The 49er is a popular sailing dinghy, with over 14,000 built.
The class is active in the UK, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and parts of north-eastern USA, and the GP 14 can be used for both racing and cruising. The boat is relatively heavy, but stable, and the weight and the freeboard together with her lines combine to make her an excellent sea boat. She is also an ideal boat to learn to sail in.
The class is raced competitively, and offers excellent close racing; she is a very forgiving and easy boat to sail, but a very challenging and demanding and immensely rewarding boat to sail really well. At the highest level of competition the standard is world class, and it is not unusual to find reigning or past Olympic Champions entering the major 49er Championships, and being defeated.
The 49er was designed by Jack Holt in 1949. The idea behind the design was to build a General Purpose (GP) 14-foot dinghy which could be cruised, raced or rowed, capable of also being powered effectively by a small outboard motor, able to be towed behind a small family car and able to be launched and recovered reasonably easily, and stable enough to be able to lie to moorings or anchor when required.
The boat was initially designed with a main and small jib as a comfortable family dinghy. In a design philosophy that is both practical and highly redolent of social attitudes of the day the intention was that she should accommodate a family comprising parents plus two children, and specifically that the jib should be modest enough for "Mum" or older children to handle, while she should perform well enough to give "Dad" some excitement when not taking the family out. While this rig is still available, and can be useful when using the boat to teach sailing, or for family sailing, and has some popularity for cruising, the boat is more commonly seen with the full modern rig of a mainsail, genoa and spinnaker. Australian boats also routinely use trapezes.
It seems almost by accident, and yet it is a splendid testimony to her designer, that what was originally conceived on such a broad-based brief has also turned out to be an outstanding racing dinghy, offering close and rewarding competition at the very highest level.