Sailing was an Olympic sport at the 1908 Summer Olympics. The Sailing program of 1908 was open for a total of five sailing classes (disciplines), but actually only four Sailing events were contested. It turned out that no entries were made in the 15 Metre. The planned venue of all races, named matches was Ryde, Isle of Wight.
At the 1907 The Hague Conference of the IOC Ryde at the Isle of Wight was appointed to host the sailing regattas, for all classes, of the games of the IVth Olympiad. However when there were only British entries for the 12 Metre matches, and both yacht were located at the Firth of Clyde, the decision was made to use Hunter’s Quay as a second venue.
At Ryde the race committee used the available shipping buoys as marks for the courses. 16 nm for the 8 Metre and 13 nm for the 6 and 7 Metre.
The number of entries was not high. This was because the decision of the classes to use was taken less than one year before the games. Building wooden boats, in a class not proven yet, varying in length between 12 and 30 meters, practice with them and ship them to the games in time was for many owners a challenge. Overlooking the circumstances 13 boats from 5 countries was an achievement.
Countries that participated in the Sailing event of the 1908 Olympic Games. Blue: Water Gray: Never participated in OG Dark Gray: Participated in earlier OG Green: Country participated for the first time Dark Blue: Country participated also on previous games Red: Country boycotted the sailing event of the OG
Although one of the oldest organized sporting activities, sailing in the early first part of the 20th century was not uniformly organized. This had a lot to do with national traditions as well as with the fact that there were no standardized boat types with uniform building instructions and measurements. Also a lot of development was done in the area of boat design and boat building. The shape of a boat, specifically its length, its weight and its sail area, are major parameters that determine the boat's speed. Several initiatives were started to create a formula that made it possible to have boats race each other without having to calculate the final result. But the different countries initially could not agree on an international system. At the Olympics of 1900 it was clear that sailing was not ready for international competition, and something had to be done.
This Olympic sailing event was gender independent, but only two women, Frances Rivett-Carnac in the 7 Metre, and the Duchess of Westminster as extra on her 8 Metre, participated. The duchess of Westminster also distributed the diplomas of special merit to the competitors of the other Olympic sports on July 25, 1908.
The matches at Ryde were held in light air conditions.
All members of a team had to be a citizen of the country they represent. However the boats used did not have to be built in the same country that the team was representing since the Olympic games are considered a test of skills and handling for the team and not a test of the yacht. This in contrast with the matches for the America's cup of that time.
A second 7 Metre yacht was entered under command of Capt. Sloan Stanley but failed to make it to the starting line.
At the end of the official report the following suggestion was made:
It has been suggested that in the yacht racing of future Olympic Games it might be better to select a fleet of “one-design” boats in the waters where the Games are held, and let all the crews entered draw lots for them every day, with the proviso that no crew should have the same boat twice.
Sailing had to wait until 1920 before the first “one-design” class was selected for the Games.