Class History

contender147hi2007 celebrated the 40th anniversary of the International Contender.  Travel through time with boat archivist David Henshall and find out about the sailors and boats of yesteryear, and how the class has developed.


This history was written by David Henshall; copyright remains with Bearfacemedia for information in this section.
Click on a chapter title or follow the 'next' arrows for the full story.
Want to know more?  David's book "Hooked On - The Contender Story" is out soon!

The Doctor calls

There was no lack of wind at Fremantle, where the famed ‘Fremantle Doctor’ blew with its usual ferocity. The heavy weather stars were very much in evidence, with Brits Simon Mussell and Tim Holden mixing it with Tim Hill, Marcus Hamilton and Jan Von der Bank. Then, with everything set for a grandstand final, the wind went light and Andrea Bonezzi drew on all his experience to win once more, a truly amazing record of 6 World Championship wins.

Christoph Homier won the Europeans at Ebensee, and then once again it was back to Medemblik and another monster fleet of 148 boats.

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Marcus Hamilton, who had been close to winning the title in previous years, finally overcame his great rival, Andrea, at the 2007 World Championships at Medemblik
Søren Andreasen, Graham Scott and Andrea Bonezzi all looked strong, with Homier and Giovanni Bonzio just waiting for one of the top boats to leave an opening. In the end though it was Marcus Hamilton, who had already been second in the event a number of times, who went into the final day with the all important points advantage. With a strong wind blowing and visibility poor in the driving rain, the Race Committee decided against sending the fleet out afloat, a situation that resulted in Marcus being ceremoniously thrown into the harbour as the new Champion. The following year in Ontario (where the promised Kingston Thermal did not materialise), Marcus demonstrated his prowess in light air too, winning the 2008 Championships and  announcing his retirement from racing the Contender.

Farewell to Freddie

Back in Europe, Graham Scott won the Hellerup Europeans and must have looked the firm favourite for when the Worlds came to Plymouth, his ‘home base’. It looked even better for Graham when early on, Bonezzi found a hole in the wind. Whatever the Italian is for the “biggest ****ing hole in sailing” might be, it certainly ranked with the one that did for Barry Watson in Sweden. However, Andrea showed his true class by bouncing back later in the week to win an incredible 4th World title, ahead of Tim Holden and Stuart Jones.
At Garda the following year, Andrea made few mistakes to win the title once again, whilst behind him the growing threat of Marcus Hamilton and Tim Hill let potentially championship winning positions slip from their grasp. Could Andrea now make it ‘3 in a row’ when the fleet went up to Travemünde in Northern Germany?

First though the Contender Fleet had to say a last farewell to Freddie Gale, who finally succumbed after a typically brave and resistant battle with illness.  Freddie’s vision had given the class much of its direction, there was no better tribute to him than the class once again mustering well over 100 boats for its premier event.

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A beautiful boat, beautifully built and sailed…beautifully.
Andrea, with his famous I (ITA) 11 leitmotif, showing how to win
– and to keep on winning
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Once again it looked like a Bonezzi / Hamilton battle out front, but as the week progressed it was Jan von der Bank who kept his nerve to move into the lead.

The event would be decided on the final day, but then, even after the whole fleet had been towed out to the start area; racing was finally abandoned - leaving Jan as the new Champion.

Jan von der Bank, seen here sailing at full speed to escape some of the more insensitive questioning from the German Press!!

Gonna party like it's 1999


The end of the millennium, the ‘Millennium Bug’ and yet more politicking from ISAF. They already had two top International singlehanders, soon they would add to this list the Joachim Harpprecht designed ‘Musto Performance Skiff’ – which would be the final nail in the coffin of the Contender's Olympic aspirations.

The Contender could still attract a top class fleet for its main championships though, as at Kiel the ‘big four’, Bonezzi, Scott, Jones and Renilson, would be joined by John Browett in a ‘top of the table clash’. Scott and Browett dented their chances with mid week black flags, and on the last day only Bonezzi and Browett were left in contention for the title. The Brit picked up a penalty, leaving the consistent Italian to take another well earned Championship.

For the 2000 Championships it was once again back to Medemblik, where a 107 boat fleet almost became 108 as Bernard Shapley’s dinghy was almost cut in two by a powerboat. In the racing, the big names were very much again to the fore, but then some uncharacteristic results in the teens put paid to the chances of Jones and Renilson. The way looked clear for Andrea to collect his 4th title when on the penultimate day, Gabriel Wicke won both races. In the start of the last race of the event, Andrea got into a tangle and had to take a 720º penalty, leaving Gabriel to climb clear into the second place that would make him Germany’s first Championship winner.

Ashore, all the talk was now of Carbon rigs and the difficult question - would the expensive upgrades split the class? Meanwhile, there was a Europeans to contest at Loctudy, where Frank Suchanek won four races, yet only just scraped into the top ten as the light airs consistency of Ian Renilson added more silverware to the sideboard.

The Worlds meanwhile shifted back to Canada, where a small fleet more than made up for the lack of numbers by the quality of the event and the heat of the competition.

The early assumption had been that Andrea would dominate the event but in the end it was Arthur Brett who showed that attention to detail, plus his relentless practice schedule, would bring him success.

Arthur repeated the trick on his home waters of Black Rock YC, near Melbourne, in an event notable for some of the breezy conditions sailed in.

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The Black Rock Championships was everything a
Contender event should be, hot, sunny and windy.

Back to the roots

In 1997 the wonderful city of Sydney was alive with Olympic fever as the preparations for the Games went into overdrive. But first there was the little matter of the Contender World Championships to hold, when for once the famed harbour breeze failed to blow. The lighter weather looked to favour current champion Ian Renilson, who was well placed to continue his form from Weymouth until his boat was  ‘t-boned’ in an unfortunate accident. An incredible all night effort ashore saw his boat back on the water the next day, whilst the Protest Jury was far more sympathetic to him than they had been to Andrea at Hayling.

Ian pulled out all the stops and won two races in a day, but it wasn’t enough to claw the initiative back from Bonezzi, who kept a tight grip on the event to win his second title. Ian took his revenge at the Europeans held at Aarhus, to add another title to his growing list of successes.

ir2.jpgIan could have won back to back World Titles at Sydney, but suffered major hull damage in an unfortunate accident. The locals got him back afloat in record time, but by then Andrea had a stranglehold on the event and went on to win.
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Island hopping

The following year the fleet chose another exotic island location for their championships. Sardinia is famous for hosting the glamorous Swan Gold Cup; however the glitzy lifestyle of the Costa Smerelda didn’t extend as far as the noisy and stony campsite where most of the fleet were based.

Some turned to an excess of alcohol as an aid to sleeping (or so they said) to the point that Keith Paul, who is surely old enough to know better, took a tumble and broke a rib or two. 

Only the British Contender Fleet would think of using a sheep lorry to transport their boats to a major event
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Stuart Jones, Graham Scott and Andrea Bonezzi on the podium in Sardinia. They may have been successful in the week, but could not match
the eyes of the ladies in reception!

There was consolation however in the young ladies who ran the Regatta Office, the surge in testosterone clearly fired up a number of sailors.

Nigel Walbank capped back to back wins with an OCS, the ever present Andrea Bonezzi was never far from the top of the leader board, but in the end it came down to another pair of ex-champions to slug it out as Graham Scott and Stuart Jones contested the final day.

In the end it was Jones who prevailed to take his second win, once again to a chorus of bleating noises from the UK fleet… hardly a surprise there as most of the boats had arrived on the Island in the rear of a sheep lorry!