1.6 Tuckups and Hikers -the lost dinghies of the Delaware

Hiker lithograph large
Hikers on the Delaware. The boat in the foreground has slung two men onto the “pry board”, a plank slung over the windward rail, to keep the 15 foot long hull upright under the press of a sail that could be as much as 450 sq ft.  The masts could be up to 28 feet tall, and to achieve a wide enough shroud base these Hikers were fitted with “whiskers” projecting out three feet from each side of the bow.

Smaller boats seem to have been almost ignored around by the sandbagger sailors. Although there are mentions of people sailing the famous Whitehall rowboats, searches reveal no races for them. There are reports of some racing catboats as short as 12’/3.66m, which were said to be so tippy that their skippers had to part their hair down the middle, and laugh only out of the centre of their mouth.[40]  But it was said that to the sandbagger sailors, boats under 16 feet didn’t count.

1874sailboatsracingonthedelawareoiloncanvas
There’s a reason they called these Delaware 15 footers “Hikers”. In this Thomas Eakin painting, three crew up forward hike outboard hanging onto ropes leading up from the bilge.

However, a few miles further south, another group of Americans were sailing  smaller boats that were much closer to the modern dinghy than the big, heavy sandbaggers. Several types of clinker (lapstrake) 15 footer were developed for hunting waterfowl or picnicking along the still-unspoiled Delaware River near Philadelphia.

The Delaware sailors cruised and raced out of hundreds of small (10ft by 20 ft) boathouses that occupied the piers jutting out from the riverfront, crammed so closely together that 90 boathouses of the Southwark Yacht Club burned in one day in 1881. “Here there are several long wharves, lined on each side with rows of two-story boat houses, twenty to thirty in a row” wrote W.P. Stephens. “In these houses are stored hundred of duckers and tuckups, while the upper story of each is fitted up more or less comfortably for the use of the crews; gunning, fishing and camping outfits, with sails and gear, being kept there.”

Perhaps it was the confines of the small boatsheds, in which 15 footers were stacked one above another in racks, and the practicalities of launching from piers that caused the Delaware classes to evolve towards slender, lightweight and efficient hulls instead of following the sandbaggers and other catboats down the path of great beam and power.

sc157073
“Starting out for rail” by Thomas Eakins, shows a Ducker, smallest of the indigenous Delaware classes, setting sail on a hunting trip.

Although the exact classifications varied from era to era and club to club, the Delaware 15 footers were generally divided into three or four classes. The double-ended canoe-like “duckers” were restricted to 42″ or 48” beam, about 115 sq ft of sail in a sprit cat rig, and two or three crew.[41]  The transom-sterned “tuckups” carried four crew, a beam of 4 feet, and about 112 to 144 sq ft of sail – due to rule changes and the unique local way of measuring sails, exact figures are hard to find. The biggest of them all were the hikers, which had a beam of up to 6ft (later restricted to 5ft) and carried up to eight or ten crewmen to handle a vast cat rigged main of up to 450 sq ft. The hikers carried masts as high as 28 feet, using “whiskers” or outriggers that extended out each side of the bow in the style of a modern Open 60 shorthanded racer to spread the shroud base to give the mast enough support. Centreboards were light by the standards of the time, with some boats using wooden foils instead of metal ones, and even a “first class hiker” could have a bare hull weight as low as 175lb/79kg – light even by today’s standards.

feb 24 1887 F and S with Delaware classes cropped
Forest and Stream newspaper for February 24 1887 carried information about the Delaware classes at the time. The correspondent noted that duckers were allowed to use larger sails, but that most used sails of “only” 112 sq ft.

Perhaps because the narrowness of the river required short tacks or perhaps because they chose light weight instead of power, the Delaware classes relied on crew weight for ballast instead of sandbags.  “Fastened to the center-board the mast and the lower yard of the sail are five or six ropes, which are long enough to hand over one side into the water. On the ends which go over the side are fastened bars of wood, and on these bars of wood hang the human ballast” wrote a story by the Philadelphia Press which was reprinted in newspapers across the USA. “The captain yells frantically “hike over”.  In an instant the ropes are stretched taut and the wooden bars disappear into the water, followed by the men or the posterior part of them. Only their legs remain in the boat as they sit on the transverse bars and hold on to the ropes. Every other wave surges up to their necks, and often a dip to windward submerges them completely, with the exception of their legs, which flourish wildly up over the side at the boat, but when they reappear again the craft has been saved from capsizing by this sudden hanging out of from 800 to over 1,000 pounds on the windward side. Sometimes an entire tack across the river is made with the crew ‘hiking out’ in this manner.”

Hikers from Wassersport cropped
A Hiker, as pictured by the German Wassersport magazine. The position of the crews’ hands seems to confirm that they sat on the wooden handles of the “toggles”, rather than just holding them in their hands in front of them. Wassersport is one of the publications that has been scanned in by the wonderful people at the Faszination Segeln yachtsportarchiv.

Other Hiker crews used their crew weight even more effectively, hanging onto their enormous rigs by sending three or four men out to windward on giant “pry boards”, like those of the racing sharpies or the Log Canoes further south. Maritime historian Ben Fuller (who wrote an excellent article on the Delaware classes for the May/June 1999 edition of Wooden Boat magazine) notes that some boats even used hinged hiking racks, like those of 1980s 18 Foot Skiffs.

Of course, carrying such a  big crew in a small boat became a disadvantage in light winds, and the Delaware sailors found the same antidote as other early dinghy racers.  If the wind dropped off, “the captain glances significantly at one of the crew, the yachtsman grins, pulls off his boots and drops overboard” noted the Philadelphia Press. “Perhaps he is picked up, perhaps he is not noticed in the excitement of the race, and is left to take care of himself. In this case he calmly strikes out for the shore, half a mile away. Sometimes half a dozen men are dropped over in this manner from one boat, in order to lighten her and keep her rivals from crawling ahead. But woe betide the captain who sacrifices too many of his men. There may come an unforeseen wind and bowl over the too-lightly ballasted boat in the twinkling of an eye.”

From 1880 to 1890, these spectacular and fast open boats of the Delaware could attract fleets of up to 100 boats, with spectator crowds and fleets to match; indeed judging from the number of accounts of races where a racer was hindered by a non-racing boat, sometimes the line between “spectator” and “racer” may have become blurred, perhaps because of the influence of gambling. These races were extraordinarily long and risky by modern standards, with 30 mile races common and the 15 footers sometimes racing over 100 miles.

The Delaware sailors formed an egalitarian mix, where doctors sailed alongside labourers, trolleys to move the boats were shared communally, and boats were used for cruising as well as for racing.[42]  “On Sundays in particular the wharves and houses are crowded, the boats are off for short cruises up or down the river, or races are sailed between the recognized cracks, handled by old and skillful captains and trained crews” recalled W.P. Stephens.

 

plate46b

Lighter and slimmer than the sandbaggers, the Delaware 15 footers seem to be the most modern boats of their era in some ways, but they still clearly showed a close kinship to rowing boats. A “tuckup” like Priscilla, above, earned its name because the planks along the keel at the stern were “tucked up”, or curved up high towards the waterline instead of running out along the keel line. The keel was then added on, instead of being formed by the hull planks. Despite the unusual plank layout, the lines below show that tuckups like Priscilla had the narrow, Vee shaped stern sections and highly curved buttock lines of a rowing boat. As maritime historian Ben Fuller notes, the tuckups resembled the famous Whitehall rowboats of New York, but were slightly flatter and fuller to improve their performance under sail. Fuller also observed that the later Delaware tuckups were starting to develop fuller, flatter sterns. The lines below come from Forest & Stream of May 3, 1888.

Tuckup priscilla cropped

In some ways the Delaware classes seem to be the most technologically advanced small dinghies of their day, but unlike the sandbaggers and the beamier catboats further north, they had little impact outside their home waters.

Sadly, a type that promised to add so much to the dinghy racing scene died late in the 19th century. As Fuller notes, the rise in other sports like cycling and baseball had an effect. So too did the fact that the Philadelphia sailors only rented their boatsheds. By the mid 1880s, the waterfront boathouses had been demolished, as the piers were replaced by industries and railways. The hikers and tuckups vanished almost entirely from our knowledge, and with them went one of the healthiest and most advanced small-boat scenes of the era – probably an innocent victim of economic and geographical changes outside its control.

 

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1.13 Tuckups and Hikers – the vanished world of the Delaware dinghies

Hiker lithograph large

Hikers on the Delaware. The boat in the foreground has slung two men onto the “pry board”, a plank slung over the windward rail, to keep the 15 foot long hull upright under the press of a sail that could be as much as 450 sq ft.  The masts could be up to 28 feet tall, and to achieve a wide enough shroud base these Hikers were fitted with “whiskers” projecting out three feet from each side of the bow. 

Smaller boats seem to have been almost ignored around by the sandbagger sailors. Although there are mentions of people sailing the famous Whitehall rowboats, searches reveal very few racing. There are reports of some racing catboats as short as 12’/3.66m, which were said to be so tippy that their skippers had to part their hair down the middle, and laugh only out of the centre of their mouth.[40]  But it was said that to the sandbagger sailors, boats under 16 feet didn’t count.

1874sailboatsracingonthedelawareoiloncanvasThere’s a reason they called these Delaware 15 footers “Hikers”. In this Thomas Eakin painting, three crew up forward hike outboard hanging onto ropes leading up from the bilge. 

However, a few miles further south, another group of Americans were sailing  smaller boats that were much closer to the modern dinghy than the big, heavy sandbaggers were. Several types of clinker (lapstrake) 15 footer were developed for hunting waterfowl or picnicking along the still-unspoiled Delaware River near Philadelphia. They had skinny and low hulls in the classic “oar and sail” style, which will be subject of a later post. In typical fashion, as time went by they started racing.

The Delaware small-boat sailors operated out of hundreds of small (10ft by 20 ft) boathouses that occupied the piers jutting out from the riverfront, crammed so closely together that 90 boathouses of the Southwark Yacht Club burned in one day in 1881. “Here there are several long wharves, lined on each side with rows of two-story boat houses, twenty to thirty in a row” wrote W.P. Stephens. “In these houses are stored hundred of duckers and tuckups, while the upper story of each is fitted up more or less comfortably for the use of the crews; gunning, fishing and camping outfits, with sails and gear, being kept there.”

Hikers from Wassersport cropped
Hikers from the German magazine Wassersport, digitised by the wonderful German classic yacht archive site. The position of the crews’ arms seems to show that some hiker sailors sat on the wooden bars attached to the “life lines” that allowed them to hang outboard.

Perhaps it was the confines of the small boatsheds, in which 15 footers were stored one above each other in racks, and the practicalities of launching from piers that caused the Delaware classes to evolve towards slender, lightweight and efficient hulls instead of following the sandbaggers down the path of great beam and power. The light, narrow Delaware boats could be moved around the boathouses and docks in a way that would have been impossible for keelboats or for the beamy, heavy sandbaggers and classic catboats. The physical layout of their boathouses may have forced the Delaware sailors away from the simple option of increasing sail area and power, and towards the route of gaining speed through minimalism and efficiency.

Although the exact classifications varied from era to era and club to club, the Delaware 15 footers were generally divided into three or four classes. The double-ended canoe-like “duckers” were restricted to 42″ or 48” beam, about 115 sq ft of sail in a sprit cat rig, and two or three crew.[41]

Starting out after rail
“Starting out after rail”, another Eakins work, shows a ducker, the smallest of the Delaware 15 footers. In this work, the ducker is setting out on a hunt in a bay filled with other small sailboats, mostly in the left background. The canoe-like ducker’s heritage as a hunting boat shows in its fine lines, which were typical of craft that were often rowed or paddled in pursuit of prey.

