The Dragon

The Dragon is the pre-eminent one design keelboat in the world. There are Class Associations in 31 countries across the globe and more than 1,300 boats registered as actively sailing. Sailors range from Olympic medallists to enthusiastic club sailors, and aged from 8 to 85, but all find that in different ways the Dragon provides a type of sailing that they enjoy. The Dragon has held this position almost from the moment it was first conceived in 1929. Ninety years of success and no sign of it coming to an end.

The Design

By the end of the 1920s sailing was a popular sport but it was mainly in large and expensive yachts. The economic outlook in Europe and the world was poor and there was a need for an inexpensive boat, especially for young sailors. A design competition was launched in 1928 by the Royal Gothenburg Yacht Club (GKSS) in Sweden for an affordable cruising keelboat that was “relatively fast, externally attractive and seaworthy”. Johan Anker, already an eminent yacht designer and winner that year of an Olympic Gold Medal in the 6-meter class, was the winner and his one-design entry, based on the 20 square-meter rule, was approved that year by the Royal Gothenburg Yacht Club, the Royal Danish Yacht Club and the Royal Norwegian Yacht Club.

One reason for the Dragon’s success is its paradoxical emphasis on tradition and renewal. Although the hull shape has remained the same for 90 years (although now measured a little more carefully), the rig and cockpit has undergone careful change. The original boat had berths in a cabin, and a mast 40 cms further aft than it is today. By the 1940s most Dragons were used in regattas and not for cruising, and a larger genoa and a spinnaker were introduced and the accommodation removed.


Many yacht classes disappeared during the Second World War and in 1946, Peter Lunde, one of Norway’s best Dragon sailors, travelled to London with the aim of promoting new international regatta classes. He carried with him the Anker family permission to use the drawings internationally, as long as they were approved by the IYRU (now World Sailing). The Dragon was awarded Olympic status that year.

From the beginning the boats had the characteristics which have maintained the class. They are very elegant and always attract attention. They are interesting and technically rewarding boats to sail.

Further refinement has continued, but always carefully controlled and in a way that minimises discrimination against older boats which are always able to upgrade. In 1971 metal spars were introduced and in 1973 glass fibre construction arrived. In 1975 the spinnaker was enlarged and the shape improved. More recent changes have focussed on sail and rig controls, often making use of new rope fibres. The class has remained loyal to Dacron sails however, mainly to keep costs down.

The introduction of GRP construction was very carefully handled, led by Borge Borresen, at that time the biggest builder in the class.  More recently competition among builders has led to very careful quality control and therefore the production of extremely well-built and long-lasting boats. As a result there are now more than 1,300 boats affiliated to National Class Associations worldwide and it is estimated that there are as many again still in use, often as cruising boats.

The Sailors and the Competition

The Dragon spread very rapidly and widely from its beginnings in Scandinavia. Club fleets were established in several European countries within a few years and international competition began with the donation by the Clyde Yacht Club Conference of the Dragon Gold Cup in 1937. The internationalism of the class was then reinforced by the French gift of the Coupe Virginie Heriot for a European Championship in 1948, and above all by the Dragon’s inclusion in the Olympic Games in the same year, which lasted until 1972. The World Championship was first held in 1965. The Worlds, Europeans and Gold Cup are the elite events for the class, regularly contested by fleets of over 70 boats. Winners have come from thirteen countries, dominated by Denmark and Germany. More recently Russian helmsmen have become a force in the class. Among the names that have been prominent are such as Poul-Richard Hoj-Jensen, Ole Berntsen, Aage Birch and Borge Borresen from Denmark, Thor Thorvaldsen from Norway, Markus Wieser, Vincent Hoesch and Tommy Muller from Germany, Fred Imhoff from the Netherlands and Lowell North, Bob Mosbacher and Buddy Friedrichs from the US. In addition more than a dozen Olympic medallists from other classes have subsequently enjoyed much success in the Dragon, a testimony to its wide appeal.

Below the elite level, dominated by ex-Olympic and professional sailors, there is a vast range of opportunity offered by the class. A glance at the IDA’s list of fixtures shows regattas at varying levels throughout the year and the world. These range from local club events or weekly points races through to national and regional championships. The typical competitors are amateurs with strong sailing backgrounds, with perhaps a bit of help sometimes from a professional friend. The size of fleet varies from about ten to over thirty. The range of venues is great, from peaceful central European lakes to the more arduous locations of coastal northern Europe and Australia. Wherever it is, there is the certainty of meeting many very friendly, slightly obsessive sailors.

The Dragon’s Enduring Appeal

The Dragon’s long keel and elegant metre-boat lines remain unchanged, but today Dragons are constructed using the latest technology to make the boat durable and easy to maintain.

GRP is the most popular material, but both new and old wooden boats regularly win major competitions while looking as beautiful as any craft afloat.

Exotic materials are banned throughout the boat, and strict rules are applied to all areas of construction to avoid sacrificing value for a fractional increase in speed.

The key to the Dragon’s enduring appeal lies in the careful development of its rig. Its well balanced sail plan makes boat handling easy for lightweights, while a controlled process of development has produced one of the most flexible and controllable rigs of any racing boat.

Class Structure and Governance

The Dragon class has been designated by World Sailing as a World Sailing Class Association and maintains that status by complying with a detailed set of WS criteria. These govern class rules, licensed builders and the general administration of the class. They permit the Dragon Class to hold regular World Championships. The International Dragon Association (IDA), governs the class under WS rules.

Under the IDA there are 31 National Associations to which individual sailors belong. The IDA selects the venues for major regattas and elects an Executive Board which oversees the class rules (with the assistance of a long-established Technical Committee) and championship rules, and seeks to ensure the highest quality of racing is maintained with continuous oversight of Championship Regulations and event management. The National Associations run their national events and, above all, are responsible for the membership and ensuring that the class remains one to which sailors are proud to belong.