I first tried to post this on Tuesday but it hasn't been letting me, maybe because I'm new, but if the forum won't let me post I can't be blamed for not responding to the above.
First of all, thank you Chris, I agree with much of your message and you're desire to prompt the class into responding. Actually I'm quite disappointed that I'm only 2nd to reply after 2 days, and I'm sure Chris must be more disappointed so come on people! - hopefully it's just no-one wanting to go first, so I shall have a go.
Quick intro as very few of you will know me. I bought my Sonata, Tiger Rag, last winter and sail her at Whitby. I've been racing at Whitby since 2010 - Tiger Rag is my 3rd boat, I downsized from a 1/2 tonner. This season we have been getting used to the boat club racing at Whitby. Next season we plan to be more active and travel to an away event or two.
So I'm not an expert on the Sonata fleet, but as a new owner I can tell what attracted me to the class - and so what should be attractive to others.
Less crew required. This was the biggie, to race the 1/2 tonner needed at least 4 (supposed to have 7) and I simple got sick of chasing crew, so I wanted a boat the the wife and I could take on our own
Competitive on handicap. Whilst struggling with an under-crewed 30 footer the Sonatas which were able to keep up and then bag all the prizes on handicap (NERR system in Whitby - it's a measurement system a bit like IRC used on the North East Coast) made me rather envious. Many club races will tell you it's the taking part that counts - then they complain when they lose.
Cost. I was able to sell my old boat pocket 2/3 of the cash and buy Tiger Rag with the rest. And moorings and maintenance are cheaper too.
Trailable. 3 reasons this is important - I can take it home for winter to work on as I live an hour from the coast, I have more chance of getting to away events (the dream of sailing there in a big boat was simply to time consuming), I won't get stuck paying storage on it if I'm ever unable to use it for a while - I'll simply take it home.
One design class. Other than the opportunity to race like for like at events the attraction of this to me is that you know what you're getting and that there are plenty of people around with the same thing who can give advice. My last boat was a much rarer thing so I could find little information on it - and sometimes its performance (or lack of) was a complete mystery, I didn't know if it was me or the boat - If you can't make a Sonata go you know it's you!
Back to point 1 then. As Chris mentioned people are choosing to sail short crewed. And a Sonata isn't a short crew boat - 4 crew required. Except that several Sonatas I know compete regularly in club races with 2, and do pretty well. I know I'm not the only person to buy a Sonata with the intention of 2-handing the majority of the time, it is actually a major benefit of our boats that they can be sailed well with less crew than the bigger boats. I wonder therefore if consideration should be given to allowing 2-handed boats into some events, the thought of having to find extra crew (and potentially disrupting a good team) may put some off doing even local events. Whilst 2-handers may struggling to compete at the very top I'm sure they could be worthwhile additions to the fleet - and I reckon in the right conditions surprise a few.
Maybe a prize for top 2-hander will tempt them. (just an idea - but as no-one else has had any ideas )
Moving on to attracting new-comers. My experience is that the vast majority of new yachts in clubs are bought by crew members from other boats who fancy trying it for themselves. Sonatas should be very attractive for this as they are low cost and competitive. Perhaps the facts that they are relatively easy to sail and there is lots of advice available to new-comers need to be promoted somehow to attract these people.
And finally events. Well if I'm going to get my boat onto it's trailer and tow it across the country to an event I want it to be worthwhile. And as I'm going to sail that means lots of racing. I think at least 3 preferably 4 days of densely packed racing. And a nice bar to go in afterwards. Cost will always be an issue so I think the bursary is good. And any other help we can wrangle - cheap lift in, moorings etc. And a shirt is always nice.
Regional events maybe should be shorter weekend events. I do think effort should be made to get them going again too. I think the problem with the Northerns has been lack of volunteers at clubs to run them. I can only suggest the association does whatever it can to assist making the running as easy as possible for the hosts, maybe go as far as helping provide race officers.
Right I think that's all from me for now.
Oh, one last thing. I'd pay early if it was £10.