Sailing: Fein prefers to differ on design

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By Stuart Alexander

at Cowes

STEPHEN FEIN took home the Aisher Salver yesterday after his 25-year- old Full Pelt gave everyone else in Class 2 a sailing lesson here. However, he is not very happy about the state of sailboat racing in the United Kingdom.

The system, he feels, has worked against him for years. So this week Fein and his long-time collaborator, the 1984 Olympic bronze medallist Jo Richards, have put their radical yacht in a cradle on the hard and plumped for the traditional.

The Sparkman & Stephens-designed Swan 48 which they are campaigning here, and will soon be taking to Sardinia, is heavier than all the previous boats he has raced put together. That means heavier than a 40-footer, a 36-footer, a Formula 40 catamaran, a Formula 28 catamaran and two Etchells. It is the 36-footer that is on the hard and the Swan is 10 times its weight. The 36-footer has a handicap rating which puts it in Class 1, the Swan, 12ft longer, is half-way down Class 2.

Fein makes his point forcefully. "What encouragement is there to build a light, fast boat?" he asks. "Absolutely none; you'll never win a race. There is no encouragement to push design forward. So, until the new IR2000 measurement rule being introduced by the Royal Ocean racing Club is clear, we can't build a new boat."

Fein very much wants to build a new boat. He is confident he can sell the Swan and he just loves to give Richards his head when it comes to design. It was a joke when they said the 36ft water-ballasted flyer has been built to rules which complied with Swiss trailer regulations, but they were almost forced into exile because they were punished at home for being innovative. "In Italy and Switzerland people came to look at the boat and admire it. Here it is dismissed as a cowboy's boat," he says.

Reluctant to try to form a breakaway group in Britain, he ploughs his own furrow. Never even invited to discuss his views by the sport's organisers, he is frustrated by attitudes he feels are out of date.

"They need owners, but there are two kinds of owner," he says. "Those who know what league they are in themselves, and are happy to let those who are better get on with it, and those who want to drag everyone down to their level."