The transom-sterned “tuckups” carried four crew, a beam of 4 feet, and about 112 to 144 sq ft of sail – due to rule changes and the unique local way of measuring sails, exact figures are hard to find. The biggest of them all were the hikers, which had a beam of up to 6ft (later restricted to 5ft) and carried up to eight or ten crewmen to handle a vast cat rigged main of up to 450 sq ft. The hikers carried masts as high as 28 feet, using “whiskers” or outriggers that extended out each side of the bow in the style of a modern Open 60 shorthanded racer to spread the shroud base to give the mast enough support. Centreboards were light by the standards of the time, with many boats using light wooden foils instead of the customary metal ones, and even a “first class hiker” could have a bare hull weight as low as 175lb/79kg – light even by today’s standards. The typical tuckup or hiker was so slender and carried such a large rig that they had to be held upright once the mast was stepped.

feb 24 1887 F and S with Delaware classes cropped
Forest and Stream newspaper for February 24 1887 carried information about the Delaware classes at the time. The correspondent noted that duckers were allowed to use larger sails, but that most used sails of “only” 112 sq ft. 

Perhaps because the narrowness of the river required short tacks or perhaps because they chose light weight instead of power, the Delaware classes relied on crew weight for ballast instead of sandbags. To make their weight as useful as possible, they fitted “life lines”;  “fastened to the center-board the mast and the lower yard of the sail are five or six ropes, which are long enough to hand over one side into the water. On the ends which go over the side are fastened bars of wood, and on these bars of wood hang the human ballast” wrote a story by the Philadelphia Press which was reprinted in newspapers across the USA. “The captain yells frantically “hike over”.  In an instant the ropes are stretched taut and the wooden bars disappear into the water, followed by the men or the posterior part of them. Only their legs remain in the boat as they sit on the transverse bars and hold on to the ropes. Every other wave surges up to their necks, and often a dip to windward submerges them completely, with the exception of their legs, which flourish wildly up over the side at the boat, but when they reappear again the craft has been saved from capsizing by this sudden hanging out of from 800 to over 1,000 pounds on the windward side. Sometimes an entire tack across the river is made with the crew “hiking out in this manner.”

Other Hiker crews used their crew weight even more effectively, hanging onto their enormous rigs by sending three or four men out to windward on giant “pry boards”, like those of the racing sharpies or the Log Canoes further south. Maritime historian Ben Fuller (who wrote an excellent article on the Delaware classes for the May/June 1999 edition of Wooden Boat magazine) notes that some boats even used hinged hiking racks, like those of 1980s 18 Foot Skiffs.

Of course, carrying such a  big crew in a small boat became a disadvantage in light winds, and the Delaware sailors found the same antidote as other early dinghy racers.  If the wind dropped off, “the captain glances significantly at one of the crew, the yachtsman grins, pulls off his boots and drops overboard” noted the Philadelphia Press. Perhaps he is picked up, perhaps he is not noticed in the excitement of the race, and is left to take care of himself. In this case he calmly strikes out for the shore, half a mile away. Sometimes half a dozen men are dropped over in this manner from one boat, in order to lighten her and keep her rivals from crawling ahead. But woe betide the captain who sacrifices too many of his men. There may come an unforeseen wind and bowl over the too-lightly ballasted boat in the twinkling of an eye.”

Today we see only the romantic side of sailing boats like this. Older accounts speak of a different story in those days before wetsuits, lightweight clothing and modern gear and medicine. “There is a great deal of excitement in sailing an open boat in a stiff breeze, lying out over the side and holding on over the life lines, but not much comfort, and the drenching and sitting for hours in the wind while acting as live ballast is not very favourable for health” wrote Delaware sailor Benjamin Adams in 1886. Today it may be easier to mock Adams’ words, but we live in a different era. In the days when clothes were costly and had to be washed and wrung out by hand and hung on a line, when paid sick leave and physiotherapy were undreamed of, the allure of leaning hard and getting soaked all day could easily pall.

From 1880 to 1890, these spectacular and fast open boats of the Delaware could attract fleets of up to 100 boats, with spectator crowds and fleets to match; indeed judging from the number of accounts of races where a racer was hindered by a non-racing boat, sometimes the line between “spectator” and “racer” was blurred, perhaps because of the influence of gambling. These races were extraordinarily long and risky by modern standards, with 30 mile races common and the 15 footers sometimes racing over 100 miles.

The Delaware sailors formed an egalitarian mix, where doctors sailed alongside labourers, trolleys to move the boats were shared communally, and boats were used for cruising as well as for racing.[42]  “On Sundays in particular the wharves and houses are crowded, the boats are off for short cruises up or down the river, or races are sailed between the recognized cracks, handled by old and skillful captains and trained crews” recalled W.P. Stephens.

 

plate46b
A tuckup like Priscilla, above and below, earned its name because of the way the planks at the stern “tucked up” towards the waterline, instead of following the keel line. A false keel was added underneath the “tucked up” planks.
Tuckup priscilla cropped
Priscilla’s hull displays the narrow lines and Vee-shaped sections that were common amongst sailing dinghies that had developed from rowboats. Such a shape is very efficient when a boat is operating at the low speeds of a rowboat, but less efficient when operating at the higher speeds that a sailing boat can reach. Historian Ben Fuller notes that the tuckup were already developed a slightly flatter, fuller shape than the Whitehalls, and that the later tuckups were moving towards a wider, flatter stern.

In some ways the Delaware classes seem to be the most technologically advanced small boat of their day, but unlike the sandbaggers and the beamier catboats further north, they had little impact outside their home waters. Exactly why they stayed so low profile is unknown; perhaps newspapers like Forest and Stream concentrated more on New York because it was their home city, or perhaps the 15 footers were seen as too small to be newsworthy.

Sadly, a type that promised to add so much to the dinghy racing scene died late in the 19th century. As Fuller notes, the rise in other sports like cycling and baseball had an effect. So too did the fact that the Philadelphia sailors only rented their boatsheds. By the mid 1880s, the waterfront boathouses had been demolished, as the piers were replaced by industries and railways. The Hikers and Tuckups vanished almost entirely from our knowledge, and with them went what could be seen as one of the healthiest and most advanced small-boat scenes of the era – probably an innocent victim of economic and geographical changes outside its control.

 To make their weight as useful as possible, they fitted “life lines”; Amateur Yachting, Benjamin F Adams, 1886. Other references TBA.
“”There is a great deal of excitement in sailing an open boat in a stiff breeze”:- Adams ibid.

Pt 1.6 – The mysterious history of the sharpie

Although the sandbagger and the catboat took most of the attention that small boats received in the late 1800s, not far away another breed was developing more quietly. It was the sharpie, and while it didn’t bring the world’s attention to the potential of the centreboarder like the sandbaggers and catboat did, it may have had more direct influence on the shape of the modern dinghy.

The key word, however, is “may”. Tracing the history of the sharpie’s influence on dinghy design is a frustrating exercise on many levels. The working sharpies and their relatives have been the subject of an intimidating amount of research from people like Howard I Chapelle, Reuel Parker, and Pete Lesher, but even authorities like Chapelle admitted that some aspects of the sharpie’s history remain murky. Tracing the influence of the sharpie on racing dinghies poses an even harder problem. There was no small sharpie that played the starring role of Rob Roy, Truant or Una, and there was no racing scene like that of the sandbaggers to catch the attention of researchers and writers. Reports from some areas hint that the same economy and simplicity that attracted some racing sailors to the sharpie seem to have led others to ignore it.

There are big holes in the story of the sharpie, and they will probably always remain. Even the fact that a boat is called a sharpie may not show that it has any connection with the American craft – after all, we use the Hindi and Tamil words “dinghy” and “catamaran” for boats that have no relationship with the Indian craft that originally bore those names. Flat bottomed hard-chined boats are so obviously simple and easy to build that they have been seen in many civilisations for thousands of years. We know that flat-bottomed boats evolved from other types, such as punts, in several places across the world. Some may merely have had the “sharpie” label stuck onto them retrospectively, in the same way that some classes that have no “skiff” DNA have known become known as skiffs. Even experts on sharpie design like Chapelle and Parker believe that some of the American sharpies, like those of the Chesapeake and Great Lakes, evolved independently. If the sharpie shape and form could be developed independently in two or three places in the USA, it’s obvious that it could have evolved independently in other countries as well.

Given all these issues, in some ways it would have been easier to pass lightly over the early evolution of the sharpie and its influence on dinghy design, but that would have meant ignoring a significant step in the story of the racing dinghy. So let’s try to see how the sharpie-type dinghy may have evolved, and hope that further information and research could make the murky story a bit clearer.

The type that is normally identified as the original sharpie evolved around the fishing port of New Haven, 110km/70 miles from New York on the Connecticut shore of Long Island Sound.  As in so many other cases, the sharpie was created by the area’s local forests, industry, fisheries and oceanography. The huge area of shoals of Long Island Sound formed immense oyster fisheries that were best worked with fast shoal-draft craft. Originally, the oyster fishermen used huge dugout canoes, from 28 to 35 feet long, that were cut from the vast forests of white pine around Connecticut and upper New York. Down south on Chesapeake Bay, fishermen enjoyed similar conditions and adopted similar craft, carving canoes as long as 30ft/9m from a single log.  As the demand for larger craft grew, the watermen of the Chesapeake began building canoes from as many as five logs, each bolted together to form giant planks across the bottom.

Sailing canoe magic
The beautiful lines of the 34’/10.4m log canoe Magic, built from five logs in 1894 and one of the most successful such craft ever built, gives a glimpse of what the sharpie’s ancestors may have looked line.  By the time she was launched, log canoe racing was a serious sport, and canoes like Magic were being built especially for racing. Lines from ‘The bugeye of the Chesapeake’ by Peter C Chambliss in the outstanding book Sailing Craft, edited by Edwin J Schoettle in 1937.

Some time around the mid 1800s, the supply of white pine around New Haven ran out, and the local oystermen started looking for an alternative. “What more natural than that they should have applied to the nearest sawmill for plank for which to nail up a box in imitation of the more costly and complicated round-ribbed composition of the regular boat builder?” asked Forest and Stream. “The box was run to a point at one end, and a single wide plank on the bottom was rounded up aft, as the nearest approach to regular boat form three planks could be induced to assume. Simple and cheap, every man became his own builder during the sawmill era, rip and cross cut supplanting the axe and burning process of the days when big logs were common.” And so the sharpie was born.

Sharpie from chapelle
A New Haven Sharpie from Chapelle’s “Migration of an American Boat Type”.

The sharpie followed the log canoe’s long, slender shape, and was normally four or five times as long as it was wide. It also kept the canoe’s simple but heavy construction. The bottom planks ran athwartships across the hull and the bottom was heavily rockered at the stern, apparently so that the sharpie would not drag its stern when carrying a full load.

The oyster fisheries of the New York area and the Chesapeake were closely linked, with New York oystermen like the Elsworths of sandbagger and America’s Cup fame working in both areas. Not surprisingly, as the supply of big logs declined around the Chesapeake, the watermen of the Bay area developed a similar type of craft.

