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.)


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.


Author: cthom249

A former sailing journalist and magazine editor, I was lucky enough to grow up in Sydney, one of the world's sailing hotspots and to win national and state championships in classes like J/24s, Windsurfer One Designs, offshore racers, Laser Radial open, Windsurfer OD Masters, Raceboard Masters and Laser Radial Masters, to get into the placings in a few other classes, and do a few Sydney to Hobarts.

3 thoughts on “Introduction and contents”

  1. Hi Chris,

    It almost made me teary seeing this epic (and much needed) work of yours quotes my pages in the blogroll.

    Would you be kind enough to change the link for storer boat plans to

    WordPress came along a bit later (for me when at the beginning it looked like I could code the pages myself – ha) so that is a historical glitch on my site structure.

    Thankyou again – I’ve just been sucking up the scow article and the trapeze article. Gotta try and convince some of those Malaysians and Singaporeans to go traditional with their sailing craft! Would be like looking at a bunch of Garda boats heading upwind slowly winding up 🙂

    We are going to be building a really light local bangka (outrigger) sailboat using the commonly accessible local materials at the end of this year and then mid year next year. It will take as much as we can incorporate in modern hullshape as we can extract from modern materials and hopefully still look “right” to the locals – so they can use any ideas they want as a template.

    Cheers for bringing this blog – an amazing project – into reality so we can really see the roots of our thinking – and know what has been gained and what has been lost along the way.

    Michael Storer


  2. Hi Mike;

    Sorry to be so slow replying – I seem to have had some IT issues.

    Many thanks for the comment – your support from the start was very much appreciated. I’ve just scanned in some extra pieces of information on the koleks (including a basic lines plan) and will send them to you tomorrow.

    Cheers and thanks again!


  3. Hi Chris, I came across this blog by accident. Okay – deep breath: this is the most interesting thing I have ever found on the internet. Your work is monumental and the writing is superb. Thank you!! I’ll be reading and re-reading this for months.


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