Long Island Sound yacht designer and builder Skip Etchells created the 31-foot keelboat in 1965 hoping to win selection as the new Olympic keelboat. The design dominated the racing in the selection trials, but lost in the onshore voting. Nonetheless the Etchells developed a strong following in the Northeastern United States and word spread across the country and around the world.
Nearly 50 years after the first boat touched water, the class is as strong as ever. For the past two decades, the Etchells has been known as the boat that many professional sailors choose to race when not being paid to sail something else.
Jeff Madrigali is a two-time Olympian, 1996 Olympic bronze medalist and former world champion in the Soling, the boat that won the aforementioned Olympic selection trials. But he has been sailing the Etchells since the early 1980s, both as the skipper of his own boat and as a crew for other skippers.
"It's a great boat to sail," says Madrigali, "and it's got a high level of competition."
The number of entries in recent class world championships has varied from 41 last year to a high of 100 in 1998. While Etchells sailors are used to large fleets, sailing in anything close to 100 boats presents some unique challenges.
"There a lot of risk versus reward analysis involved," Madrigali says. "Starting becomes more paramount, and not only getting a good start but also being able to sail to the favored side of the course on the first leg. Doing well in this event might be just as much about not doing bad in any one race as it is about doing well [in each race]."
Other names to look out for from across America's Cup, Olympic medallist and match racing champion spectrum include John Bertrand (AUS), Brad Butterworth (NZL), Malcolm Page (AUS), Taylor Canfield (ISV), Stephanie Roble (USA), Bill Hardesty, Andy Beadsworth (GBR) and 2016 Olympic hopefuls Annie Haeger (USA) and Luke Ramsay (CAN).
Up to nine races are scheduled, all but one of which will count toward a team's final score. Registration and measurement for the regatta began on Saturday 21 June, with the racing taking place on Rhode Island Sound, Tuesday 24 June to Saturday 28 June.
For more information about the regatta, including a complete schedule of events and an entry list, click here . For more information on the class, visit the Etchells Class Association website.