Here’s another of those annoying apologies; if it seems disrespectful to squeeze several nations into one post while I gave English-speaking nations several posts each, there’s several reasons. For one, the dinghy scene in these countries was comparatively small. Secondly, I’m a typically monolingual Aussie so I can’t do the same sort of original research in other languages as I can in English. Finally, some of these areas have already been covered in depth by those with local knowledge. The origin and impact of boats like Sweden’s Finn and the Flying Dutchman are covered in detail in later sections.
Apart from Germany, Europe seems to have played a surprisingly small role in dinghy development until the second half of the 20th century. In many countries, economic conditions and geography seemed to play a part in keeping dinghy sailing a niche sport, and one where even proud people like the French admitted that the Anglo-Saxons held the lead in design developments and in racing.
France seems to have followed the same trajectory as other nations that got into centreboarder sailing early on. As with so many other regions, the sandbagger concept imported from the USA played a major role in establishing the concept of a beamy centreboarder. The 8m long imported sandbagger type Margot was dominating racing around that French yachting’s birthplace at Le Havre at the mouth of the Seine in the 1850s. The 1867 Paris Exhibition regatta, a high point in early French sailing and the symbol of a shift to sailing on the River Seine near Paris, was won by the imported catboat “New York”.
As early as 1858 the French developed their own name for the American style boats – “Clippers”. Around that time the term was applied widely to any particularly fast boat in the English-speaking world, but a sporting dictionary demonstrates that in France, the term specifically meant a beamy centreboarder, often cat rigged. They also seem to have developed a fondness for the sharpie type they had imported from America; perhaps the French taste for functional designs meant that they did were less biased against the sharpie’s appearance than the contemporary Anglo Saxons. The exploits and books of “Rob Roy” Macgregor also lead to the promotion of canoeing by no less than Emperor Napoleon III, although no evidence of significant and influential sailing canoe racing comes to hand.
Many Parisians became passionate about sailing and boating on the Seine around 1870. Even by their own accounts, some French sailors of the time admitted that they were overshadowed by the British and American racers; one official report says that their sailing was not quite to the same standard and was “ignored by foreigners, because the French have reputation of being confined to intellectual speculation, where they are superior, and to have a very marked disdain for the physical exercises in general and for the yachting in particular.”
Intellect met sailing at Argenteuil on the outskirts of Paris, where the Seine widened to some 200 metres and the Cercle de la Voile de Paris made its home. Here, sailors developed the sandbagger- style boats they called the “Clippers d’Argenteuil” (sometimes “Clipper Parisien”) alongside the group of painters who were developing Impressionism. It was there that the greats of the movement – Monet, Manet, Renoir, Pissaro, Degas and others – stayed, planned the first Impressionist exhibition, painted the racing boats, and sailed. One of their number, Gustav Caillebotte, was not only a painter of renown but also a champion sailor, vice president of the Cercle, and a designer of such talent that he gave up painting to create yachts.
Perhaps no other sailboats in history have been viewed as often as those moored along the banks of the Seine at Argenteuil. Individual boats were featured time and time again. In 1874, both Renoir and Monet painted the same boat, at the same dock, on what looks to be the same day with the same two figures. It looks like a fairly standard sort of sandbagger-style boat, carrying a small jib for a pleasure cruise. One critic points out that the bowsprit in Monet’s version angles up “so that it appears more forceful, active and engaged”. Dixon Kemp tells us that the bobstay on these boats was adjustable. I can’t help wondering whether the crew eased the tackle after Renoir painted the bowsprit, allowing it to angle up for Monet’s depiction. How odd to think that 140 years later, critics would be discussing the intricacies of a great master’s composition, when the effect could really have been caused by someone adjusting their forestay tension before a quick sail.
The boat that Monet and Renoir painted together could almost have come from New York itself, but by the 1880s the sailors of the Seine were evolving the Clippers d’Argenteiul into a breed that was in some ways even more radical than the sandbaggers from which they developed. While the US boats carried low-aspect gaff mains to the end of their days, many of the Clippers d’Argenteuil moved to high-aspect sliding gunter rigs (known as houri rigs by the French, and adopted from their Mediterranean coast) which was a logical development for a narrow river. Dixon Kemp’s Manual shows us that as early as 1884, the sailors of Argenteuil had developed what appears to be the first track for mainsail slides, replacing the older system of hoops or lacing that ran around the mast. The Clippers had two systems; one where a channel was cut into the rear side of the mast and fitted with brass plates on its lips, and the other where a T-shape section was fitted to the spar. This system was seems to have been the first example of a luff slide and groove device, anticipating the one developed by WP Stephens and CJ Stevens for their Rater types in the next decade.
Instead of simple gaff jaws, the Seine boats had universal joints at the bottom of their yards. While downwind sails were rare in New York, the Paris boats sometimes carried huge silk spinnakers or even square sails. Although many depictions show the Seine boats with the standard sandbagger transom, champion Clippers like Lison carried a counter stern and under-hung rudder and were narrower than the sandbaggers. The Clippers seem to have been as radical and sophisticated as any class of their time; fully the equal of their famous cousins from New York or Sydney.
Argenteuil was not just a place for artists and rich racers; it was also a place where the urban middle and working classes could go sailing. The radical Clippers were not the only boat to be found racing on the Seine. There were small catboats and a type of oar-and-sail boat called the Ocean, which was often raced singlehanded but, in the usual fate of oar-and-sail boats, has almost been lost to history. Sailboats could be hired at an affordable rate (about the same as a labourer could earn in the same time, from my quick calculations) next to the Cercle, just a short train ride from Paris. Crowds of “scruffy pleasure seekers (students, workers, artists, etc)” and “amateur yachtsmen of indifferent morals who favoured similar female companions” could drift along the Seine, feeding ducks, drinking or watching Caillebotte inspecting his latest creation being built in one of the boatyards along the river or going downstream to the Ise de Chatou, the “Isle of the Impressionists”, where he was to feature in the foreground of Renior’s famous work “The Luncheon of the Boating Party”. The short story writer Guy de Maupassant may have been passing in his little 10 foot oar-and-sail dinghy. Although it gradually became more crowded and polluted, the Seine west of Paris must have been a magical place for those who loved both sailing and “intellectual speculation.”
Just as in many other areas, in the late 1800s the era of the beamy sandbagger types faded away, to be followed by the short reign of Rater-type boats. In France they used the Godinet rule, which was more sophisticated than the Anglo-Saxon systems but used the old term of “tonnage” to determine ratings. The Cercle de la Voile de Paris gave a trophy for “One Ton” class boats, Rater types about 8-9m long, which became one of the most famous of all yachting trophies over the next nine decades.
In 1900, the Seine was the site for the first Olympic Games where sailing events were actually held. There still seems to be confusion about what actually happened; as the president of the International Association of Olympic Historians said, “in common with other sports at the 1900 Games the yachting results are varied, incomplete and contradictory”. Judging from available information, there doesn’t seem to be much doubt that the smallest class was dominated by locally-modified versions of the Rudder’s Lark scow. It appears that most of the mixed bag of other entrants were Rater-style centreboarders. Some, like the champion “One Tonner” Sidi-Fekkar, were unballasted; she was kept upright by a crew of “men of a certain weight and skilled in gymnastic exercises” who were “literally outside (the boat) and restrained by means of stirrups on the feet.” She capsized at the start, leaving a British Linton Hope design to take the class honours. Incidentally, it’s claimed that a cat was in the event and Forest and Stream for Oct 22 1904 shows a boat that could be a Dominion-style “tunnel hull”.
Although the Godinet rating system was more sophisticated than its British and US equivalents, it still created fragile boats that suffered rapid obsolescence and caused a move to cheaper one designs like the Lark and the Monotype de Nogent-Joinville around the turn of the century. But numbers remained small, and the most popular class, the Monotype de Chatou (a Lark modified by Francois Texier, a former Clipper builder) only numbered about 100 boats. Even that small fleet included a famous fashion designer, a leading poet, a pioneer of the Fauvist art movement, JJ Herbulot (later to become a leading dinghy designer), legendary aviation pioneer Santos Dumont, and Georges-Paul Thierry, later to become a leading advocate for home boatbuilding. If any group proves that creative people can love one designs, it’s the sailors of the Chatou.
The rougher waters of the coastal regions also saw the development of some solid-looking conventional little round-bilge one designs, like the Monotype of Arcachon, a little yacht-tender style boat in the style of the International 12. Several other clubs along the rough and windy Atlantic coast seem to have favoured stubby little keelboats instead of dinghies; probably a reflection of the limited seaworthiness of most dinghies of the era. The French Atlantic coast was to produce two of the world’s great dinghies, but not until the second half of the century.
The Olympics returned to the Seine in 1924, when the “dinghy’ event was almost as mysterious as that of 1900. The event was sailed in the Monotype National designed by Gaston Grenier – or was it? Some call the boat the Meulan; others say that it was a modified version of the Belgian Scheldejollen, a slightly earlier boat of very similar style and dimensions. And what dimensions they were; they weighed in at 450kg (990lb) and carried 20.17 sqm (218 sq ft) of sail on a length of just 5m (16ft5in). The Monotype also carried a spinnaker, and the extra performance and challenge of the bigger rig was, according to the official Olympics report, the reason it was chosen over the International 12. Just to add to the confusion, some sources indicate that there were not enough Nationals for the number of entrants, so some competitors competed in Scheldejollen.
Although most reports say implicitly or explicitly that the class was for singlehanders, some photos and the official report shows that ten of the 17 Monotypes were sailed two up – at least sometimes. The official report speaks of the Monotypes as being sailed “by a single amateur” but also says that the 17 nations entered 26 athletes. The best explanation may be that the crews were pros, and may have been used only in windier races.
Even in those days, people were worried enough about spectators for the official report to list the number of paying spectators who watched the Monotypes drifting on the Seine. On the first day, there was precisely one paying spectator and 376 officials, press and sailors. The organisers had anticipated the “modern” system of making the later races more important in the points, and on the last day, the crowd of paying spectators leaped up to…….18. They watched Leon Huybrechts of Belgium (and his crew, hidden away in the results as “R. De Hemptinne”) win. It may have been significant that Huybrechts, who according to the official report was well practised in the Monotype, was also the man who had commissioned the design of the Scheldjolle.
It was the 1930s when French dinghy sailing seems to start to take on something like a modern form. Nineteen thirty two was a significant year; former Chatou sailor Jacques Lebrun won the singlehanded class in Snowbird at the LA Olympics, and the first great French class arrived in the shape of the Caneton, another boat of the Seine. French sailing historian Louis Pillon tells us that in those days the sailors of Paris would head down river to the Le Havre regatta each year under tow or sail, stopping on the way to race the local one designs of each club. One small club held a design competition for a new one design, and the winner was the product of Russian expatriate Victor Brix. The Caneton (“Duckling” in English; it was named after a specialty at the restaurant where it was adopted) was much like a slightly lighter Snipe with the bow pulled out. Given the enormous reach of The Rudder and the success of the magazine’s earlier Lark in France and around the world, the similarity is probably anything but accidental.
As Pillon says, the Caneton was just a local one design from a small club until one man (Robert Jeuffrain) built 20 or them and formed a new club where the boats had to be stored on road trailers instead of in the water. The enthusiastic Jeuffrain and his trailer-borne Canetons created what Pillon calls a “cultural revolution”, travelling from place to place by road to promote the class and sport, instead of staying at one club or region. The Caneton class spurred the creation of new clubs and by 1939 there were over 160 boats afloat, with 40 entrants from eight clubs at the national titles.
While men like Jeuffrain were growing dinghy sailing at the grass roots level, officialdom was also getting involved. Many Europeans saw sport as a means to address what they saw as “degeneration” in society and a threat to national welfare. In France, the country that had suffered so much in WW1 and where, as famous mountain climber and sports minister Maurice Herzog was later to say “there is an old prejudice against sports in this country; a prejudice that goes back to the intellectual man who was pale, a poor physical specimen, a Rimbaud, a Verlaine, a Proust” such concerns led the national government to become heavily involved in organising sport, including becoming the first government to sponsor Olympic athletes.
It was defeat at the 1936 Olympics that created the next major French class. After the French had finished out of the medals in the O-Jolle singlehander, it was decided that the old Chatou was no longer up to the job of producing Olympians. As Pillon and other sources note, a group including champion sailors Lebrun, JJ Herbulot and expatriate Swiss naval architect Pierre Staempfli developed the 5m/16.4ft Sharpie de 9m2 as a new Olympic training boat. Some say that it showed Staemplis’ interest and experience with renjollen and Manfred Curry’s theories in its long, slender lines and roachy, fully battened mainsail. With its reverse sheer (to save weight), considerable weight (185kg), pinched bow and flat bottom, the Sharpie was neither particularly fast or attractive, but it was very cheap and simple to build.
During the war years, the government of unoccupied Vichy France took firm control over sports associations. When the national sailing association declared the Sharpie as an official class, building materials were made available and by 1945 there were 600 afloat. The Caneton benefited from the same status, and by the war’s end the class had over 400 boats and 27 fleets.
With boats like the Sharpie 9m2 and Caneton Brix, we may be starting to see the evolution of a French style of dinghy designs. They were influenced by a high level of government funding of the sport and therefore of control by the national sailing association. They seem to have been egalitarian designs, aimed at a mass audience rather than just the rich or experts. Apart from a preference for hard chines, their outstanding characteristic may have been their lack of any outstanding characteristic. In dimensions they seem to sit square in the middle between other major northern sailing country; smaller than those of the USA and Germany, larger than those of England and Canada. It was an approach that was to influence design across the world when the great dinghy boom arrived.
Centreboarder racing in Italy seemed to start comparatively late; it does not seem to start in around the mid 1800s with sandbaggers, catboats and canoes like so many other regions.
The sport of sailing in Italy as we know it today seems to have started in large yachts, before spreading down into small Rater types and then into the first dinghies. The Ligurian Coast near Genoa was an early centre, and here the first restricted classes were formed among the owners of boats that did not fit into the international rules or the one design yacht classes. The first significant dinghy class was the Serie Ligure Lega Navale Italiana the loose restricted class formed in 1911 by a short-lived national body. Apart from its large sail area (about 15 sq m, apparently in both sloop and cat rigs), it looks to be a typical example of the contemporary boats developed from oar-and-sail types. It lasted into the 1930s.
By the 1920s, the sailors of the Ligurian coast had created some potent-looking boats in three development classes; 4, 4.5 and 5.5 metres. On the other side of the country, the sailors of the northern Adriatic were also creating bigger, lighter and faster boats. In 1925 a 6 m long three-person dinghy they had created was merged with the Ligurian boats (exactly how is unclear) to form the Classe Nationale A 6 Metri, the first national dinghy class.
The A Class was used in 1935 for the European 3- man dinghy titles. These were inter-war contests in which representatives from each country sailed a regatta using boats of whatever three-man dinghy happened to be popular in the host country. The Italians won on their home ground. Perhaps it was a symbolic in several ways; for an era in which there were so few International classes that sailors had to swap boats to get to race other nations; for early Italian passion for development classes; and for the rise of Italian dinghy sailing despite a slightly slow start.
Despite the popularity of the development classes, there were significant fleets of one designs. Although we’re used to lake sailors pushing the boundaries of design, in 1923 the sailors of Lakes Como and Maggiore settled on a conservative one design of 3.6m with just 9m of sail. When Italian sailors saw and sailed the vaguely similar International 12 at the 1928 Olympics, they brought the class home. Although it was already an ageing design, the International attracted a quality fleet and became (and still is) a great success. The Snipe followed in 1934. Both classes remain active in Italy today, decades after almost all the local classes have sadly faded away.
In the Netherlands, that land of wind and water where yachting as we know it began, there seems to have been few surprisingly few major developments in dinghy sailing until the second half of the century. English speakers wrote of the difficult conditions that sailors faced in the Netherlands; the strong winds blowing from the North Sea, the chop of the shallow open waters, and the narrowness of the rivers. Given the technology of the era, it’s not surprising that the Dutch seem to have preferred to add a keel to boats that others would have probably had centreboards. As blogger Tweezerman notes, they even took the ubiquitous Lark from the pages of The Rudder and, inspired by the Star, made it into a tiny keel scow.
Although the Dutch yachtsmen were keen on their traditional craft, the scanty information that can be dredged up indicates that early dinghy sailors seem to have preferred imported designs, and none more so than the International 12, which remains a significant class. The International 12 was later joined by Germany’s 12 Square Metre Sharpie and O-Jolle, and all three of them still survive as significant classes at national level in the Netherlands.
The one designs were also joined by the exotic Vrijbuiter, a long-lost class that was very reminiscent (and perhaps related) to the German “frei Renjollen” and existed from 1918 to WW2. The Dutch love for classes like the Sharpie, O Jolle and Vrijbuiter was to play a major part in launching one of the iconic and influential boats of the great post WW2 dinghy boom.
Dinghy sailing seems to have been slow to develop in the Scandinavian countries. A significant local class doesn’t seem to have emerged until 1936, when naval architect Erling L. Kristofersen created the Oslojolle as a junior class. The project started as a Scandinavian praam type, with the characteristic wide overhanging forward sections, but during development it was given a much and more conventional bow. The clinker/lapstrake Oslojolle was a cheap boat to build, costing about as much as month’s boat hire, and within the first year 100 hit the water. The original lug rig was later supplemented by a bermudian sloop sailplan, but their high aspect ratio remained as quintessentially Scandinavian as the spoon-bow clinker hull, with its echoes of Viking longboats. The Oslojolle was one of the few European boats of its day to expand widely; about 1000 boats were built, it was adopted as the official training and racing boat for the Royal Norwegian YC, and fleets were raced in Denmark and the USA for some time.
The heartland of small centreboarder sailing in Scandinavia was Sweden, where the sailing canoe, rather than the dinghy, ruled. These were not the slender sliding-seat racing machines of the USA, but more along the lines of the Smith Brothers’ creations from England. Like most people, the Swedes caught the canoe sailing virus from MacGregor, but they took it even further. During the tough times of the early part of the century and through the Depression years, the Swedes found that the cruiser/racer canoe was the ideal cheap boat for exploring the Baltic’s inlets and islands – and much further astream. In 1894 Gustaf Estlander (later one of the great names in Square Metre yacht design) sailed from Stockhold to Helsinki; Herman Lantz paddled from Sweden to the Caspian Sea before the outbreak of WW1 robbed him of his goal of canoeing to India.
In the early 1900s the Swedes added length and beam to their boats to make them more stable for cruising. The C Class canoe created in the early 1930s brought beam out to a dinghy-size 1.4m; the D Class almost 20ft long, while the E Class was 1.5m wide. One (perhaps two) of the Swedish classes were given International status by the world canoeing body (which did and still does rule the sailing canoes), but few if any sailors from other countries got involved, and the cruising canoes remained largely a Swedish passion.
Naval architect and canoe expert Jurgen Sass notes that even when canoes are as big as the Swedish ones, their design follows different principles to dinghies. That was probably why when the Swedish canoe designers drew dinghies, they normally looked quite unlike their canoes. Compare the “A Class” dinghy designs of canoeing legend Sven Thorell’s designs to his canoes. The canoes have fine, deep bows with the widest point of the hull well aft; the 5m long dinghies have the conventional full, flared bows of their era, with the widest point of the hull amidships. A few years later one of Thorell’s rivals was to combine dinghy and thinking into a boat that was to become one of the greatest of all dinghies, but as with many other European countries, Sweden’s impact on the world dinghy scene was going to have to wait until after 1945, when a new global era of dinghy sailing would arrive.
Information on early French centreboarders from the report to the 1905 ‘Congrès international de sport et d’education physique’.
“a sporting dictionary demonstrates that in France”:- Annuaire du sport en France, guide complet du sportsman. Eugène Chapus (ed)
Information about Argenteuil from http://faculty.winthrop.edu/stockk/Modernism/vol%201%20imp%201.pdf
Caneton information from http://asproca.synthasite.com/historique.php
Swedish canoe information from various soufces oincluding personal correspondence with people whose names and emails i have now lost; Th Sorell article in ; Jurgen Sass’ “Kanotseglingens första århundrade” retried 4/9/2017 http://www.sassdesign.net/Kanotseglingshistoria.pdf
Henn Avasulu http://www.lunne.se/lunne/Kanotsegling_files/Artikel%20i%20VB.pdf 4/9/17
oslojolle info from http://kom.aau.dk/~heb/Tejsten/artikel.pdf