The long, flat, skinny hull of the sharpie was an inherently fast shape, and soon racing versions started to evolve. A 35 foot racing sharpie was lighter than a sandbagger, with a 2,000 to 2,500lb hull, and carried a much smaller rig than a sandbagger, but its ballast was even more extreme. Two 16 foot “springboard” planks were run out to windward, and 11 members of the 12 man crew would sit on them to hold the boat up. The racing sharpies kept the same unstayed ketch rig and sprit booms as the working boats, but added jibs. These big sharpies had flatter rocker lines than the working craft and were said to be extraordinary performers, capable of 15 knots and even more. As Chapelle noted “although such reports may be exaggerations, there is no doubt that sharpies of the New Haven type were among the fastest of American sailing fishing boats.”

cbmm_watchlogcanoeraces_june27
With their huge “springboard” planks and sprit booms, the log canoes of the Chesapeake provide a glimpse of what the big racing sharpies of the 1800s must have looked like. Although the log canoes don’t appear to have played a role in the development of the racing dinghy, I’ll take any excuse to include a pic of these extraordinary veteran examples of the high-performance centreboarder.

The speed of the long, slender New Haven sharpie soon got the attention of yachtsmen, and soon sharpies were being built as yachts or converted into yachts. Fittingly, it was Bob Fish who is credited with building the first big sharpie yacht, in the shape of the 51 foot Lucky of 1855. But sharpie yachts had limitations. The slim, shallow lines of the sharpie meant that it pounded upwind and had limited stability, and the high cabin tops that were needed to provide headroom increased windage and raised the centre of gravity. At least one early sharpie builder and fan claimed that for all their virtues (“their quickness is only equalled by two well-matched Tom cats in a moonlight set-to”), they were surprisingly heavy and unless over 25 ft, poor in a seaway.[2]

The man who did most to promote the sharpie to yachtsmen and minimise its flaws was Thomas Clapham. A man of some wealth, Clapham was cruising on his yacht (which was probably a typical New York centreboard sloop, since she was created by sandbagger builder “Hen” Smedley) in 1863 when he met two brothers from Rhode Island on their home-made yacht. Clapham challenged them to a race, which the brothers easily won. Clapham became the first person to order a yacht from the two brothers, thereby launching the boatbuilding career of John and Nat Herreshoff.

An easy man to like, Chapham became a lifelong friend of the Herreshoff family.  When Clapham’s fortune collapsed, he moved into a smaller house on his estate and took up boatbuilding as a career. Clapham, who had owned a small sharpie as a boy, did more than anyone to develop the working New Haven sharpie into a fast pleasure yacht. At a time when science was moving into sailboat design, Clapham was a throwback to old methods.  He developed his designs by racing models on the trout pond behind his workshop and, like the old sandbagger designers, carving models and taking the lines off them. [1]  As WP Stephens noted, he had a simple philosophy of design; he believed that boats should sail over the water rather than carve through it, and that a boat’s fore-and-aft lines should follow segments of a circle.

Clapham’s first major contributions to design were the promotion of the yawl rig and the development of his patented “Nonpariel Sharpie” shape. The “Nonpariel” concept replaced the sharpie’s shallow, flat bottom with deep V-shaped sections. According to sharpie expert Reuel Parker, there had been other Vee-bottom hard chine boats before (such as the skipjack) but Clapham was the first to develop a significant degree of deadrise and to adapt it to the faster, safer sharpie shape.

Minocqua-92-38-0inlength-builtplan
Thomas Clapham’s “Nonpariel Sharpie” is sometimes claimed to be the ancestor of most Vee-bottomed hard-chine boats.

Clapham’s sharpies demonstrated that a lightweight, lightly ballasted boat under a moderate rig was not only fast, but more importantly, safe. Clapham became prominent during the bitter flame wars between the fans of the  heavy, deep and narrow British cutter and the heavy, shallow and beamy American centreboarder. He took the controversy as an opportunity to promote his beloved sharpies (and his business building them) by criticising  both the cutter and the sloop, which he dubbed “monstrosities, built for the sole purpose of carrying enormous rigs at the expense of comfort, safety, and scientific principles.”  Clapham became an effective propagandist for the light displacement boat, claiming that the light, narrow and shallow sharpie was not only faster but safer; “give her a narrow beam not exceeding one-fourth her length, and nothing is easier (when one knows how) than to produce a yacht that shall face the roughest sea” he boasted. [1]  Clapham’s outspoken promotion of the sharpie went so far that he even became a character in a potboiler Victorian-era romantic novel, in the guise of “the sharpie maniac who believes that all good yachting things are to come out of his flat-bottomed broad-beamed shallow-draught favourites”, who was called “the man of many sharpies” and had “thrown his soul into sharpies and constructed the largest and fleetest and safest and roomiest that roam the seas.”[3]  Although most of Clapham’s effective publicity efforts went into his bigger boats, he made some sharpies as small as 15 feet long but there is no evidence that any of them raced.

The Nonpariel was soon followed by another variation on basic sharpie, when young boatbuilder Larry Huntington introduced a sharpie with bottom sections that followed an arc, rather than a Vee like the Nonpariel or a straight line like the New Haven types. It’s unclear when small dinghies started adopting the sharpie shape, and how much influence smaller hard-chine boats like “flatiron skiffs” or punts had on the craft that became known as sharpies. It’s said that in 1863, a M Broca of France visited New Haven while studying the oyster fisheries of the USA. He sent a sharpie (possibly a small 22 footer, although most were much longer) back home, and in the 1880s there was a belated spark of interest in the type in France.  The canoes of the USA and UK had both experimented with “sharpie” hulls before 1892, but whether were actually influenced by the New Haven type or had merely adopted the term “sharpie” to describe a hull shape that had been inspired by other slender flat-bottomed craft like the old duck punts is impossible to know.

French sharpie sailplan
A sharpie built in France, as seen in Forest and Stream for April 1900. The gunter sloop rig and rounded stem are departures from the New Haven sharpie, perhaps indicating that there had already been enough sharpies built in France to develop a unique style. The French were to become firm fans of hard-chine boats, sometimes specifically referred to as Sharpies.

French sharpie hull

The earliest trace that I can find of small racing sharpie dinghies in the English-speaking world is in the early 1890s, when Shelter Island, across the other side of Long Island Sound from New Haven, developed a class of 16 footers.  As if to underline the difficulty of tracing the family tree of the sharpie, the most detailed account of the Shelter Island boats notes that “in Gravesend bay, this type is called a flattie, which at Shelter Island, where they are also very popular, it is known as a sharpie.”[4]

Wassersport on sharpie 2
A “Sharpee” as pictured in Germany’s Wassersport magazine in 1883. This looks like an original New Haven Sharpie. The accompanying article describing the origin of the Sharpie followed the normal tale of its New Haven origins. From the German Yachtsportarchiv, created by Freundeskreis Klassische Yachten e.V.

 

The Shelter Island sharpies were “nothing more than a flat bottomed row boat, fitted with a center boat to prevent leeway, and cat rigged.The peculiar advantage of this type is that it draws but two or three inches of water and with the center-board up can be run right on short and the mast unstopped. There she can be left for the night. To get under way all that is necessary is to step the mast, the work of a minute, and shove her off”[5]  By the middle of the decade, the Shelter Island Sharpie Club’s 16 footers carried big rigs (300ft2 main, 150 sq ft spinnaker), capsized often, and the fleet included several women skippers.

 

Sharpie building
Many early sailing books promoted the sharpie as an excellent choice for the home builder. This 12ft6in boat sailing dinghy with 1in/25mm thick planks seems to be a typical example of these simple but heavy craft. From Boat-Building and Boating by DC Beard, 1911.

By 1895, small sharpies were also racing across the other side of the world in Brisbane, Australia. At least one of the early boats was described as being “American style”, but no further information was included.  The Brisbane sharpie movement started with as a small group of boys racing 12 footers, but over the next decade the city developed a thriving scene with several classes of sharpies, including 10 footers for juniors, unrestricted 14 footers, 14 footers with restricted sail area, and 18 footers that could run with the “skiffs”.

Although small hard-chine training dinghies spread throughout the state, in typical sharpie style, the Brisbane boats largely kept under the radar and have been long forgotten. Perhaps the whole breed of early sharpie-type racers fell between two stools; neither quite as fast as the round bilge boats, nor cheap and simple enough to be truly popular.

Nell in sail on the Brisbane River 1916

Nell in full sail 1914
Nell, the champion 14 Foot Sharpie of Brisbane, Australia, in 1915. By then the term “sharpie” seems to have almost become a generic term for a hard chine boat, especially one with narrow beam. Oxley Library pics

There seems to be no evidence that the Shelter Island sharpies or similar boats had any direct influence on later hard-chine dinghies. But there is one enormously influential class where there is strong evidence of a link with the original New Haven sharpie – the International Star keelboat. George W Elder, the original class secretary and a man who knew the Star’s designer William Gardner, specifically states in his class history “Forty Years Among The Stars” that the former Olympic keelboat was derived from the New Haven sharpie, through Gardner’s 1896 yacht Departure and the Bug class. The Star’s arc-bottom hard shape was then followed by such classes as the Comet (designed by a former Star World Champion and originally labelled the Star Junior) and Lightning.

Departure
Departure was an ancestor of the Star, the boat that seems to have played a significant role in spreading the sharpie and hard chine ideas. Departure was no dinghy, but she may be significant since she was a rare example of an early sharpie-style hard chine boat that raced in a restricted class against conventional round-bilge boats. She was competitive but not outstanding; perhaps an illustration that in the days before lightweight construction, chine boats were generally slightly slower than equivalent round-bilge designs.

The other missing piece in the link between the New Haven Sharpie and the later American chine dinghies was a class I’d never heard of until sailing historian Rod Minchner posted a piece about it on his blog, http://earwigoagin.blogspot.com.au/. The 15 foot long Cricket evolved around Atlantic City in the 1890s, boomed in that area around 1900, and then moved south to the Miami area where it survived until the 1950s. It then vanished with so little trace that even Minchner’s research has failed to uncover its designer and details about its early history.

Florida_One_Design
The One Design class for St Petersburg YC is believed to have been similar to the Cricket. Plans from The Rudder magazine, thanks to Rod Minchner’s earwigoagin.blogspot.com.au

So why does this long-gone local class seem to be so important? It’s because the Cricket seems to show another clear link between the early sharpies and the later hard-chine Vee-bottom dinghies that formed the backbone of US dinghy sailing for decades. The Cricket definitely has strong sharpie DNA – it carried a freestanding rig with a sprit boom and “pry board” like the early New Haven racing sharpies. But the Cricket’s deep Vee single-chine hull is also very similar to that of later boats like the Snipe and California’s Snowbird, which played such major roles in dinghy sailing from the 1920s to the current day.

And so in the end, it seems clear (as we’ll get to in more detail later) that hard chine dinghies in other areas evolved completely independently from the sharpie. But it also seems clear that while the sharpie story never had a star like Una or Truant, the original New Haven sharpie did have a strong influence on the design of the hard chine dinghies of the USA. And it seems clear that one of those classes, the Cricket, went on to inspire one of the most influential boats in the history of dinghy design. But that’s for a later post….

 

[1] Yachting, Dec 1938 p 53.

[2] Forest & Stream, 1879 p 14

[3] “Love and Luck, the story of a summer’s loitering on the Great South Bay” by Robert Barnwell Roosevelt, 1886.

