written by Matias Collins on January 1 of 2001 and read by 4969
Re-printed with permission from Sailing Magazine, July '95, written by David Berson
Trim, with a demeanour belying his 73 years, silver hair raffishly swept back, Jan Linge looks like a man who is enjoying life. On this early morning in Norway he chats sociably, breaking his conversation to light an occasional small cigar. Unpretentious, while proud of his accomplishments, Linge might be Norway's most distinguished boat designer best known among sailors as the designer of the Soling - the Olympic class one-design
Jan Linge was born in Oslo and as a youngster learned to sail with a neighbouring fisherman. ""He taught me to go up against the wind."" Joining the merchant marine at the tender age of 15, Linge served two years on a tanker in order to ""try the life"". He went ashore in Singapore, eventually working his way back to Norway. He had already decided that he wanted to become a naval architect and upon his arrival home took all his earnings and bought a sailboat.
The young Linge had already designed and built his first sailboat before the start of the second world war. The hostilities, though, put a stop to his pursuit and almost cost him his life. His father was a legendary resistance fighter operating the Linge Group, one of Norway's best known resistance calls. Eventually; he was captured and executed by the Germans. In fear for his life, Jan escaped to Sweden and eventually on to England. Trained as a radio operator, Linge parachuted back into Norway in 1944, and remained there for the rest of the war doing resistance work
At the end of the war, with the help of a patron, he was able to study naval architecture at the Stevens institute of Technology in New Jersey.
After completing his studies, he returned to Norway, where he developed a reputation as a 5.5 meter designer and builder. ""That was more or less hobby work,"" he recalls, ""which was done after hours."" At his day job, he designed for the Norwegian Navy and supervised the building of minesweepers. Later, he designed the first, lightweight wooden diesel-powered torpedo boats. The 80-foot boats, built of laminated Honduras mahogany and weighing less than 16 tons and powered by 6,030-horsepower diesel engines, could do 45 knots. These breakthrough boats were purchased by the U.S. Navy for use as patrol boats during the Vietnam War.
In his spare time, Linge designed sailboats. The Soling came about when he set out to design a training boat for the then Olympic class 5.5 meter. During the testing program, experimenting with underwater configurations, be separated the keel and rudder. ""I wanted to make a slightly smaller boat in G.R.P and have a cheaper recruiting boat for the 5.5 class,"" he recalls. ""We built our first wood prototype which we sailed in 1964, then we made moulds in 1965, and in 1966 we had the first boats
In 1965 the IYRU announced a design competition to develop a new Olympic class three-man keelboat to replace the existing Dragon class. The IYRU desired a two-ton-displacement boat with 300 square feet of sail. As well as having to be fast, the IYRU wanted the boats to be seaworthy and capable of travelling on their bottoms safely from port to port. The Soling was an outside shot. It fell short of some of the requirements, ""Fully rigged,"" Linge recalls, ""the Soling was less than the weight of the competitor's keel.
Linge describes the boat as, half keelboat half dinghy. The hull is relatively flat and the keel is as light as possible.
Competing against six other designs, the Soling entered the trials conducted by the IYRU in 1967. ""We didn't win a single race but did very well. The Etchells' prototype won but we were always first on the downwind leg and figured we were only about one percent slower than the fastest boat, Linge remembers.
The last day of the series, it was blowing a gale and the last race was between the Soling and the Dutch design. The other boat broke a halyard and the race was cancelled, but we raced anyway and put up the spinnaker in 45 knots of wind. The committee boat couldn't keep up with us."" Impressed, the IYRU committee awarded the design competition to the Soling. Also to the boat's advantage was its low price, $3,000 at the time.
The Soling was built under licensing agreement in Canada and Australia and in 1967 there were about 200 boats worldwide. There are now more than 3,000 worldwide. It competed in its first Olympics in 1972, and has been in every Olympics since then.
As to the derivation of the distinctive name, Linge says it is a combination of the name of his partner at the time, Sverre Olson, and his own. Linge says the sign of the omega, the boat's insignia, was the result of having about 20 design ideas on the table. Not satisfied with any of them, Linge recalls saying, ""There has to be an end to all of this,"" and chose the last letter of the Greek alphabet, omega, which means last or ending.
Linge also designed the smaller Yngling, meaning youngster, as a training boat for the Soling. Them are now 2,500 of these worldwide. By his own estimation, Linge has 7,000 sailboats and 10,000 powerboats of his design worldwide. He also proudly says that as a result of his designs over the years, he has created jobs for more than 6,000 people.
To satisfy his own boating needs, Linge owns a fast powerboat as well as Soling hull No.1 and Yngling hull No. 1. I live by the sea and love to sail with my grandchildren.