For the first time in nearly 25 years, competitive Finns are now available in South Africa, a country with a long and proud history in Finn sailing.
Pata Finns Africa built its first prototype in June after extensive collaboration with Pata Boats in Hungary and with financial assistance from the South African Finn Association and through the International Finn Association's FIDeS programme (Finn International Development Support).
For the project coordinators, Philip Baum and Greg Davis, sailing at the Olympic Games was a long held dream, but, sailing Finns in South Africa, it always remained a dream as the political situation precluded them taking part in their youth.
Now all that has changed and the two have teamed up with Pata Boats in Hungary - one of the leading builders of Finns worldwide - and have started to build competitive hulls and masts in South Africa using moulds from the Pata boatyard. Not only do they hope to rejuvenate the South African Finn fleet, but they also have ambitious plans to revive Finn sailing right across the African continent.
In the 1950s South Africa was represented in both the Naples and Melbourne Olympics and held its first Finn National Regatta in Durban in 1958, won by Paul Elvstrøm. The class exploded over the next 10 years with 400 Finns being built and imported. The names of Helmut Stauch and Bruce McCurrach were predominant over this period.
At the South African Finn Nationals in 1968, there were 77 Finns on the start line, won appropriately by Paul Elvstrøm again, with Willy Kuhweide second and Bruce McCurrach third. Unfortunately South Africa exited the Olympics in the same year. The growth continued, but at a lesser pace without the Olympic incentive. By 1980, boat numbers had reached 510. The last Finns built in South Africa were 24 years ago in 1986 with boat registrations at 542. Notwithstanding this, apart from one year, there have been Finn Nationals from 1958 through to 2009 with the 2010 championship being held in July. In 2008 the class celebrated its half centenary.
Project director Philip Baum explains more about the landmark project. "The project comes about as a result of a dream of Greg Davis and myself to have South African youth compete in the premier class at the Olympic Games. There is also an ambition to rejuvenate South African Finn sailing."
"Greg Davis has been building boats since he was a teenager. Having built a variety of youth boats when he was 19 he built a cold moulded wooden Finn which he sailed in the 1981 Gold Cup in Gromitz, Germany. Over the years since he has been involved in many other boat projects including ocean yachts. He has been National champion in the Finn class for a number of years and won many other National titles, including the prestigious Lipton Cup 10 times. In the Finn World Masters he has had numerous top 10 placings."
Baum continued, "Weak currencies and cost of import tariffs have been the biggest hurdle to getting Finn sailing going again on the Continent. Now that we are building in South Africa we bypass these hurdles. There are a number of bilateral preferential trade agreements between South Africa and other African countries. We will take advantage of these as well as lobby the relevant authorities for exemptions in support of Olympic sailing."
"The moulds arrived from Pata in South Africa on Wednesday, 26 May and the first boat was released from the mould on 9 June. We hope to have two boats sailing at the South African Finn National championships out of the Zululand Yacht Club in Richards Bay."
"The International Finn Association has been enormously supportive and encouraging of our initiative providing EUR 1,500 to assist with the shipping costs. The South African Finn Association also contributed EUR 2,500 to the exercise and, so, together met this burden."
As well as Greg Davis - who builds the boats - and Philip Baum - who financed the project - Barry Burton-Barbour has handled the legal work and applications for Government support, Manuel Mendez has provided boating industry expertise and Tim Addison has developed the Pata Finns Africa website.
The availability of a set of moulds came about through the Hungarian builder Pata Boats developing its products. Antal Gabor (aka Pata) spoke about the project, "It all started through my connections with South African Finn sailors, especially Greg and Philip. They always called me when they needed to rent a boat or something, so we became good friends."
"Over the years I have continuously developed my boats and masts, trying different ideas to make the boats faster, so then I had a mould I didn't need and to fund the new mould I decided to sell the old one. This is where they came in. I would sell and they would buy."
"The mould that we sold to Philip is a very successful one, with boats from it winning several big titles. The mast mould is also very close to my heart. We won two European titles with masts from that mould and also several other major titles. Now we have a new CNC machined mast mould that is more precise and I hope we can build perfect masts with it."
"The advent of Pata Finns Africa is very exciting. In addition to the home base in Hungary, Pata Finns are now being built in two Southern Hemisphere countries - South Africa and Brazil - on two different continents. This makes the Finn even more relevant as an Olympic class boat than ever before."
"I wish my friends, Greg Davis and Philip Baum, great success with this new venture."
Baum has ambitious plans for the fledgling project.
"We expect to have some 20 boats on the water by the end of 2011 and want to build some 50-100 boats for supply across the African continent and possibly India. South Africa and India have very good commercial and political ties as a result of the Struggle Years. The response to the limited publicity so far about the start up of production in Cape Town has been phenomenal."
Baum hopes to make the new Finn available to other African countries as well. "We now need to market the availability of the boats extensively, especially in other African countries where we need to encourage Olympic sailing. It should be noted there are already many international yachtsmen in other parts of the Continent but a lack of affordable boats has been a barrier to Finn sailing. We will need to embark on a marketing campaign as well as visiting other centres of sailing on the Continent. This remains work in progress. There have also been All African sailing events held with other classes and we are hoping to have Finns at the next."
"There are many young South African yachtsmen and others from the other African countries who already compete and campaign internationally in other classes. Access to internationally competitive equipment such as the Pata Finn will help enormously."
"It is our ambition that African yachtsmen should be a force to be reckoned with at international events in the coming decade. We see ourselves assisting and promoting South Africa becoming an Olympic Class training centre in the European winter. Our summer weather and the fact that we are on the same time line makes us an ideal winter training venue and now we will be able to offer internationally competitive Finns domestically with a good resale market."
Ian Ainslie, a three time competitor at the Olympic Games for South Africa in the Finn was very encouraged by the project. He said, "The class in South Africa has suffered in the last 10-15 years from not having a local builder.
The perception has become that it is bit of an 'old man's boat', as typically the only guys who could afford good equipment were masters sailors. This is an extremely generous gesture by Philip towards young guys that would like to sail seriously and could not previously afford the equipment."
"The first step in producing an Olympic sailor from the country is to raise the level of the local fleet. With more Finns around, the many big kids will realise that there is more to life than rugby. On another level, I think this project can help with further transformation of South Africa. Black sailors have now won the South African Optimist and 420 nationals. We look forward to a black South African Finn champion in the near future."
The President of the International Finn Association, Balazs Hajdu summed up, "There is large interest for Finn sailing around the world with a record number of entries and nations participating in the famous Finn Gold Cup and the continental championships every year. In addition, national fleets also keep growing with an unprecedented number of junior sailors joining the class every year."
"In an endeavour to make the Finn available on all continents, IFA teamed up with the South African Finn Association (one of more than 50 national Finn associations worldwide) and helped design this great project. It is part of the Finn International Development Support (FIDeS) programme which has already supported the creation of our South American Finn manufacturing site in Brazil back in 2008."
"With the world's population getting heavier and taller, young athletes need an Olympic dinghy class allowing sailors heavier than 85 kg to sail competitively. And with this project our South African friends will have this opportunity and I am sure this will be a good example for other African countries."
For more information and how to order a Finn from Pata Finns Africa see the company's new website at: www.patafinnsafrica.com
For more information on the Finn see the International class website at: www.finnclass.org