“The earliest trace that I can find of small racing sharpie dinghies”:- a letter in the American Canoeist of December 1882 mentioned a 16 foot Clapham sharpie on Lake Michigan that apparently no one, including canoe sailors, could keep upright. No further details or racing history have been found so far. Clapham later claimed that issue lay with the owner’s decision to buy the rowboat version of his boat and fit it with a sail, but he gave no information about the alternative. A 15 foot long, 54in beam sharpie built by Clapham was also advertised as an able cruiser in Forest and Stream on May 17 1888. On June 21 1888 the same paper reported that Clapham had an order for a 20 foot racing sharpie.

[4] The Brooklyn daily Eagle, 17 May 1896 p 15

[5] Ibid

 

Introduction and contents

The SailCraft blog was really born years ago, when I realised that no one had tried to tell the story of the racing dinghy and the forces that shaped it.   It’s a complex tale; a web of interaction between factors such as emerging technologies, differences in geography and economies, the physics of wind and water, real estate and liquor laws, the width of an Austin A40 sedan and an English seaside laneway, and changing gender roles. It’s a tale that has spawned many myths, often ones about conservatives stifling development, but where the reality has few such villains and many heroes.*

This is an ideal time to tell this story. The arrival of on-line archives allows us to find information that has been hidden away in ancient newspapers and rare mouldering books. It’s a time when even the shyest dinghy designer can be coaxed into giving priceless nuggets of information over email. Many of the world’s top dinghy creators, including Paul Bieker, Frank and Julian Bethwaite, Ian Bruce, Rob Brown, Steve Clark, Stu Friezer, Mike Jackson, Bruce Kirby, Andrew McDougal, Phil Morrison, Andy Paterson and many more, have been happy to be interviewed for this project.

The same changes in technology have also delayed SailCraft by years. I’ve been waiting for digital publishing to develop to the stage where it can provide images of boat designs and photographs well enough to show intricate details like the hull lines of a Bieker 14, or the workmanship of an Uffa Fox classic. Such technology still isn’t here, and sadly my ability to write well still hasn’t returned, so I have turned to this blog to pass on the information that so many people have helped me to gather.  Many thanks to them and the many other people who have given their time and knowledge in the past, and my apologies for the long delay.

SailCraft comes in three parts. Part 1 is a history of the development of the racing dinghy (and the bigger boats that influenced them) from the 18th century to the present day. Part 2 is an examination of the design principles and philosophies that dinghy designers follow. Part 3 is an examination of individual classes and types and their design and development.

This blog is concentrating on Part 1 at first, starting from the 1700s, when the first racing centreboarders arrived. Part 1 is generally being posted in chronological order, but some out-of-sequence posts will be put up at times. Some sections from Parts 2 and 3 will also be posted out of order at times.

There are still many gaps in the story of the racing dinghy and its design. I would love to hear from anyone who wants to provide any information, comment or corrections.

Chris Thompson

*(and a few heroines, but, sadly, not too many.)

Contents

Part 1 – history

1.1  – “The sliding keels that took advantage”: the dawn of the racing centreboarder

1.2 –  “Truly as fast as the wind”: catboats and skimming dishes (minor update 30/9/2016) see also Una Reborn

1.3 –  “A little too marvelous to be real” – the story of the Una boats

1.4 –  The sandbaggers

1.5- The mysterious history of the sharpie (updated 24/8/16)

1.6 –  The raincoat boat bed and the shoe-shine missionary – the story of the sailing canoes, the first high performance centreboarders

1.7 –  “Skidding over the water” – enter the planing hull

1.8 – “We have written too many obituaries of its victims” – the end of the sandbagger

1.9 – “These little clippers” – from rowing boat to racing dinghy

1.10 – “All built and rigged the same” – the invention of the one design class

1.11 – “Racers in every sense of the word” – the Raters

1.12 – “In every respect a sport suited to our sex” – the women who changed small-boat sailing

1.13- The Seawanhaka Cup 

1.14 – “A radical departure” – the scows

1.15 – Introducing the era of nationalism: dinghy sailing in the early 20th century

The era of nationalism explained – sort of

1.16 – “Fox hunting”; Uffa, Avenger and the planing dinghy

1.17 – Thunder, Lightning and the Tali Dogang: the classic  racing dinghy and the trapeze.

1.18 – Classic boats through modern eyes.

1.19 – From Kings to bouncing cats – the British development classes

1.20 – the British local classes

1.21- “A great rage for the type” – the first Australian centreboarders

1.22- Painted boats, varnished ships and yellow dogs – the ancestor of the skiffs part 1

1.23 – The skiffs and dinghies of the east coast

1.24 – Fourteens dominant: the early history of southern and Western australian dinghies.

1.26 – Hard chines and one designs.

1.25 – The myths and legends of the 18 Footers

1.26 – “it would be difficult to improve upon them”- the high performance dinghies of the European lakes

1.27 – The sailing scientists of the Renjollen

1.28 – The German one designs

1.29 – Continental drifting – European dinghies to 1945

1.30 – Tuckups and Hikers – the vanished world of the Delaware dinghies

1.31 – “”Of all models and builds”: US one designs 1890-1920

1.32 – “The dinghy centre of the continent”: Canada’s small boats

1.33 – Moths, gangsters and Samuel Pepy’s bathtub – development classes in America

1.34 – the classic US one designs

1.35 – Growing the silver fern: NZ dinghy sailing to 1950

1.36 – A new world of dinghy sailing- the worldwide dinghy explosion (in preparation)

1.37 – Boomtime

1.38 – Boom Boats.

Boom boats Pt 2- The Rascal and the Resistance – the Vaurien puts France afloat

Boom boats Pt 3- Fishy tales.

Boom boats Pt 4 – Moral panics, juvenile delinquints, and the Optimist.

1.39 – Holt and Moore – designing the boom

1.40 “A diabolically ingenious machine” – the Finn

1.41 – Technology, volunteers and the boomtime.

1.42 “This was considered revolutionary” – the Flying Dutchman and the trapeze

1.43 – The 5-Oh

Una reborn

1.44 – Southern Lights – the new breed of Antipodean lightweights

Minor works of great masters – forgotten boats by great designers.

 

1.XX – “Now is the time to experiment” – the Contender and the new wave of singlehanders (under construction)

“We just wanted a nice little boat”; the story of the Laser

Laser lines – the shape that launched 200,000 ships

 

From fizzers to Forty Niner – the production skiff types emerge

 1.50 – What we’re sailing today, 1.0

1.51 – What we’re sailing today, 2.0 – the USA

1.52 – What we’re sailing today, 3.0 – Germany

Part 2 – Design

2.1 – The numbers game

2.2 – Shapes in the liquid: the hull of today’s performance dinghy

Other posts

The real story of Amaryllis and the first racing catamarans

Minor studies by great masters – overlooked designs by great designers.

1.26: Laser lines -the shape that launched 200,000 ships

Kirby’s design portfolio was still slim on the day he doodled the Laser whilst chatting on the phone to Ian Bruce. “Up until then I had designed only four International 14s, and my Mark V 14 was done either just before or just after the Laser. So I was a long way from being an experienced designer and there was a lot of blind intuition lurking around the drawing board” he says.  The vital matters like lateral resistance, helm position and buoyancy were all born from “hunches” and sailing experience, instead of calculations.

Laser lines 2

Some have claimed that the Laser’s hull is little more than a Contender copy, but Kirby confirms there was no connection. “One of the things that gives me the greatest satisfaction with the Laser is that it really wasn’t related to anything that had gone before” recalls Kirby.  He had sailed the original prototype for the Contender one blustery day in Sydney years before, but at that stage Lexcen’s design was still a hard-chine flat bottomed sharpie type, very different to the Laser or to the Contender as we know it.

Kirby had actually designed a boat for Paul Elvstrom to sail in the final ISAF trials that chose the Contender, but the project fell through. “Later, Bob Miller stayed overnight at our house, and I showed him the lines of the boat I had drawn. He thought that my boat would have been faster in light air and the Contender in heavy air.”

Although all of the minds behind the Laser were Finn sailors, Sarby’s design had no influence on Kirby’s hull shape. “I liked the Finn a lot. But it was a big guy’s boat, much too heavy to be a “cartopper”, too expensive to build for the market we wanted.  At that time it wasn’t even self-bailing. The Laser had to be a simple, easy to build, tidy little package.  I was more surprised than anyone when the Laser turned out to be faster than the Finn most of the time.”

Kirby identified a waterline of 3.8m (12 ft6in) as the shortest length that would provide the required performance. To ensure that it was light and easy enough for women and children to sail and easy to handle on the beach or the cartop, he kept the beam down to a slim 1.37m (4ft6in) and the freeboard at the bow down to 305mm (1ft) “to keep the weight down and to make it look swift”.

The Laser’s ability to perform with a small rig, which may be one of the secrets of its popularity, may come from the way that it generates considerable planing lift from a slender hull. Kirby’s earlier writings and older boats give an interesting angle on the Laser’s shape. At a time when most sailors thought that the stern was the key to planing, Kirby had already realised that “boats do not plane on their afterbodies as I had read….the real lift – the shape that makes a boat good or bad on a planing leg – is to be found in the forward half. What is important is the …flatness of the floor forward.”

In his International 14s Kirby had long been working towards achieving a higher prismatic by spreading displacement into the ends, creating bows with a U shape that was shallower but had more underwater volume than the typical Vee shape of the era. He was one of the designers who were leading the way towards the modern shape.  These bows, wrote Kirby years before he created the Laser, were not as easy to get “into the groove” as the deep Vee bow (something many Laser sailors would confirm), but they allowed the boat to plane and surf earlier. A “steep V forward” he noted “lacked the lift to make the boat climb on top of her bow wave.”

 

49291d1288783837-laser-470-build-byyb-140
For its day, the Laser had very flat sections along the keel line, especially in the bow. The dynamic planing lift that the flat bow sections create may be one of the reasons that the Laser is faster than similar boats with bigger rigs.

The Laser takes the theme of flat underwater bow sections even further; since the amount of planing lift increases with speed, an intrinsically slower boat like a hiking singlehander must have a shape that develops more lift if it is to plane well. The keel area is extremely flat in section, all the way to the stem, by the standards of a boat designed in the late ‘60s. Outside of the keel flat, the shape developed very soft bilges. “With the 14s I had gradually worked away from the deep, sharp Vee of my Mark I, to more U-shaped sections” remarks Kirby although rather surprisingly he feels that “there might have been a bit of subconscious transfer from 14 to Laser, but I doubt it.”

So under water, the Laser may follow the themes of Kirby’s world champion Int 14s. But above the water, the Laser takes the opposite tack. In the 14s, Kirby had been developing bows that were very fine above the waterline, to allow them to slice through chop. In contrast, the Laser bow flares out widely in the topsides. “The Laser is flat forward with a lot of flare to give the bow sufficient reserve buoyancy” explains Kirby. “The boat had to be light (it was to be a cartopper), so I had to keep skin area down. This meant low freeboard, which meant in turn that there was not much boat between the waterline and the gunwale. So what was there had to be given flare, to keep the boat from submarining in hard reaching and running. It worked pretty well. When you jam the bow, you sometimes survive!”

The flare in the Laser bow does make it hard work upwind in a chop, when it bounces rather than slices, but Kirby says that it’s an inevitable trade-off for the boat’s other qualities. “The best upwind bow – fine above the waterline – would be a disaster on a small, low-freeboard boat like the Laser when you round the corner and head downwind in heavy air. If you cut the Finn’s freeboard down to Laser level forward and kept the section the same as it is now, she would have difficulty with the bow jamming in fast offwind sailing.”

823748-tom-slingsby
Kirby says that the Laser has a very flat bow wave downwind; a sign that the flat and flared sections are developing enough lift to stop the low-freeboard bow from nosediving. Although it comes with a penalty upwind, when the flat and flared shape tends to bounce over waves rather than slice through them, the Laser’s bow shape may be one of the secrets that allows it to sail faster than boats with much bigger rigs. Incidentally the first time I saw the sailor in this photo, I had to choose whether to cover the guy who had been 4th in the Open worlds and the three-time world Masters champ, or to cover this unknown little red-haired kid called Tom in boat called Nappy Rash. Young Tom (seen a few years later in the pic above) picked the right side, and it almost cost me the only Laser championship I won in my short ‘career’ in the class. Now that he’s won world titles, an Olympic gold medal and the America’s Cup I don’t feel too bad about getting outsmarted by someone who was literally so young he still had nappy rash.

“You will notice that the off-wind bow wave of the Laser is very flat – the water is thrown off to the side, but in the Finn the wave rises more steeply, and frequently the Finn’s freeboard saves the day.  Perhaps a good expression is that the Laser has a “softer” bow” notes Kirby.  “One of the early Laser rip-offs had serious problems with nose-diving and gybe broaches, and never prospered.  And one of the recent attempts at a mini Laser also stubs its toe very easily because it is too fine above the waterline. It’s surprising the number of designers who have missed many of the features of the Laser that have made it work.”

One designer who moved to a finer bow in a similar boat is, ironically, Ian Bruce. When he designed the Byte as a sort of “baby Laser”, he made it finer along and above the waterlines at the bow. The finer shape works well upwind, when the Byte seems to slice through chop more effectively than a Laser. But Ian feels that the Byte does tend to nosedive more than a Laser downwind. “If I did the boat again, I’d fill it out here (indicating the Byte’s waterline) between three and six feet aft of the bow.”

The flattish U-shape sections continue all the way through the Laser hull. The stern is narrow at the waterline, keeping the prismatic coefficient to a fairly low figure of around .57. Downwind, the Laser planes with a flat fore and aft trim, unlike many contemporary boats that plane with their bows high in the air. “I think the boat planes easily and flat just because it is light and does not have much fore and aft rocker” says Kirby. “And turning that around – it does not need much rocker because it is light. The flat angle is not a feature that crossed my mind during the design process.”

Many club-level Laser sailors stay too far back in the boat downwind, as if they are subconsciously trying to get the Laser’s snout into the sky as they have done in other boats. In fact, the Laser sails so well bow-down that the class had to introduce a rule saying that the skipper must stay behind the mast. Sailors were finding it faster to sit on the foredeck on light square runs, lifting the stern out of the water to reduce wetted surface and steering by body weight alone.

The centerboard was designed with a 12:1 thickness ratio and the case was shaped to fit, so that foils could not be filled or sanded into an “optimized” shape without jamming or becoming loose in the case. The rudder is small, and raked in the traditional fashion of ’50s and ’60s dinghies. To some of us who are used to more balanced rudders, the weight on the Laser’s rudder is its worst feature. Kirby has gone on record that a new rudder would be the only change he would make to the Laser; it should, he says, be four inches deeper, elliptical and of 10% more area. Ian Bruce recalls that Kirby’s plans showed a rudder with even more rake. Ian changed the pivot point to bring the foil more upright, but over 200,000 Lasers later, you can still see the trace of Kirby’s intended rake – the tip of the rudder is angled down to fit the designed rake, rather than horizontal.

Despite the small rudder, the Laser is an extremely manoeuverable boat; one of its joys is the way you can flick it through tacks and gybes with roll alone. What’s the secret?  “I think any little boat that doesn’t have a deep sharp bow will turn easily” muses Bruce Kirby. “But the Laser is on the narrow side, which helps keep the balance (helm) from getting out of whack when she is heeled. Perhaps the most obvious answer though, is that the boat is small and light enough to be really man-handled. The crew weight makes a huge difference; it’s a bit like being firmly in charge of a pair of skis – you can make a Laser go where you want it to go with your own body movements. And like a skier, you can also go ass over teakettle if you get it wrong.”

 

1.29: From fizzers to Forty Niner – the production skiff types emerge

Author’s note:

This is another piece that I’m running out of chronological sequence, for several reasons.  One reason is because it’s now twenty years since the ISAF trials that chose the 49er as the new Olympic class, and because the 49erFX is about to make its Olympic debut. 

At a time when sailing may be losing its way, the story of the 1996 ISAF trials is also important because it marks a time when almost all the sailing industry got the future of the sport wrong. Manufacturers, organisers and the sailing media spent a lot of the ’90s telling everyone that skiffs were the future of the sport. Funnily enough, none of them actually noted that even in the place the 49er came from, even after a century of promotion and development skiffs still hadn’t take over the sport. And as any glance at a typical club will show, the hype was misplaced, and skiff types certainly have not taken over the sport. Sadly, the lesson seems to be ignored.

Because this piece is being presented out of sequence, it may appear that the 49er hull shape (described below and in other pieces still to come) is superior in all applications. In fact, as other chapters in Parts 1 and 2 will show, the “Bethwaite shape” works brilliantly in some situations, but the more rounded lines shown by boats like the Laser 4000 and the International 14s below are better in others. Hull shape remains a complex set of tradeoffs that produce different answers for different craft.

 

The Circolo Velo Torbole sits on a small ledge of flat land near the steep cliffs where the Dolomites throw themselves into the depths of northern Italy’s Lake Garda. Garda is one of the world’s windsurfing hotspots and the venue for the annual Centromiglia race, contested by boats like the Libera A Class, giant 13.5m (44ft) skiff types where a dozen crew trap from wings. The valley in which the lake sits in is a natural wind tunnel, with strong breezes funnelling down from the mountains in the morning, and back towards the mountains in the afternoon. The only way to get the fabled lake winds to stop blowing is for me to enter a national or world windsurfing titles at Garda…. that gets it every time.

It’s here where the most recent of the great ISAF dinghy trials were held, in 1996. It was an era when much of the world’s sailing press and many officials were proclaiming a new age in which the world of dinghy sailing would be taken over by skiff-type boats that were more attractive to young sailors – or so they claimed. “There is no doubt that the world’s top sailors are rapidly gravitating towards a new generation of fast, fun and exciting boats” claimed Seahorse magazine. A new boat “is what the young sailors are looking for” claimed ISAF chief Paul Henderson.

Sailing was also allegedly under pressure from the International Olympic Commission to switch to more spectacular classes that would attract more spectators and higher TV ratings. In May 1991 ISAF announced that it was interested in a new Olympic class; a two-person twin-trapeze strict one design, in which the boats for the Olympics would be provided by the host nation as had been done with the Laser and with the Finn in earlier years.

Olympic 5000
The “Olympic 5000” was a detailed proposal by a talented British group for a boat to fit ISAF’s specifications and with the addition of a crew weight equalisation system. This drawing, created to promote the concept, seems to be a fairly accurate depiction of the boat that became the Laser 5000.

The trials attracted 11 designs, from Germany, Italy, Australia, the USA, and the UK, and varying from 14 to 20 feet overall. The evenrt was run by Britain’s Michael Jackson, of March Hare fame. His experience in the ISAF singlehander trials of the ‘60s convinced him that the boats should be sailed by sailors representing national authorities, as well as by sailors representing the builders. Eleven countries sent two sailors each. Each sailor was asked to rank each boat according to a variety of criteria, and the sailors’ voting scores were released after the trials to give an insight into selection process.

The trials underlined the superior pace of the skiff-style boats when the FD and 505, representing the classic dinghies, finished the only “official” race in seventh and eighth place, minutes behind the winning 49er.

One old class did rate well – the International 14 was judged to be the second most popular boat in “general feeling” by the sailors, even if almost none of them rated it suitable for the Games. Ironically, apart from the 49er all of the newer classes that turned up to the trials are either dead or close to it and weight equalisation systems are a thing of the past, while the 505 and (to a lesser extent) the FD remain popular today,

LASER 5000

The Laser 5000 was sparked when a group of top British sailing minds heard ISAF’s call to arms and got together in the town of Warsash. To illustrate the possibilities they created the “Warsash 5000”, designed by Phil Morrison. The concept was for a 5 metre long boat, weighing 300kg complete with crew, and with a weight equalisation system designed to allow crews of different physiques to compete on an even playing field. Each sailors’ weight and height were measured, to calculate their boat’s righting moment with crew trapezing from the end of the racks. The span of the sliding wings was then adjusted between 1.9 and 3.05m (6ft3in to 10ft), so that each crew had the same righting moment. Finally, corrector weights were added so that the combined weight of each boat and crew was at least 300kg. It was a complex system that meant that ballast had to be laden onto a boat that was already heavy and light crews had to sail with wide racks (which tends to be more difficult than sailing with narrower ones) wide racks, but from most accounts crews of varied statures were very competitive on the water.

The British manufacturer of Lasers and Laser 2s was as convinced by the skiff hype as the rest of the industry and media. They took on the Warsash design, called it the Laser 5000, and started to promote it as only the British dinghy industry can.

With the hefty claimed hull weight of 109kg due to its simple and strong solid polyester/glass construction, but an actual weight considerably higher, the 5000 inevitably attracted the nickname “five tonner”. The hull was a typical Morrison shape; high and rather “soft” chines sweeping up at the stern, flat centerline sections, and curves throughout rather than flats. It all added up to a “grunty” boat that generally handled impeccably and was extremely tough, but suffered from its weight and the corresponding high sheet loads and its steady, rather than leading-edge, handling and performance. The 5000 was rated about third fastest in the trials and was finally ranked as one of the four boats for further evaluation.

L5000

The Laser 4000, the little sister of the “Five Tonner”, missed the Garda trials but was for some years the most successful of that first northern generation of skiff types. In some ways it’s marginal in terms of being a skiff type, but with narrow racks, an assy, a trap and 99% of a 505’s performance on a shorter hull, it satisfies many people’s criteria.

The 4000 has only one trap and a simpler weight equalization system than the 5000, but it shares the same impeccable Morrison manners and durability and weighs much less (80kg hull), which is generally considered to change its whole flavour. It has a pole that can be rotated out to windward slightly, in an attempt to make the assymetric more “user friendly” for the often tight British waters, but most of the time  it is gybed downwind. The class seems very happy with the weight equalisation system, which adjusts rack width and ballast for crew weight without allowing for height like the 5000 did, but still allows a wide range of shapes and sizes to win.

laser-4000
The rounded stern sections seen on the L4000 are a Phil Morrison trademark.  They reduce wetted surface and transom drag in light winds, and make for forgiving downwind characteristics in survival conditions. The payoff is lower planing performance in medium and strong winds.

At  4.6m (15ft) overall, with 1.5 to 2.3m (4ft11in to 7ft6in) wingtip beam depending on crew weight and carrying 14.7m2 (158ft2) upwind sail and a 17.1m2 (184ft2), the 4000 is rated slightly faster (2%, or 70 seconds per hour) faster than the 29er which is 15cm (6in) shorter. The two boats make an interesting comparison. General opinion is that the 4000 is faster in the light, because of its bigger rig and the more buoyant and curved Morrison hull shape. The lighter, lower-drag 29er may accelerate quicker, is more sensitive and goes faster once planing, until the going gets rough when many crews find the 4000 (well known for its heavy-air handling) to be a safer boat.

“I think the 4000 is so good in a blow because it is everyone’s happy medium basically!” says UK sailor Stu Hadfield. “I don’t think it has any particular design characteristics which help it in a breeze. I think that it is basically a very balanced design both in hull profile and rig design. There is very little weight in the helm at all times although it gives plenty of feedback and so you know exactly what the boat is trying to do underneath/above you. It has a medium amount of rocker and an average length pole and the size of the genny isn’t so big so as to start pulling the boat around on every little change in wind strength/direction. It will head straight down the mine if you bear away down the wrong bit of chop but you have to really try.”

Laser4000bandol (1)

The two sister classes had very different careers. Despite its early prominence and success, the 5000 class dwindled until it ceased holding UK national titles in 2011; doomed perhaps by its weight. In contrast the 4000 regular attracted over 50 competitors to titles and remained a contender (along with the RS800 and 29er) for the title of “UK’s most popular production skiff type” until the mid 2000s, when it too started struggling. Changes in policy by the manufacturer must have been a factor, but the 5000 and 4000 also proved that those who forecast that skiffs were the future of dinghy sailing were very wrong.

BOSS and ISO

One of the top boats in the trials was the Boss, king of a new range from British manufacturer Topper. Topper had had huge success with their eponymous little plastic scow, but in the ‘90s they decided to move move into higher-performance boats that could be sold at a lower price than the existing classes like Fireballs and 505s.  The first effort was the ISO, designed by Ian Howlett, designer of winning 14s, Metre Boats and America’s Cuppers. At 4.74m (15ft7in), it carried 16.5m2 (178ft2) of sail upwind with a fully battened main, a 21m2 (226ft2) assymetric, and one trapeze. The solid fibreglass construction cut costs but meant that with a 95kg (209lb) hull and 120kg (264lb) rigged weight it was heavy for a skiff type. Film sails were used in an age when dacron was more common. To equalise leverage and weight, lighter crews had to fit small wings, weighing about 18kg (40lb), which were not allowed for heavy crews.

This was perhaps the first of the production skiff-inspired boats to hit the UK market, and its initial success (400 boats inside two years) lead to many cries that they would sweep away most of the older classes. They didn’t. The ISO, never a realistic Olympic prospect, finished at the tail end of the trials fleet. The national title fleet is down to a few boats and like the Laser products, its career shows there’s little doubting that the predictions that skiff types would rule the future were wrong.

The Boss was a very powerful machine, which looks somehow more reminiscent of the flat mid ‘80s Aussie 14s than the world champ Howlett 1b International 14 it was said to be derived from. The Boss had some seriously fast measurements – at 4.9m (16ft) overall, the hull weighed a competitive 85kg (187lb) and had a wingspan of 2.37m (7ft9in). It had a roachy main, 17.9m2 (192ft2) of upwind sail and a 33m2 (355ft2) spinnaker off a long pole.

Howlett 1
The very versatile Ian Howlett designed fast 12 Metres, winning International 14s, and production skiff types. This is the Howlett 1 International 14; precursor of the 1b that the Boss was apparently developed from. Lines from The International Fourteen 1928-1989, courtesy of the I-14 class association.

The Topper/Howlett boats tended to have extremely flat sections right through to the bow, soft bilges, and flat bow rocker, giving them lots of planing area. “She will plane before any other boat and in these conditions she is unbeatable!” said one Boss sailor. While the shape has been successful in the Boss’ singlehanded sister, the Blaze, some feel that it hasn’t worked so well in the bigger boats. “She has a flat shape with a lot of wetted surface area and she is sticky when it’s light and there is too much drag when it’s windy. Upwind in chop; well, she doesn’t slice through the water, let’s put it like that!” said another top Boss sailor who nevertheless liked the boat for its excellent mid-range speed.

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The Boss was one of the outstanding performers of the ISAF trials, rated second in the rankings as a potential Olympic class and third in the “general feeling” list. Despite the early promise and excellent performance at times, the Boss has died as a class. The manufacturer ran into production difficulties, and attempts to rejuvenate interest by fitting a massive  masthead spinnaker and bigger jib failed to help. Boss sailors say that the bigger kite lifted the bow and got the boat trimming better, but the class ran its last nationals just eight years after the Garda trials.

 

Mach II

Mader, one of the great FD manufacturers, broght out a supercharged FD for the trials. The Mach II was basically a FD hull with twin traps, wings about a metre wide, a big fully battened mainsail and an asymmetric.

The Mach II was not much faster upwind than the FD, but it was a big improvement off the breeze. While the sailors were unenthusiastic about sailing it as a boat to sail or own, they voted it as their fourth choice for an Olympic boat. The effort to turn a big traditional dinghy into a skiff type was not a success, and only about 10 were built.

B14

In the Australian 1987/88 season, Julian Bethwaite was approached by an entrepreneur who could see a market for a more affordable skiff-type boat. The result was the B14 – one of the first “production skiffs”.

Like most Bethwaite designs, the B14 is a very clean-looking low-slung boat with a fine bow, Vee sections forward and a wide, flat stern. The hull shape was developed from the third in the “Prime” series of 18 Foot Skiffs. Where the B14 differs from many other skiff types is that it carries no traps. Instead, it has wide wings (3.18m/10ft5in) and the footstraps are out on the wings, giving the crew the same leverage as a boat with both crew trapping from the gunwale like a “normal” skiff. The typical low-profile, sandwich construction Bethwaite hull is extremely light for a production boat at just 64kg (141lb).

The B14 played an important role in the development of the highly-touted “flex tip” rig. The Bethwaites gave the boat a fibreglass topmast to cut costs and ensure consistent mast bend characteristics. There was also a legal concern – an American Hobie cat sailor had recently been electrocuted when his alloy mast hit a powerline, and (like Hobie) the Bethwaites saw a plastic topmast as a way of getting away from the hazard.

As the Bethwaites developed the plastic topmast, they found it offered some other advantages. At the time, the 18 Foot Skiffs like the champion Entrad (on which Julian had been crewing) had complex hydraulically-controlled rigs. The Bethwaites pondered on the challenge of achieving skiff-style performance, without the complex controls. “I went through that era when we had 14 controls on Entrad” Julian recalled. “We could move the mast back and forward, but you ended up finding the magic positions and didn’t move them after that. We went into it and worked out whether  it was really necessary to have a set of hydraulics. We found by moving the ratio between the forestay and the  shrouds around, you could achieve everything a set of hydraulics did, so why would you have a set of hydraulics?” Once the Bethwaites started exploring the simplicity path, says Julian, they found other benefits in weight and drag reduction. Frank Bethwaite believes that the B14 development process also taught them a lot about correct planing area to sail-area ratios and spinnaker sizes, although the class has since moved to a larger kite.

9967_b14_2007wc_0446_800_rdax_60

In terms of sail to length and power to displacement, the B14 is in the region of skiff types. With just 17.2m2 (185ft2) of upwind sail it lacks the outright sailpower and speed of an Int.14 or similar skiff, and the Australian 14 Footer chairman and former champ, Brad Devine, has strongly denied the claims that early in its career the B14 “won” the Australian 14 nationals as an unofficial entrant – other records of the time bear him out. But the B14’s qualities were highlighted in the Garda trials, when it finished fourth in the “general feelings” list and was one of the four boats recommended for further consideration in the Olympic trials. No-one saw the boat as a rival for the 49er, but its performance and handling seemed to fit it for a role as a women’s skiff or 49er trainer.

Strangely, the B14 sold only moderately around the world. Perhaps a skiff-type boat without traps seemed wrong, perhaps it was too far ahead of the market in some countries, perhaps it was a bit hard to extract its best performance in light winds or confined waters. But even former UK vendors LDC, now manufacturers of the rival RS range, say that the B14 is a fine boat that was only dropped from their range so they could market a homogenous line-up.

The OD 14

While the Bethwaites were working on the B14, a university sailing coach was doodling an asymmetric junior boat. His eyes, he says, were opened to asymmetrics by one of Julian Bethwaite’s skiffs when the 18s visited Newport for a series in 1981. “His Prime skiff looked awesome” the coach recalled later. “Watching that asym 18 is still burned in my memory.”

The coach was Peter Johnstone, scion of the J/Boat family. His roommate was the son of the International 14 world president. And so Johnstone linked up with Jay Cross, whose Cross III design was then the world 14 champ. Cross had also sketched up an asymmetric, and together they created the One Design 14. It was basically the Cross III, fitted with what Johnston claims to be the first retractable bowsprit for an assymetric.

OD14
The OD 14 used the hull shape of the Cross III International 14, but carried an asymmetric long before it was permitted by the Int. 14 class. The lines plan below is from the Int 14 class history, The International Fourteen 1928-1989, reprinted by permission of the association.  Like most International 14 hulls, it has U shaped sections. These sections minimise wetted surface and waterline beam and are almost universally accepted to be faster in development classes, which tend to be shorter than boats like the 49er.

Cross III

The standard rig version was aimed straight at the 420 market and had 11.6m2 (125ft2) of upwind sail. The “Grand Prix” version featured a full-size Int.14 rig, with fractional kites to reduce the cost and complexity of the masthead rigging. Johnstone launched the class in 1987, while still at college. He wore out four cars promoting it, had some success and heartbreak, and learned a lot about the boat business.

The OD 14 was also one of the classes chosen for the “Ultimate Yacht Race”, a televised professional sailing event that attracted sailors like the McKee, Melges and McDonald brothers, Chris Dickson, Paul Forester and Ed Baird. It was probably America’s first centreboarder series with prize money since the sandbagger days, but like later attempts to get televised sailing going in the USA, it soon faded away.

The bowsprit prevented the OD 14 from racing in the Int.14 class for several years, by which time Johnstone had sold the business, the Cross III was outmoded, and the class died after running near the back of the Garda trials. “I always wonder what would have happened if the Int.14 class had backed the OD14 as an Olympic bid before the Laser 5000, Boss and others were created” muses Johnston.

The 49er emerges

Roll forward to 1989. Johnstone has become the Laser and Sunfish manufacturer for the USA, and Julian Bethwaite has dropped by to discuss Laser 2 business. Together, after bringing in Japan’s Takao Otani  and Britain’s Dave Ovington, they hatch the plan for probably the most influential design of the 1990s – the 49er.

The 49er used 18 Footer concepts modified for a wider audience, for this was designed from the outset as an international boat. “We’re very much team players; there were four partners and each of those partners was responsible for a different area, we listened to them and we took on board their advice” says Julian. He’s understandably proud of the result; “We took existing 18 Foot Skiff technology, we took existing 14 Foot Skiff technology, we took existing Moth technology, we looked at the whole project, we put together brilliant brains from around the world, and we meshed it and came up with a breakthrough product.”

img029
Many of the triallists went to Garda with significant support from the manufacturer. The 49er also had support from AAMI, the insurance company that had been sponsoring Julian Bethwaite’s 18 Foot Skiffs. LDC Racing Sailboats, one of the 49er dealers listed at the bottom of this ad, is now behind RS, arguably the world’s most successful dinghy company.

Breakthrough was an apt word. It was the fastest at the trials by a considerable margin, and it was ranked about twice as good as the next best craft by the evaluation team. The 49er’s victory, says Jackson, was “overwhelming”. “It was so outstanding to anybody who had sailed all the boats. It was dominant, tough, and usable; the one boat I wished I’d designed. It was such a fabulous boat that I bought one myself, and sailed it until I was 71.”

“The real point was that virtually all the other boats were somehow inhibited by a vision of what a racing dinghy was like, whereas the 49er was lifted from the skiff tradition. Skiff development was a long way ahead of the dinghy development, and here was a boat developed in the skiff environment – hull, rig, everything, and Dave Ovington engineered it very soundly. They had taken leaps, and it was a beautiful boat”.

Chris Nicholson, winner of three 49er worlds and three 505 worlds and many 18 Footer races, agrees with the plaudits; “They’re good, one of the best boats. They are very lively, and to me it’s a bit like the 505 where you trapeze very early on in the wind range, but you can take them to extreme breezes. There’s obviously an issue with wave conditions for the 49er, but they’re so good to race- you get to have the closeness of the Laser without the pain, and you’ve got a whole lot more fun in terms of the ride and the downwind tactics and options.”

49er jumping
After the 49er was selected, some were concerned that its wide stern and flat lines made it all but unmanageable in high winds and big waves. It didn’t take long for the OIympians to get it all sorted.

The 49er achieves this performance without its dimensions and ratios being particularly outstanding. The hull measures 4.99m (16ft5in) overall and weighs 92kg (203lb), the wingtip beam is 2.9m (9ft6in). The sail area is 18.1m2 (195ft2) upwind, with a 28.9m2 (311ft2) spinnaker. The spinnaker is higher in aspect and the mainsail smaller in the roach than most of its contemporaries, the mast the “flex tip” made so famous by Frank Bethwaite’s writings.

The 49er’s secret, says Julian Bethwaite, lies in minimalism. “I have always been a minimalist; it’s all about making more from less. It comes back to drag minimisation and to ensuring that the thing is easy; getting the ratios right, getting the centreboard in the right position, doing all that sort of stuff, making the thing as small as possible rather than as big as possible.” The 49er was lower, narrower in the hull and lighter than its main rivals in the trials (about 25kg lighter than the Boss, 55kg lighter than the 5000).

Frank Bethwaite believed that wider wings make a boat harder to get around the corners, and therefore slower around a short modern racetrack, than the more modest ones of the 49er. The 9er’s solid wings, he claimed, are also easier for crew to sail from and offer less wind resistance because of their “streamlining” (round sections like wing bars are very high in drag) and the way they sit close to the water due to the boat’s low freeboard – once again, minimalism in action.

Another example of minimalism was the weight equalisation system; it was simply to allow a range of wing positions, but it has since been abandoned as the Bethwaites believe that “skiff dynamics” and rigs mean that sailors of a wide weight range are inherently similar in speed. That meant that the 49er didn’t carry the ballast of some other Olympic contenders.

Julian fitted these minimalist items around a hull shape that he describes as “a combination of the B14 and AAMI Mk3 ; there’s more B14 in the 49er than anything else; it’s quite easy to go bigger, it’s very hard to go smaller. It’s got the Vee all the way through which means the boat stays in the water.”

The 49er, like many Bethwaite boats, planes at a very flat angle. While many top-class skiffies believe that the 49er’s attitude restricts its top speed because of increased wetted surface and nosediving, Julian believes that it reduces drag by factors such as lower angle of incidence of the planing surface. He actually prefers his boats to stay comparatively bow-down for longer as they accelerate, so their fine and Veed bows carve along and use their length instead of going bow-up and planing earlier.

49er sections
In 2007, the 49er’s master plug was measured so that a fairer and more symmetrical mould could be built. This photograph of the measurement process shows the Vee shape along the centreline of the 49er’s bow.  The Bethwaite designs are among the few modern boats that have retained Vee shaped sections.  Most other designers have moved to U shaped bow sections.  Each shape has its own strengths and weaknesses; the Vee shape works well in a boat like the 49er, which has a long hull and a powerful rig. All else being equal, Vee-shaped sections have higher wetted surface and wider waterline beam than U-shaped ones, so in classes where sail area and other dimensions are restricted the Vee shape is slower in light winds.   More on this to come in Parts 1.27 and 2.3 of SailCraft.

“Ultimate speed is a ratio of take off speed. ‘Take off’ is coming unstuck – the boat hitting that free looser feeling. If you take off at 10 knots you’ll make 20 knots, if you take off at 5 knots you’ll make 10 knots. So length allows you to delay getting unstuck longer. A lot of people complain cause a 49er sticks or stays down longer and doesn’t lift its bow, but the fact that it doesn’t lift its bow and the fact that it stays under control for longer means you can achieve a higher average speed, and top speed isn’t what it’s about – higher average speed is what it’s all about, and it’s the fact that it’s still fairly low drag around 8, 9, 10, 11 knots that gives a 49er that high average speed”.

He also believes that the lower planing angle actually makes his designs easier to handle in extreme conditions. “At the 29er worlds in San Francisco we were in a speedboat, pacing one of the Danish girls at 23 knots. The fact that this girl from Denmark, who wasn’t overly big and who has been brought up on fairly traditional boats, can actually get into a 29er and drive at 23 knots in the middle of San Francisco Bay is testimony to the fact that it’s a fairly easily driven forgiving boat. Now, if that boat had come out of the water at 8 knots and was now right up and skating at 16 knots, she would never have made it to 23 knots – the thing would have pig rooted or squirreled or something. The thing about the Bethwaite type boats is you can go as fast as you dare, and the limiting factor would not be the boat. If you go to the other extreme, like the 470 and 420 with their big round rear ends, the thing will just squirrel – you end up chine walking and you’ll be in the water.”

Minimalism has its drawbacks, and one of them is that the 49er’s foils are very small, making the boat demanding to handle through low-speed manoeuvres and putting the emphasis on going low and fast and using heel through tacks. Triple world champion Chris Nicholson agrees that the small foils are demanding on techniques through turns. “We’ve basically got to reduce the amount of time you’re not on the wire, through all manoeuvres, and when you do get to the other side through a tack and on the trapeze the boat needs to be pointing in the direction you want to go; you don’t want to be on the wire with the boat a little bit high and you sitting there with the rudder stalled to get the boat headed away. The whole idea is to get the boat turning fairly fast when the crew are in the centre moving through and the boat’s flat.”

“When we are not double trapping comfortably, we heel the boat coming into a tack and then roll it down as we go through” says Nicholson. “When the boat’s fairly flat in a tack, turn the boat fairly fast at that point. It takes an exceptional tack to make a 49er come out faster than it went in.”

Another minimalist trait, the low freeboard, has attracted criticism from those who sail other Aussie skiff types and believe that the 49er is unnecessarily hard to handle in chop, but Chris Nicholson feels it’s unwarranted. “It’s fine, if you’re having difficulty with that you just trapeze a little bit higher, but at the moment the inclination we trap is at is getting lower and lower, we’re dropping lower all the time. Obviously the class thinks righting moment is more important than clearing the waves or boat trim. I haven’t made my decision on which way to go at the moment, we’re running middle road, not trapezing too low and trying to keep the boat trimmed where we think is best.”

Another strong point for the 49er is that it’s simply a long boat for a two-person skiff type. That gives it superior upwind speed to the other two-person skiffs. “The 49er feels sleeker and faster upwind than the International 14” says top-class 14 sailor Dave Alexander “but more docile because it’s heavier.” And while Bethwaite boats are not renowned for their light-wind speed, some top-class sailors feel thats length gives it an advantage over some similar boats in very light winds.

While boats like the Boss, Iso and 5000 used single-skin fibreglass construction, the 49er used epoxy and foam sandwich. It ended up significantly more expensive, but also weighed in at 25-55kg lighter than comparable boats. There were some initial construction issues and to some who were used to custom-built boats it seemed heavy, but although he is interested in minimalism, Julian prefers his one designs to be on the stronger side, especially when they travel at 49er pace. “That’s the flip side, you actually build these boats to be able to stand these impacts and speeds”.

49er waterlines
The 49er’s hull lines show the straight waterlines typical of Bethwaite boats. Because Bethwaite’s boats are normally free of the length restrictions of a development class, they can have long, fine bows.

The 49er was designed to be user-friendly to a wide range of sailors, especially those outside the skiff’s friendly home waters of eastern Australia. “We sit here with 25 degree water and think a wave over the top is not a big issue; but over there in Europe it’s a bloody big issue – the water’s bloody cold, it literally kills you” says Julian. The distinctive hooked chine or spray-rail is an example of user-friendly design; it is meant “more than anything else, to keep the water out of the skipper’s eyes. There’s a whole ergonomic issue here; it’s one thing to make a boat go fast, it’s another to be able to sail it. You just can’t sail some of the other boats; yes freaks and guys who are putting an Olympic campaign can, but no one else”.

“If the 49er was an Australian boat you’d have a plumb bow, and the thing would be 10 or 30kg lighter, the mast would be bigger and the sail more roachy – but it’s not an Australian boat, and that’s why it sells well internationally.”

The 49er’s international strength makes many sailors believe that the class has pushed skiff sailing to a new level. “I guess we haven’t pushed the 18 as hard as we now push the 49er” says Nicholson. “Maybe one day I’ll go back and do a year or two in the 18s with a good 49er crew. At the time when we were sailing 18s we were a professional crew and we trained quite well, but we didn’t train as much as we have to train now and that makes differences as to how you sail; things like how you tack. How we used to tack the 18 was acceptable at that time but it wouldn’t be now.”

“The 49er will give the 18 footer a real big shake around a short course, especially in the heavy stuff; a couple of tacks and a couple of gybes and the 49er will be shaping up OK. That’s a combination of the shorter wings and the lower drag rig; the 49er’s weight is quite high, which is a bit of a shame but it’s normal in a production boat.”

Bethwaite agrees that the Olympic intensity could see the 49er beating even the best 18 Foot Skiffs around the track. “The 18 should go faster, it’s just that the 18 guys don’t the time to sail seven days a week, whereas the 49er guys are paid to sail seven days and a week and the boat doesn’t fall apart.”

 

References – The raincoat boat bed and the shoe-shine missionary (draft)

[1] The windsurfer may be the only other type that was created by individuals rather than wider social and technological forces. Like the canoe, it used some leading-edge materials, but neither windsurfer or canoe were created by the possibilities of those materials, and neither of them were developed by a wider group.

[2] “John Macgregor” p 277

[3] http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/documents/BoT_NineElms1865.pdf, retrieved 9/12/15.

[4] “John Macgregor” p 275

[5] “John Macgregor” p 278.

[6] The recent writers who have assumed that the Victorians would have looked down upon “native” canoes and kayaks are falling for a stereotype themselves.  In reality, many (although not all) Victorian era-canoeists were very impressed by the older craft; the Canadian canoe, for example, was seen as “incapable of improvement” for its use; “The County Gentleman: Sporting Gazette, Agricultural Journal, and The Man about Town of London”, July 30, 1892 pg. 1026.   As Folkard noted (The Sailing Boat page 534) “it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the most ingenious and scientific of European boat-builders, with twenty years or more experience in their art, to make a boat so admirably adapted to the purpose as the native kaiak.” Supporters of rowing boats did attack the canoe in the wake of Macgregor’s publicity, denouncing it as “the invention of savages….an imperfect, unscientific, uncomfortable imitation of the true boat”; see “John MacGregor” p 291.

