470 History

Those of you who have not sailed one of these dinghies may have wondered why the 470s sometimes joyfully race ahead and sometimes lie frustrated at the tail of the fleet. The reasons for this will become clear later.

This sloop-for-two measures fifteen foot six or FOUR SEVENTY centimetres. It was designed in the 1960s when dinghy sailing was all the rage. André Cornu had been a champion 505 sailor and, feeling on-coming old age yet not wanting to give up his favourite sport, designed a smaller version of that exciting craft. As his home port was Bordeaux, which lies on the lee side of the Bay of Biscay and on the receiving end of Atlantic gales, he gave his new design a moderately-sized sailplan. Like the 505, it had a wide planing hull, a trapeze and a spinnaker, which, though small, nevertheless doubled the sail area.

The design proved extremely popular and was quickly recognized by the Fédération des Voiliers de France as a national class. Soon after, the International Yacht Racing Union accepted it world-wide. As with all things French, the 470 was adopted by numerous Quebec sailors who wouldn’t sail anything anglo like an Albacore or Fireball. With lots of support from La Belle Province and the media, the dinghy club at Lake of Two Mountains near Montreal bid for and was awarded the right to hold the World Championships in 1972.

At that time I was looking for a new boat. I had taken a real beating in the extremely windy Finn Gold Cup that had been held in Toronto the previous fall. Impulsively I set off for Montreal with the Finn on trailer to be traded in for a new 470. Gas was less than 50 cents a gallon in those days so my crew and I were able to travel far and wide to practise and race: New England, Michigan and even Florida.

Many of the sailors at that first Worlds have since become well known in related areas: Pete and Olaf Harken own Vanguard boatbuilding and the company that makes those famous ball-bearing blocks; David Ullman became an Olympic sailor and also launched his sailmaking company; Bill Abbott Jr. of Sarnia, with his father, builds the best Solings; Bob Johnstone designed the J24. The talent showed and you felt that you were sailing with the best. Even more startling was the winners’ list at that regatta, which brings me back to one of those reasons I mentioned above: Van Essen, twin brothers from Holland; Follenfant twins from France; Vollebrecht brothers of Holland; de Martial brothers from France; and so on. That demonstrates what it takes to become a winner :- teamwork of twins, siblings or close relatives; and lots of practice as Jill and Peter Dalton (who have sailed together since university) continue to show us.

The 470 has fulfilled its purpose and has become world-famous as an Olympic class with a separate division for women. At the same time, it is an excellent club racer. It comes alive when the wind velocity increases… which is why in a calm, you may see it at the back of the fleet! I’ve never regretted that impulsive purchase 18 years ago and I still thoroughly enjoy racing it. What’s just as important, I enjoy the competition with the other skilled and enthusiastic sailors who are brought together by their 470s. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

John Oliver Jan 1 1990

More: 470 on Wikipedia