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We are often being asked ‘what is the link between the Contender Class and Contender Sailcloth?’
Well we are sorry to disappoint but there are no formal links between the class and the Contender Sailcloth Company as we know it now.
But it was indeed a sailcloth company that gave the class its name. We are going back to the late sixties when the Tasmanian Weaver ‘Silk and Textiles’ was making sailcloth for Dame Pattie, the Australian America’s Cup contender at the time. Aparently, the looms were also used for fashionable textiles.
This same company sponsored Bob Miller, latterly known as Ben Lexcen, Australian designer of the Contender, to enter the Olympic trials in La Baule in 1967 with his shrunken FD called Dorothy (named after his wife) as a possible successor to the Finn dinghy for Olympic competition.
As Silk and Textiles offered financial support, the new boat, underwent a name change; Dorothy was dropped and the boat that was despatched to La Baule was now known as the ‘Contender’.
In the end, politics won and the Finn stayed.
Now here comes one of the overlaps. Guus Bierman, the founder of Contender Sailcloth as we know it now was a top Dutch FD sailor (Dutch Rep 1972 Olympics) and gave Ben Lexcen and Craig Whitworth his FD for a series in Muiden, the Netherlands. Ben Lexcen mentioned that he was designing a single handed (mainsail only) small FD and Craig asked Guus if he would be willing to become a member of the international Contender launching committee to promote the boat and find builders. Guus did so for a number of years.
Another overlap was at the actual 1972 Olympics when the owner of Silk and Textiles Mills at that time, the Alcorso family, approached Guus to begin a partnership making sailcloth in Australia under license. Guus in those days was the managing director of Howe & Bainbridge Sailcloth in Europe and was very exited about this idea. Unfortunately, this never eventuated. Apparently Silk and Textiles was taken over by Dunlop Australia and subsequently closed down soon after.
The last overlap was the name. When Guus Bierman decided to start his own sailcloth company in 1986 after many years working with Howe & Bainbridge he remembered the name Contender. He liked it a lot and after some research it was only a fast speed boat manufacturer in the USA that was to object but that ‘problem’ was soon resolved.
The rest is history. It is worth mentioning that current senior members in the Contender Sailcloth Company have actively sailed the class. Roeland Wentholt in the Netherlands owned and raced a Rondal Hull and Jan Scholten from Contender Australia owned and raced a Wind Rush Hull.
The Contender is recognised as an International Class by World Sailing, the governing body of sail boat racing, which administers the class rules.
The boat has a trapeze which allows the sailor to use their weight more effectively. The design of the boat does not favour sailors within a narrow or extreme size or weight range, past Champions have ranged from 60 kg to more than 90 kg. While physical fitness, agility and strength are advantageous, good technical sailing skills and experience can count for more.
The fabric used in the Contender Class is the popular Fibercon® Pro High Aspect 4.52 Polypreg.
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