Year of Design: 1966
Length Overall: 30.5 ft (9.3 m)
Length Waterline: 22.0 ft (6.71 m)
Beam: 7.0 ft (2.13 m)
Draft: 4.5 ft (1.37 m)
Mainsail: 187 sq ft (17.4 sq m)
Jib: 110 sq ft (10.3 sq m)
The Etchells is a fast but stable racing sloop which can be sailed competitively by 3 or 4 average sailors. It can tack through 70 degrees and its low wetted surface hull keeps moving in the slightest breeze – in 20 plus knots of wind it absolutely flies. Over 1400 boats have been built worldwide, but the class rules ensure that older boats remain competitive, allowing newcomers to join with relative ease.
In 1965, a competition was launched to select a new three-man Olympic keelboat. Elwood “Skip” Etchells, an American boat designer, built the wooden Shillalah, for the trials held in the autumn of 1966.
Shillalah performed well at the trials, winning eight of the ten races. Nevertheless, the judges were unable to agree on a winner, and a second set of trials were held planned for the following year. For these trials Etchells rebuilt the boat in fibreglass, using the original Shillalah as a plug. As with the first trials, Shillalah II (as the new boat was named) dominated the races, winning ten out of the thirteen that were held, and only just missing out on an eleventh.
In spite of this however, the Olympic judges chose the Soling over Etchells design. Nevertheless, the boat’s performance had won converts. The boat entered production and is now extremely popular worldwide.
One of the joys of sailing the Etchells as a crew is finding that extra subtlety of tuning or technique which converts a fast boat into a lightening quick boat, one capable of winning races. To that end, it is worth ensuring both rig and crew are ready to hit the sweet spot of performance. Several resources are available to help: There are several video tuning guides for the Etchells available online. The main points of interest are covered in a series of short videos produced by the Cowes fleet, and a longer video from the Hong Kong fleet covers the entire process. The major Etchells sail makers also produce written tuning guides for correct setup of the boats when using their sails. Follow the links for North Sails and Doyle Sails. Harken also produce a guide to Etchells deck gear layout. And finally, we all know it is useless having the perfectly prepared boat if the occupants are not up for it too. So, to wring every last fraction of speed and enjoyment out of your Etchells, check out these excellent crew manoeuvre video tutorials, demonstrated by Oscar Mead of the Cowes Etchells fleet.