Sabre sailing dinghy — a delightful little boat!

In my view, there is no perfect boat that does everything well. I was asking the impossible when I wanted a sailing dinghy that could be sailed one-up or two-up, by my wife and I (very heavy) together, by my wife or me individually, or by one or both of my children (very light!). The boat had to be fun for me to sail, but still stable enough for my wife and children to continue their learn to sail journey in. I also wanted a light boat that my wife or children could manage on the water or on shore. It had to be less than 1.6 metres wide to fit through the bollards at our local launching beach. Am I asking too much?

The Sabre sailing dinghy is a delightful little boat that comes very close to my ideal boat. The main exception is that Sabres do not perform well with too much weight on board — more on that later.

Sabre 1920 on my front lawn at Boreen Point (Lake Cootharaba).

Sabre history

The 3.76 metre (12′ 4″) long Sabre sailing dinghy is a one-design single-handed Australian designed boat. Designed in 1974 by Rex Fettell, who also designed the Minnow, more than 2,000 Sabre sail numbers have been issued as of 2017.

Rex designed the boat as a light and easy to build in stitch and glue plywood/fibreglass, while also being rugged enough to handle breezes of 20+ knots and the chop on Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne, Australia. The boat also had to be able to be rigged quickly, and provide good performance while also being comfortable. In short, the boat had to be a ‘real’ boat capable of being sailed in Australian conditions by average people.

Many different boats have been designed over the years. Only the best boat designs stand the test of time and continue to attract racing fleets around the country. The Sabre is one such boat, with strong fleets nearly 50 years after it was first seen on the waters of Port Phillip Bay.

Sabre dimensions

The main Sabre sailing dinghy dimensions are listed in the following table.

Dimension Measurement
Crew 1 person
Hull weight 41 kg (minimum)
Length (LOA) 3.765 m*
Beam (at the widest measurement station (3) and including gunwales) 1.445 m*
Mast length 5.343 m*
Sail area 6.5 m2 (70 sq ft)^
Australian Sailing Yardstick (2017 – 2018) 127
* Average of the range of values permitted under the Sabre Rules of Measurement.
^ The sail area of the Sabre is somewhat difficult to pin down. The Sabre Association web site history page indicates that the sail area was set at 70 sq ft (6.5 m2), which is what I have recorded in the above table. However, a calculation of the luff (4.670 m) x foot (1.971 m) / 1.6 (to allow for the roach and loose foot) = 5.75 m2, which is a is a very different result. Comparing this to the sail area of a Laser Standard (7.06 m2) or Laser Radial (5.76 m2), I am inclined to think that a lower figure of about 5.75 m2 is correct for the Sabre.

Sailing characteristics

Quite simply, the Sabre is a delightful little boat to sail! That must be why we own two of them!

I have had many rides across Lake Cootharaba on the Sunshine Coast on my Sabres planing with spray flying. The Sabre is a very well balanced boat. In light breezes, I am quite capable of steering the boat simply by shifting my weight from side to side on the boat. The Sabre is sufficiently roomy for a single adult and has comfortable side decks for hiking.

In my opinion, the Sabre is also visually appealing. It has lines that are pleasing to the eye. I must be right, because many people stop to talk about my Sabres.

The ideal crew weight is between 45 kg and 95 kg and sailors range from age 14 to 80 years old sail Sabres. My daughter is 14 years old and can sail our Sabre. Conversely, I purchased one of my Sabres from a 70 year old man; the other boat was purchased from a 69 year old man. However, be careful about loading the Sabre up with too much weight. Despite their history dealing with the rugged conditions of Port Phillip Bay, my experience is that too much weight in anything other than light winds can damage the boat. I think two lightweight teenagers would generally be fine, but I definitely would not sail our Sabres with both my wife and I onboard.

Comparable boats

In Australia, there are three comparable single handed sailing dinghies.

The Laser is the most popular sailing dinghy in the world in the single handed category. While Lasers are readily available on the second hand market, they are prone to cracked mast steps, something that is very hard to fix. Lasers are also less stable than Sabres making them harder for a beginning sailor to stay upright. The standard Laser rig requires high levels of physical fitness to sail, with even the Radial and 4.7 rigs requiring some athletic ability for hiking in fresh winds and ducking under the low boom.

The Impulse is a comparable boat to the Sabre, with similar visual lines and construction. The Impulse is slightly longer at 4 metres and has more sail area at 7.8 m2 (84 sq ft) making its performance more similar to the Laser. The Impulse is sailed at many Australian sailing clubs and is suitable for heavier sailors than the Sabre.

The RS Aero is a modern single handed sailing dinghy. Second hand RS Aeros are rare in the Australian market and are much more expensive than a used Sabre. It remains to be seen as to whether the boat withstands the test of time like the Sabre has.

Other single handed sailing dinghies include the Contender or Farr 3.7. They are very rare on the second hand market in Australia and are not widely sailed. Having trapezes, neither boat fulfills the requirement to be able to be sailed by my wife/children as they develop their sailing abilities.

There are also other classes like the Finn and Europe single handed sailing dinghies. Both have been sailed at various times in the Olympics. Again, they are rare on the Australian market, and I suspect, not suitable for beginners.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *