History of sailing
Although sailing as a means of transportation predates history, sport sailing—or yachting—seems to have originated in the 17th cent. in Holland. From there it was introduced into England (c.1660) by Charles II, and eventually spread to the American colonies. Then, as now, it was common for sport sailors to join together for social and recreational purposes in groups known as yacht clubs. The world's first such club was founded (1720) at Cork, Ireland. The oldest continuously existing club in the United States is the New York Yacht Club (NYYC; founded 1844). In 1851 members of the NYYC raced the schooner America against British competitors around England's Isle of Wight. Victorious, they deeded their trophy to the NYYC. It became known as the America's Cup, giving its name to the oldest and most prestigious event in international sailboat racing. The United States won every America's Cup (the event is irregularly held) between 1851 and 1983, when it was won by Australia. In the 1980s and 90s radical changes in boat design and charges of espionage and even sabotage roiled Cup competition. The United States regained the Cup in 1987, then lost it to New Zealand in 1995. New Zealand successfully defended in 2000 but lost to Switzerland in 2003. Since 1992, a new class of longer, lighter boats carrying more sail on a higher mast have been used in America's Cup races.
Ocean racing, an arduous and dangerous sport, especially in long-distance solo events, has gained increased notice. Major ocean racing events include the Newport-Bermuda Race, the Transpacific Race, and the Volvo Ocean Race (formerly the Whitbread Round the World Race). Francis Chichester circumnavigated the globe alone in 1967, making only one stop; a year later nonstop around-the-world solo sailing was initiated in a race called the Golden Globe. Today's ocean racers sail advanced multihulled yachts and are aided by such modern technology as sophisticated communication devices and satellite-generated weather reports. Sailboat racing has also been part of the Olympic Games since 1900; at present Olympic sailors compete in nine classes ranging from sailboards 12 ft 1 in. (3.7 m) in length to 26-ft 9-in (8.2-m) sloops. Sailing, traditionally a sport of the wealthy, has been opened to wider participation by modern methods of boatbuilding.
There is no single “yacht type” of boat, rather many types that include sloops, yawls, catamarans, and ketches. The hundreds of different racing classes fall into three broad groups: one-design classes where very similar boats compete; handicap classes where dissimilar boats race, some with an advantageous time allowance; and rating classes where a variety of formulas take into account boat length, sail size, type of rig, and other factors. Sailboats originally had wooden hulls with sails made of sailcloth, a canvas commonly called duck. Today, however, fiberglass hulls and synthetic fabrics predominate, and rigid wing sails, which resemble aircraft wings, are used in place of a fabric sail when a high speed is desired (as in windsurfing or boats used to set speed-sailing records).
Especially popular are the 16–23 ft (4.88–7.01 m) one-design boats; these are mass-produced craft made from a single blueprint and intended for the sailor of modest means. Races between one-design boats are thought to be a particularly good test of a crew's ability, to which, rather than to design, any variation in speed must, at least in theory, be attributable.