Many sailors feel intimidated the first time they look into the cockpit of a Flying Dutchman.
"They see all these lines and it just looks like spaghetti," said Lyn Robson as he prepared his boat for a shakedown sail Monday. "But that's also what draws a lot of people to this class. If you can sail this boat, you can sail anything."
The Flying Dutchman, a 20-foot, two-person dinghy, is a sailor's sailboat. It is one of the most difficult boats to master, but the rewards are great because it also is the fastest monohull on the water.
"Speed, that is what sold me," said Bob Tausinger.
"You can make 24 or 25 knots on a three-sail reach. This is the Formula One of sailing."
Robson and Tausinger have sailed a variety of boats. But now they are dedicated Dutchmen. They are not alone in their loyalty. This week more than 100 sailors from 15 nations converge on St. Petersburg to see who is the master of this sleek craft, a staple of Olympic competition for more than 30 years. The Flying Dutchman U.S. Open begins Friday and is followed by the world championships next week.
"It is pretty exciting," Robson said. "We are starting to hear different languages spoken around the Sailing Center."
The last time the St. Petersburg Yacht Club hosted a world championship was 1962, and, coincidentally, Flying Dutchman also was the boat of choice.
There was fierce competition internationally to host this year's event. The Yacht Club sent a delegation to Italy in 1995 to campaign for the event. When the final votes were tallied, St. Petersburg defeated the Royal Dutch Yacht Club in Holland.
The long, low boat is more popular in Europe than it is in the United States. It was designed in the early 1950s by a Dutch naval architect with competition in mind, and in 1958, it joined the ranks of Olympic boats.
"The class has a lot of history," Tausinger said. "Many of the world's greatest sailors have sailed the Flying Dutchman."
In 1962, Hans Fogh and Paul Elvstrom, considered the world's most decorated sailor, won the worlds in St. Petersburg.
"He is still sailing," Tausinger said.
"At the Olympics in Savannah, he sailed in the Tornado Class with his daughter. We're expecting him here again for the worlds."
It takes an experienced sailor to get the most out of a Dutchman. Each boat has eight to 10 control lines that allow the boat's driver to adjust to changing conditions while under sail.
"Sailors call this changing gears," Robson said. "We can do things on the water that most sailors have to do back at the dock. We can control every aspect of the boat very accurately."
The long, flat hull allows the Flying Dutchman to get up on a plane very quickly. The large sail area (main, Genoa and spinnaker) gives the boat ample power.
Stability is increased in high wind by a "trapeze" device that allows the sailor to lean, or hike, over the side of the boat.
Unlike other one-design boats, not all Flying Dutchmen look alike. The class recognizes that different regions have different sailing conditions, so sailors are allowed latitude in cockpit design and rigging. But strict standards are maintained for hull shape, sail plan and weight.
There are roughly 1,200 active members in the Flying Dutchman class in 40 countries. The United States has about 25 active Flying Dutchman crews. Those boats are equally split among St. Petersburg, San Diego and the Northeast.
What's in a name?
Flying Dutchman sailboats have nothing to do with the legend of the Flying Dutchman, the phantom ship doomed to sail around the Cape of Good Hope with a cursed captain and crew of dead men. The class got its name from the sponsor of the first world championship, Flying Dutchman Airlines.
Bare hull 275 lbs.
Fully rigged 364 pds.
Main 108 sq. ft.
Genoa 90 sq. ft.
Spinnaker 274 sq. ft.