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Fortieth anniversary of the Force 5 sailboat
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Dec 17, 2012, 4:22 PM

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THE CLASS THAT EVEN A POWER SAW COULDN’T KILL
The year 2013 marks the fortieth birthday for the Force 5 sailboat, whose racing class still has active fleets in Lake Monroe (FL), Pymatuning (PA), Lake Hartwell (SC), Lake Lemon (IN), Port Huron (MI), New London (CT), Hunterdon County (NJ), as well as the south Florida and northern Chesapeake regions.

Its history is closely connected with that of Sunfish and Laser. In 1969, AMF acquired the rights to (and began building) the Sunfish from Alcort. Two years later the Laser was introduced by a different builder, and two years after that - in 1973 - AMF debuted the Force 5.

The Force 5 featured a two-person cockpit (which, rumor has it, can also accommodate a beer cooler), mid-boom sheeting, a proper traveler, double-ended controls, and varnished bright work. AMF hired Steve Baker, and later Lee Parks, to organize and promote racing events for both the Sunfish and the Force 5.

While the Force 5 never enjoyed the commercial success of either the Sunfish or the Laser, over 12,000 boats were built by AMF over the years. In the early days, it was common for major regattas to see 60 to 80 boats on the starting line.

In the mid-80s, a series of events occurred that would have killed a class with a less loyal following. In 1985, AMF succumbed to a hostile takeover. The new parent company soon sold off the small sailboat business to a third party which had also acquired the rights to the Laser in a separate deal. As the story goes, this third party took a power saw to the Force 5 molds. The boat and class were now on life support.

Enter two white knights, Brian Weeks and Bob Cullen, both of whom were long-time devotees of the boat.

Weeks Yacht Yard bought the rights to the boat in 1994 and became the builder of record. Because of the large supply of used boats, WYY’s sale of new boats has been limited, but it remains a reliable source of boat-specific parts.

Bob Cullen has made a second career out of picking up abandoned Force 5s, rehabbing them, and essentially giving them away to prospective racers in the New London, CT area where one of the most active fleets is located.

Bob also began making sails for the boat, and soon developed his own “short rig” sail design which is offered in addition to the junior sail available from WYY. Both use only two of the three mast sections - no need to buy a different lower section. In winds over 10 knots, the smaller sails are competitive upwind with the full rig. They are ideal for juniors, women, and in strong winds for sailors for whom the full rig is just too powerful. For the price of an extra sail, you have two boats in one. Sails with a zippered luff sleeve are also available for those who wish to leave the boat on a mooring with the rig in place.

Although the technology is admittedly dated, the Force 5 remains a really fun boat to sail with just enough white-knuckle factor to make it exciting. Used boats regularly appear on craigslist around the U.S. and a bit less often on eBay. A boat in good condition can frequently be purchased for about $1000, including a trailer, making the cost of entry into an active and very friendly racing class far less than most other similar alternatives. And there are no worries about lining up crew as the boat is raced-single handed.

Although the racing is very spirited and competitive, you definitely do not have to be a “rock star” to be competitive. It is a class where good sailors have a shot at winning a national title, average sailors are inspired to get better, and novice sailors have a choice of starting out in their own division with either the traditional rig or the short sail.

The two premier regattas in 2013 are the Midwinter Championship at Upper Keys Sailing Club in Key Largo, FL (Feb 20-23) and the North Americans which will be hosted by Bloomington Yacht Club at Lake Lemon, IN (June 25-27).

Check out the class website For more details on the class, events, repairs, upgrades, etc: http://www.force5.us


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