In 1965 Yachting Magazine sponsored a design competition based on the International Yacht Racing Union (IYRU- now ISAF) specifications for a new three-man Olympic keelboat. Skip Etchells, yacht designer and boat builder from Greenwich, Connecticut, USA, followed the results of this competition with interest, but not until trials were set for the fall of 1966 in Kiel, Germany, did he decide to design and build a contender. The result of Skip’s effort was SHILLALAH, which was taken to Kiel and sailed by Skip. Entries in the competition, including SOLING, CONQUEROR, THRICE, ANDER and KOBOLD, sailed ten races, eight of which were won by SHILLALAH.
Because they could not agree, the judges decided to try again in 1967 at Travemunde, Germany, and invited the 5.5 Meter and DRAGON as well. Skip re-built his boat in fiberglass, using the wood SHILLALAH for the mould plug. The second selection regatta involved 13 races ten of which were won by Skip; an eleventh win was missed by only one second. Although the uncontested racing winner was SHILLALAH II, the SOLING was inexplicably picked as the Olympic boat. One of the most interesting facts that came out of this competition was the vastly superior sailing performance of most of the new creations over the old standby keelboat classes. The brand new 5.5 Meter was soundly beaten by Skip’s design and the Dragon came in last to everyone in point scoring.
By the time SHILLALAH II came home to Connecticut in fall 1967, her performance had already attracted a following. George Cane, James Fulton and David Larr from the Long Island Sound area actively demonstrated the prototype to friends and sailors in the area. In a few weeks time, enough interest was generated to begin production. An initial order of 12 boats was placed with Skip’s yard, Old Greenwich Boat Company, for 1968 delivery. A class organization formed immediately and the boat was named E 22 because the design is 22 feet on the waterline. Contrary to rumor, the name is not a sly dig at Skip’s Star Class pals who frequently called his wonderfully built Stars “Etchells 22s.” Strict One-Design measurement rules were firmed up and a racing schedule was set up for that year. Skip and the Old Greenwich Boat Company built the first 36 Etchells from 1967 to 1969, and continued to finish boats molded for him by Tillotson-Pearson through the early seventies.
In 1972, the IYRU formally recognized the E 22, as a first step towards granting International status. The Class Rules, Measurement Form and Rules Pertaining to One-Design Control were subsequently accepted by the IYRU and the Class was officially recognized as an International Class effective July 1, 1974. In 1990, the yacht and the Class officially revised their names, dropping the “22” to become “International Etchells” and “International Etchells Class Association”, respectively. A new logo, eliminating the “22”, was designed and accepted by the Class in 1996.
From the beginning the Class grew steadily in North America. Tillotson-Pearson took over the total production from Skip Etchells in 1971. Alan Teitge began building the boat in Tacoma, Washington and fleets began to appear from coast to coast. In 1975, Ontario Yachts started producing Etchells in Canada and by 1982 Ontario had supplied over 100 boats to fleets in Toronto and Halifax, as well as to US fleets in California, Washington, New York, and Massachusetts. In California, Driscoll Custom Boats became a licensed builder in 1976. Currently, the twenty-six active fleets in the United States are located in every section of the country with over 625 members.
Activity outside North America began with the establishment of the International E22 Class Association of Australia in 1973. Tooling was shipped to Tom Savage in Melbourne. Within a year he built 30 boats, and until he stopped building boats in 1980, Tom Savage would build 127 Etchells. In 1981, Pamcraft was granted the Etchells license in Australia and during the next 10 years built 200 Etchells. From the fall of 1991 to the spring of 1996, Bashford Boat Builders built 111 boats for the avid Australian Etchells market. Currently, Pacesetter Etchells P/L is the Australian builder. As of December 2004, there are thirteen very active fleets in Australia with over 600 members. The Australian National Association has contributed strong Class leadership and has been host to nine Etchells World Championships.
In Scotland in 1974, Robertsons of Sandbank began production. In 1995, Petticrows Ltd. in Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex, England, took over production for the United Kingdom. In 2004, David Heritage Racing Yachts bought Petticrows moulds and obtained a building licence from ISAF.
With the establishment of fleets in Israel, Italy in the mid-1990’s, Denmark in 2001, France in 2003 and Ireland in 2004 growth in the European market continues. A fleet in the Netherlands is anticipated by late 2005.
The first Etchells World Championship in Europe was held at Cowes on the Isle of Wight in 1996. The 2001 World Championship was hosted by the Lymington Fleet on Christchurch Bay near the Solent and the Worlds will return to Cowes in 2007. The newer fleets have been keen participants in major events. The first French fleet, located in Antibes hosted the 2003 European Championship, sponsored by Bugatti. The Irish fleet held its first Irish National Open late August 2004 and drew Russell Coutts as well as several top British teams. The Fleet based at the Howth Yacht Club, near Dublin will host the 2005 Irish National Open and 2005 European Championship on back to back weekends in late August.
The Hong Kong fleet established in the early seventies continues to flourish with boats imported from Australia and the United States. Their successful Asian Pacific Championship series sponsored by OOCL shipping agents attracted worldwide participation. The 1997 Etchells World Championship was held in Hong Kong; it was the first international regatta held in the Peoples Republic of China.
A strong active fleet has grown in Bermuda where each spring the Bermuda International Race Week attracts Etchells skippers invited from fleets all over the world. New Zealand, one of the newest National Associations, has embraced the Etchells with tremendous fervor and enthusiasm. From 1995 to 2000 the number of Etchells grew from three boats to 60 and from zero to three fleets. New Zealand Class leaders, mainly Doug Reid, organized the 1996 Qantas Etchells Regatta to attract interest in the Etchells Class. This very successful regatta brought six legends of sailing Buddy Melges, Bruce Nelson, Rod Davis, Russell Coutts and former Etchells World Champions Colin Beashel and Dennis Conner to Pine Harbour Yacht Club to compete in the evenly matched Etchells. The regatta sponsored by Qantas, Sheraton Hotels, Mobil Oil and Steinlager enjoyed national television coverage and was an outstanding event watched by thousands of spectators on shore and hundreds of spectator boats on the race course.
The New Zealand Etchells Class Association’s strong growth is a direct result of the boat’s performance and the strict One-Design Class Rules which govern the Class, as well as New Zealand’s legendary love affair with sailing a sweet boat.
The One-Design Technical Committee and the board of Governors have worked very diligently over the years to maintain the integrity of the boat and strict adherence to the One Design rules. A major result of this effort is that older boats remain competitive, allowing newcomers to join the Class with a modest investment. Currently 1310 boats have been built, with more than eight hundred racing competitively worldwide. In the past few years a trend is emerging for some older Etchells to be converted to very attractive, high performance daysailers.
A U.S. National Championship was first held in 1968. By 1975, the competition for the Founder’s Trophy, donated by Mary and Skip Etchells, included representatives from North America, Europe and Australia and became the World’s Championship. Current Class membership is over 1600 sailors from thirteen countries. Class members include sailing greats such as Dennis Conner, Dave Curtis, Russell Coutts and Gary Jobson. Families, young talent and impressive Masters and Seniors divisions bring a great diversity to the Class. The annual World Championship is now a showcase for international talent from fifty fleets worldwide. The strength of the Class is the enthusiasm and talent of all its membership paired with a well designed boat and the strict adherence to the One-Design rules.