held its first World Championship in Newport, R.I. in 2001. The UK Class Association has sucessfully bid to stage the 2011 World Championship in Scotland Dates to be Agreed.