I’ve written a lot about my Snipe family, a devoted group that, like me, travels the country and the world to race this 15-foot boat. I’ve also written about Why I Sail a Snipe, and even about my trailer (nicknamed the Frankentrailer). But what about the boat itself? After all, that’s what brought us all together in the first place.
The Snipe was originally designed in 1931 for a contest in Rudder Magazine. 80+ years later the class is still going strong, with active fleets around the U.S. In South America, it’s the default doublehanded racing dinghy. In Europe, Spain and Italy are the powerhouses, though Scandinavia also boasts several active fleets. And recently fleets in the UK and Menorca have been reestablished, proof that this classic hard-chined sailboat still provides a challenge for sailors of all ages.
Bill Crosby designed the boat to be built of plywood by the owner. Though many classic wooden Snipes are still sailing, the boats racing today are professionally built of fiberglass out of certified moulds. The tolerances are tight, which minimizes boat speed advantage and makes for great tactical racing. Of course fiberglass also raised the price above what Crosby probably intended, but compared to more recent designs the Snipe is very affordable to own, maintain, and race. The boat must weigh at least 381 pounds rigged and ready to go sailing, and there is a moment of inertia measurement to keep builders from lowering the center of gravity too much. So with no incentive to build light, a boat will remain competitive for many years.
Each boat can be carried on a small trailer, and many teams choose to double up which saves on expenses and travel time. Most regattas offer camping or home stays, which also saves on expenses. And sails (the biggest expense for most racing sailors) are carefully controlled in an effort to extend their competitive life span.
The boat demands physical and mental ability to compete, and with a range of controls it can be sailed by different weights and combinations. Regular teams include couples, parents and children, friends, and experienced sailors teaching newbies how to crew. The class has even spawned a few romances over the years, including several marriages that are still going strong.
Here's a great video about the class.
Want to learn more? I’ve included a few links to make it easy. And if you have a favorite Snipe memory (or even a romance that started with this iconic boat), let us know in the comments below.
Pan Am Trials photo courtesy John Payne Photography