[7];

[8] “John Macgregor” p 350

[9] John Macgregor p 297

[10] “John Macgregor” p 356 and

[11] The County Gentleman: Sporting Gazette, Agricultural Journal, and “The Man about Town” (London, England), Saturday, July 30, 1892; pg. 1026

[12] New York Times, August 1 1880

[13] C Bower Vaux   , courtesy Dragonfly

14] See for example “Modern Canoeing” Outing Vol 4 p 217

[15] “John MacGregor” notes at p 359 that a Reverend C.R. Fairey copied Macgregor by canoeing around Australia with religious tracts for watermen. See also NZ -Australian Town and Country Journal 26 Feb 1887 p 39

[15b]Re capsizing – Dixon Kemp’s 1884 edition says that as early as 1879, a canoe that capsized and filled recovered quickly enough to finish third in a field of 11 racers.

turdaebruary 1887

[16]  CANOE MEET AT THE THOUSAND ISLANDS. BY C. BOWYER VAUX. “  Outing, Vol 14, P 354.  As late as 1897 the Encyclopedia of Sport still referred to sailing as “the leading feature of present day canoeing” (p 171) and in 1892 it was stated that ‘the most remarkable feature in modern canoeing is the extent to which the paddle has been superseded by the sail”;( The County Gentleman: Sporting Gazette, Agricultural Journal, and “The Man about Town” London, England), Saturday, July 30, 1892; pg. 1026

[17] Macgregor’s second major cruise, for example, was one third under sail; John Macgregor p 289.

[18] WP Stephens, “Single-Hand cruising and single-hand craft”, Outing vol 36 p 384

[19] History of American Canoeing Pt 1, C. Bowyer Vaux, Outing Volume X issue 3 June 1887

p266.

[20] “The Dry-Fly of sailing” by “Uncle”, The Yachting Monthly, August 1924, p 287

[21] Still, there were occasional tragedies and some had near misses.  The Rector of Cheadle, Commodore of the Mersey Canoe Club, “narrowly escaped losing his life while boating with no other companion than one of his monkeys, who stood on his head until finally washed away by the waves.”  The Rector later became one of the world’s leading experts on show dogs, which was probably safer for him and for his monkeys.

[21]

[22]  Account from The Field,  Oct 7 1871, quoted in Forest and Stream, June 3 1896.

[22]

p 216; “History of American Canoeing Pt 1, C. Bowyer Vaux, Outing Volume X issue 3 June 1887 p 260, and letter to the editor by Vaux, Outing Vol 6 p 237. Leeboards had been used in open Canadian canoes in 1860 and centerboards by 1865, but the open decks, high ends and hull shape of such types meant that they could not perform as well under sail as the decked canoe.  Quite why the centerboard and leeboard apparently took so long to be adopted into decked canoes is a mystery.

[23] See for example the report of Clyde Canoe Club racing in Glasgow Herald of 15 Sept 1875.

[24] “History of American Canoeing Pt 1, C. Bowyer Vaux, Outing Volume X issue 3 June 1887 p269.

[25] Outing vol 10 p 364

26] Forest and Stream Nov 27 1890 p 386. Some canoes carried even more ballast, with an article in The American Canoeist for June 1886 (p 100) saying that a couple of years earlier, 300 to 350lb of ballast was “not an uncommon amount”.

[27] “Canoe Handling”, second edition 1885, Forest and Stream Publishing Co, C Bower Vaux,

27 re Nautils and Pear winning -Forest and Stream, April 29 1886

[27b] “The Canoe – How to build and manage it” by   Alden, Scribner’s Magazine, August 1872.

[28] “History of American Canoeing” Outing Vol X, Issue 3 June 1887 p268

[29] History of American Canoeing” Outing Vol X, Issue 3 June 1887 p269

[30] History of American Canoeing Pt II, C Bowyer Vaux, Outing

[31] Outing vol 10 p 361.  In “upset races” each canoe had to be capsized and recovered in the middle of a race.

[32] The County Gentleman: Sporting Gazette, Agricultural Journal, and “The Man about

Town” (London, England), Saturday, August 22, 1891; pg. 1145;

[33] Encyclopedia of Sport, Canoeing, p172

[34] Outing Vol 14 p 354.

[35] Outing August 1887, History of American Canoeing Pt III by C Bowyer Vaux p 407. CHECK CHECK CHECK

[36] THE CANOEING OF TO-DAY. by c. bowyer vaux. Outing Vol 16 p 214 and THE AMERICAN CANOE ASSOCIATION, AND ITS BIRTHPLACE, by c. bowyer vaux. Outing Vol 12  p 419; Outing vol o4 p 108

“They are somewhat prone to get out of order” , Canoes and Canoeing, Vaux, 1894

[37] The Canoeing of Today, C Bowyer Vaux, Outing Volume XVI, 2 May 1890 p 135

[38] Trads and memos MBing oct 42 p 84.

[39] F & S Jan 8 1891 p 506   and ors – planks strained retrofitted and early  anoes  AND tiller extension?  Short fore and aft tiller and deck yoke applied by Vaux in Dot. “As men learned to sit further out some means of reaching the tiller was necessary, and a second

handle, jointed to the first, was added. This same gear has been used on the majority of canoes.  The tiller extension can also be seen in some contemporary canoe plans.

[40] History of American Canoeing Part III, Outing August    p 403

[41] Canoeing Under Sail,      Sailing Craft, ed by SChoettle, p 118

[42] NY Spirit of the Times 1884 p 773

[43] “Modern Canoeing”, Outing Vol 3 p220

[44] “The only requisites for membership are that the applicant must be a canoeist and a gentleman.” THE AMERICAN CANOE ASSOCIATION, AND ITS BIRTHPLACE, by c. bowyer vaux. Outing Vol 12  p 418

“their twin companions, betting and gambling”:- The American Canoeist, June 1882 p 72

[45] F & S Jan 15 1891 p 525   (also referred to pros as “the men who sail sloops an catboats off Coney Island with advertisements of soap and patent medicines pained on the sails”.

[46] History of American Canoeing Vol II, C Bowyer Vaux, Outing Vol 10 p 369

[47] Trad and Mem MotorBoating October 1941 p 84

[48] See for example EB Tredwen quote on p 86 of “Amateur Canoe Building”.

[49] Trad and Mem MotorBoating October 1941 p 84

[49] Forest and Stream, April 29 1886

[49b] These figures from “Rushton and His Times in American Canoeing”, by Atwood Manley

“like some other British sailors he had already fitted a tiller so that he could steer from on deck”:- See The American Canoeist, June 1886 p 100

[50] CANOE MEET AT THE THOUSAND ISLANDS. BY C. BOWYER VAUX. Outing vol 14 p356

[51] C Bowyer Vaux, appendix.  Pescowic SELECTED FOR ICC   but as Vaux noted, ““Her performance at the ’86 A. C. A. meet were the talk of the canoeing world for over two years in England, Germany and America. This arrangement did not and cannot prove popular for obvious reasons. It is a racing expedient, and perfectly allowable as such.”[51]

[51b] Progress in canoeing

[52] “The International Canoe Race”, Outing Vol 9 p 169

[53] Bower Vaux, appendix to          ,

[54] One of the British sailors was already aware of the American position and had fitted his boat with a tiller that could be used while sitting on deck, although he still sat in the boat downwind. Stevens says that it was Baden-Powell (Trad and Memoro,s MotorB Oct 41 p 84) but Vaux, who probably knew better as the winner, says (in  Note Outing vol 9 p 167) that it was the less experienced Stewart, who finished third in the regatta.  Only the first finisher in each nation’s two-man team counted.

[55] Stephens Tad and Me Oct 41 MotorBoating p 84

[56] In Forest & Stream Jan 8 1891 p 506 it was noted that the modern type of tiller extension that had been used in some canoes was “defective in two points.  It is so weak in construction as to be very easily broken, and also from its weakness and the fact that it swings freely it is of no aid to the main in regaining his position after hiking out…the mishaps to the old tiller in the races at the meet probably settled its fate, and the new (thwartships) one will supplant it entirely wherever the sliding seat is used.”

[57] Encyclopedia of Sport, Canoeing, p 172

[58] Wilt says that the canoes developed by Butler could recover from a capsize easily, but Vaux noted in “THE AMERICAN CANOE ASSOCIATION, AND ITS BIRTHPLACE, by c. bowyer vaux. Outing Vol 12  p 420” that the big rigs of the later canoes made it harder to bring them upright than with earlier craft.

[59] Canoeing Under Sail,    Sailing Craft p 120.

[60] Canoeing Under Sail,     , Sailing Craft p 118-119.

[61] Information on rig from T and M, MotorBoating Nov 41 p 54.  See “The modern single-hand cruiser” by C Bowyer Vaux, outing Vol 22

[62] Outing vol 14 p 354 saoid that this ‘standing rig” was first used in the famous canoe Pescowid in 1886.

[62] “Scantling regulation in yachting”, W P Stephens, http://www.sname.org/HigherLogic/System/DownloadDocumentFile.ashx?DocumentFileKey=bc8bb07c-337b-43c8-a201-e3e686b6f09f

[63] CB Vaux, Editor’s open Window, Outing Vol 14 p 313

[64] “Editor’s Open Window, Canoeing”, Outing vol 16 p 495

[65] “Canoes and Canoeing” Warrington Baden-Powell in “the Encyclopedia of Sport”, F.G. Aflolo et al (eds) London, 1897 p 172

[66] Forest and Steam, p 412 May 12 1894

[67] Fordst na Stream jan 26 1893 p 83

[68][68] For every inch the beam was increased over 30”, sail area could be increased by 3 ft2, while for every inch under 16’ the sail area had to be increased by ¼ ft2.  Beam had to be between 1/3 and 5/32 of overall length.  There were also minimum depth, waterline beam and weight limits. “Canoeing Under Sail”, Wilt in “Sailing Craft”, p 120 and 130.

Wilt’s complaint about the weight of the “racing machines” is something I still have to follow up. Some of the later big-rig US canoes reverted to ballast, perhaps because the power of the sliding seat allowed them to carry such large sails that they needed (and could afford) some ballast to keep them upright when tacking or gybing.

[69] Champion canoes of To-day, R.B. Burchard, Outing vol 30 p 226

[70] Later it was reported that there was a swing back to ballast.  “Canoeing”, Bowyer Vaux, p 20 he says that Toltec, which won the International Challenge Cup for 1891 against a Canadian challenger, had 100lb of ballast.  Her skipper “belayed both sheets in a strong, puffy breeze, and slid in and out on his long sliding seat as required, sometimes having both feet against the outside of his canoe, and directing his course by occasionally touching the tiller with his aftermost foot.”

[71] Outing, Vol 29     p 143

[72] Outing vol 30, The champion Mab, reported in the same article, had a 5’3” sliding

[72] Outing vol 30, The champion Mab, reported in the same article, had a 5’3” sliding seat, 16 x 30, silk sails of 136 sq ft, storm sails of 90-, hollow masts, 1/8” wjite cedar planks, toe operated cam cleats but varnished rawhide fittings instead of brass, cockpit draining through CB case.

[73] See also “THE CANOEING OF TO-DAY By LEONIDAS HUBBARD, Jr.” Outring Vol 40 p 700;

BROOKLYN EAGLE 17 May 1896 p16    http://bklyn.newspapers.com/image/50432305/.

[74] Forest and Steam, p 412 May 12 1894.  By “rater types” one means boats lilke the Scarecrow, wich were nbot designed as Raters but followed the same style. The typical “canoe yawl” was a small double-ended yawl-rigged centreboard cruising yacht about 18-   long, which developed in north England from about     .

[75] Gordon K (Sandy) Douglass, “Sixty Years behind the mast – the fox on the water” p

[75b] The Rudder, May 1915, p 253. See also the London Times, quoted in American Canoeist, November 1882 p 155.

[76] “THE CANOEING OF TO-DAY By LEONIDAS HUBBARD, Jr.” Outring Vol 40 p 705;