As wider society slowly emerges back into the light of what is fast becoming the following the Covid lockdown, questions abound surrounding the long term fate of the UK dinghy sailing scene. Even though sailors are slowly starting to get back afloat again and some are even racing, the full range of organised events still looks some way off with some fearing that dinghy sailing could well be stuck in a half-tide land of limbo for some time into the future.
Yet for dinghy sailing, the truism that every cloud has a silver lining seems very is starting to look increasingly true, as one of the main beneficiaries of the lockdown could well be the grassroots activity of sailing at your home club. With the usual routines of regular racing proving difficult to organise, sailors are re-discovering the depth of pleasure that can be enjoyed when just having fun out on the water.
Having fun is a bit like beauty, in that it is in the eye of the beholder, but there are few sailors afloat in these strange times who haven`t come back ashore, grinning from ear to ear after enjoying the simplest yet most satisfying of pleasures by just blasting along on a reach!
More Fs.... First and foremost, sailing should be about having fun. Sailing then windward running back downwind might be great for selecting who is the fastest, but the process might be losing something fundamental (another F!) along the way - photo Scow Moth Club
This is just one example, but there are plenty of others that highlight in terms of cause and effect that there seems to be a clear relationship between taking away the fun and the decline in participation. In a race, only one helm/crew can win, but everyone can come back wild eyed and excited after sailing those high speed reaches that are the very stuff of talk in the bar afterwards.
Back in the early days of the 20th century there would be a lot less in the way of cross fertilization of ideas and even within the more limited domestic scene, new ideas could be very localised. Almost from the outset, dinghies developed in the UK would evolve along lines that tended towards a high degree of sophistication, and by the middle to late 1920s, the Boat Racing Association singlehander had morphed into the International 12. Even more importantly, the International 14 was already gearing up for greatness and just a year after the first Prince of Wales Trophy event, the 14s were being formally recognised with full International status.
Thankfully, there were those with a more open mind towards the potential of innovative hull shapes, with one of these being none other than John Westell, an International 14 sailor and Y&Y journalist. During his years of wartime service, John had been based out in Sri Lanka where much of his off duty relaxation time was spent blasting around, having fun in a very flat bottomed Sharpie style dinghy that he had designed.
Meanwhile, elsewhere around the world, scows were enjoying the start of a renaissance as in Australia scow hulled Moths were gaining a hollow in the hull that would become the famed story, when US dinghy designer Dick Fisher chose a scow hull as the basis for a fun beach boat that could compete with the dominant Sunfish (a theme that will reappear in this story later).
Even better, the Fireball did not need a huge macho male crew at the front, with this being perfect for the new breed of girl crews who wanted to be a part of the action out afloat. The boat was fun afloat and with plenty of girls in the fleet, it would soon become a byword for fun ashore. The Fireball would provide a platform for role models at both ends of the boat and in 1968, Christine Sandy crewed her brother Peter to the first of their National Championship victories.
Just how successful the Fireball would be at opening up the access to performance sailing to all was seen in 1975, when Joan Ellis, crewed by her husband Art, won the Fireball World Championships. Marie Faroux had won the Moth Worlds some years earlier, but back then there were question marks hanging over the international status of the Moth event, but there were no such issues surrounding the Fireball Worlds. This mean that Joan would go into the history books as the first female winner of a full international one-design World Championship.
Another marketing picture extolling the virtues of the Fireball, promising fast fun, good racing and a great social scene. In contrast to many of the rather staid alternatives (the Hornet still had a small kite and a sliding seat) the Fireball was a true game changer - photo UK Fireball Assoc
If there is a boat that defines how there are few limits to how much fun can be had out afloat it is the Fireball.
The problem was, the rapidly developing multihull scene could do all this already and better. Though the YW Scow was a spectacular sight when afloat, the inescapable logic was that you could either go quicker in a cat, or you could have just as much fun in the smaller and more user-friendly Fireball.
Away from the Moths, the best advert at the time was for a single handed scow, the ToY, which in the late 1960s through into the 1970s and enjoyed strong support along both sides of the North Sea. With its simple hull form and rig, the ToY offered a promise of inexpensive fast fun, which it could deliver on a day when there was reasonably flat water and plenty of reaches in the course.
In numeric terms, the big scow success stories to sit alongside that of the Fireball would eventually come from the drawing board of Ian Proctor. Moving forward into the 1960s and with international travel becoming an accepted part of the sailing scene, it was now much easier to pick up on influences from abroad and it was whilst Ian was working in the US that he was impressed by two boats at opposite ends of the size scale. As a designer with a love of both speed and style, the US lake scows had really caught his eye, as had the almost ubiquitous Sunfish beach boat. On his return to the UK, Ian brought these two ideas together in a simple scow hulled fun focused beach boat that he called the Minisail.
There were so many great ideas in this one small package, with a two-part mast that that you slotted into a hole in the deck and a sail that could just be rolled up. The Minisail would go through a number of design developments that would take in GRP construction and a sliding seat, but all of the Minisails retained the two key features of a scow hull and a boat targeted at having fun. For a couple of years in the days before the launch of the Laser, the Minisail was Europe`s fastest growing singlehander, only for the class to get all but swept away by the Kirby-designed phenomena.
In later life Ian Proctor would talk about the Topper as one of the designs that gave him great pleasure. Not just because the boat had become a global success, but because it was also a fun reacher that gave so much fun to so many people - photo David Henshall
Of course the super-skiffs that now dominate so much of the upper echelons of the sport will continue to rule, but if the wider majority are starting to think about a return to a more grassroots orientated pastime at the home club, where the emphasis is on fun, then maybe it is time to turn the clock back in terms of the boat we sail.
From the colour scheme to the hull logos, the Skeeta can hardly hide the fact that this is a boat that is all about having fun - and it is a very modern scow as well! - photo Melges Performance Sailboats
F might stand for Flat (as in bottomed) but is also stand for Fast but more than anything, F stands for FUN. Blasting about might not appeal to the purists but maybe now is the time for us to go back to that best of basic essentials....of having fast fun (even in a flattie).
We offer fun full
fun full, fun, full,