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The Boats of Summer - Part II

Beach boats say: “Go sailing”

Beach boats say: “Go sailing”

More Boats of summer:

Part I - Eight boats for the season

Part III - Extreme RIBs for summer adventures

For all the ocean racers, bluewater cruisers and classic wooden yachts that grab the sailing headlines, the most popular sailboats in the world are perhaps the most taken for granted.

The beach boats — those under-20-foot water toys with splashy graphics, multicolored sails and fun-loving attitude — can be spotted from Cape Cod to Cancun, from Miami to Monaco. And summer wouldn’t be summer without them.

The modern beach boat goes back 50 years to a couple of inventive iceboaters, Alex Bryan and Cortlandt Heyniger. When their Sunfish debuted as a little wooden sailboat in 1951, it was — at first sight — little more than a surfboard with a sail

( Yet that very simplicity was one of the keys to its success. Its lightweight hull was easy to carry, and the daggerboard and kick-up rudder meant the 13-footer could be pulled up on the beach and easily relaunched. Its single sail was permanently attached to the mast and boom, and it was handled with just two lines. And the catchy graphics and pastel-colored sails made it inviting, rather than intimidating. Anyone could sail a Sunfish.

The Sunfish was an instant success, and more than 100,000 boats have been sold around the world. The design also has been honored by the American Sailing Hall of Fame.

Check the beach at any major resort, and it’s clear the formula still works.

The sailboat fleet at the Bitter End Yacht Club, a resort and marina on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, boasts several keelboats of 20 feet or more. But they’re far outnumbered by the sporty, colorful little beach boats.

“If you rate all the activities at the resort on the basis of popularity, the beach boats would be about a nine,” says Gordo Overing, 44, the resort’s waterfront director. “These boats [serve] all levels of sailor, from kids to families and across the generations. We had a couple in their mid-70s out this morning zipping around together in a catamaran.”

The Xcite, a monohull from U.S. sailboat builder Hunter Marine (, is a good example of the modern beach boat. At 9 feet, 11 inches and weighing just 115 pounds, it’s easy to get in and out of the water. Sailed by one or two people, running rigging consists

of main sheet, boom vang and halyard. But it’s also a

serious sailboat that’s used in the Bitter End’s junior program. In fact, the standard 46-square-foot mainsail can be replaced by the “turbo” version of 54 square feet. With the kick-up centerboard and pop-up rudder both up, the thermo-formed plastic hull (combining fiberglass mat and injected foam) draws barely 6 inches.

The Hobie Wave (, a 13-foot cat designed by catamaran experts Morelli and Melvin, is the most popular boat in the club’s fleet, according to Overing. A modern version of the Hobie 16 cat — a sailing Hall of Famer in its own right — the Wave has all the basic elements of the bigger Hobies, including a trampoline, aluminum mast (with flotation to aid in righting after a capsize), and a 95-square-foot multicolored mainsail. Used in the sailing program for younger kids, the 245-pound Wave has proved fast and exciting enough to make it a favorite among guests. “It’s my

favorite, too,” Overing confesses.

Versatile, user-friendly, challenging and exciting, the beach boat’s allure runs deep, says Overing. “They’re an inviting kind of boat, not intimidating. They say, ‘Go sailing,’ ” he says. “People just seem to be naturally attracted to them. And why not? They’re just plain fun.”