Introduction and the early years, pre 1923


The story of the International Fourteen is never ending because so much continues to come to light from its past whilst, being a development class, there is always something new in hull or rig to record. Change in fact, is what Fourteening is, and always will be, about. As a concept it is not stuck in time. The class is fortunate in having a history that goes back to the very origins of racing small open boats and a future, that, within its chosen constraints, is as limitless as human endeavour and ingenuity can devise.

It has been my pleasure to try and record the highlights of the International Fourteen. This is the fourth edition , first on the internet.. It is hard to believe that it is over fortyyears since I was first volunteered for the job. This has been the hardest version to pull together. For the simple reason that for the past few years my role has been of an interested , but distant,supporter rather than that of an enthusiastic, if indifferent, performer. So I have had to rely more than ever on others to fill in the details of what has gone on.

So my thanks go out to so many people. The late Leslie Lewis, the man who more than anyone else got the one big Fourteen class idea accepted in the UK It was he who wrote the first amusing version of the class history. To that great small boat enthusiast the late Dr. Robin Steavenson who brought that story up to date in the 1960’s. To our late President Stewart Morris who provided so much background detail of the pre and post war period, in which he played such a successful and central part. More recently; to the late Larry Bates for sending a book giving details of early American days; to the late John Winter who filled in so much detail of the 1930’s; to lan Cox who provided me with a succinct guide to trends, and significant rule changes, in the class and to Bruce Grant for lending me his meticulously kept scrap book on his Fourteen experiences. to Jeremy Pudney for keeping me in the know for so many years till he retired and to to all those people who phoned or wrote with snippets of information about Fourteens and Fourteen Sailing.

Thanks are also due to the Rickmansworth Sailing Club. Who? you may well ask, for they do not feature widely in this story. Their prime role, more often than not, appearing to be to make up the numbers at P.O.W. But for sixty years they have been stalwart supporters of the class. Boasting at one time one of the largest, if little known Fleets in the world. It is to them that I owe my introduction to the Fourteen, to many many happy sometimes hectic hours sailing them and to so many friends not least my long suffering crew lan Moore – who also produced and printed the first two editions of this history.

Finally my thanks to my wife for correcting my spelling, and worse grammar — when she can read my writing (no problem now thanks to a word processor— and last but not least to all those owners, designers, builders and crews without whose efforts there would be nothing to record.

T. J. Vaughan

The Hut, 19 King Street Emsworth, Hampshire



To tell the story of the International Fourteen is to recall the early history of small boat racing in this country, for the International Fourteen was originally the National Fourteen and it was but an amalgam of this country’s principal 14ft dinghy classes of the early part of the century. Today there is a wide choice of International and National dinghy classes and examples of each can be found in most sailing centres.

Seventy years ago the situation was very different, as parochial forces jealously guarded their local class — specially devised to meet local conditions. Argument raged over the merits of various designs and the case for one design or restricted classes. From all the discussion the Fourteens were to gain one of their greatest assets, a liberal set of rules that allowed progressive development and encouraged experiment.

The philosophy that led to the formation of the first National dinghy class holds good today, but on an International plane.

For the International Fourteen is one of the few classes that allows nations to design and build craft to their own ideas, and yet still compete on equal terms with dinghies of other nations; the modem Fourteen, as will be seen, draws its inspiration from many parts of the world.

EARLY DAYS – pre 1923

As improving communications paved the way for a National dinghy class, so lack of communications was probably the main reason for the original wide variation in 14ft dinghy design. Each area, following its own thoughts and traditions, built with materials most readily available at a price locally acceptable, and once so committed was loath to admit any merit in other ‘foreign’ ideas.

The exact beginnings of racing in open centreboard craft are not clear, but it is certain that racing in 14ft. dinghies was taking place in many parts of the country, indeed world, by the turn of the century. Prior to this, in the U.K. small boat racing on the sea was largely confined to yacht tenders, open boats with a large lug sail of up to 330 sq.ft.; they varied in size around 18 ft. o. a. and carried large lumps of lead as inside ballast as well as heavy centre plates — with no buoyancy.

This probably explains the open boat theme of the International Fourteen – for in those days the ability to sail such an open boat well was a true measure of seamanship ~ the penalty for the skipper who failed was dramatic – he sank.

An alternative idea was an open formula craft, the Decimal Three Dinghy, was typical, a simple clinker built boat with a standing lug and sometimes a jib. They were called Decimal Three because their overall length multiplied by their sail area divided by 6,000 had to equal .3, thus you could have a 13ft. boat with 138.4sq.ft. of sail or a 14ft. boat with 123.5sq.ft. of sail. The disadvantage of the system was that in heavy weather the larger boat with smaller sails won and in light conditions the reverse was true.

To get over the disadvantages of the rating system, small boat sailors turned to restricted classes and then one designs — and have been disputing the merits of each ever since.

The earliest known ‘one design’ unballasted, centreboard dinghy was the Dublin Bay Water Wag established by an Irishman, T.B. Middleton, in 1887 — originally 13ft. 6in. long, the class took ‘one design’ somewhat lightly and in the early 1900’s changed the length to 14ft. 3 in. The boats were sloop rigged with spinnakers and have some resemblence to early National Fourteen’s’.

Of the restricted classes, two types were to play a big part in this story, the West of England Conference Dinghy and the Norfolk Dinghy — both 14ft. long, both undecked.

The Conference Dinghy was started at Teignmouth in 1889. She was carvel built, sloop rigged with a tiny jib and a Solent lug mainsail 129sq.ft. in all on a 15ft. mast. Among the builders were Flemich, Kassal of Plymouth, and most famous of all, Pengelly of Shaldon, who was followed by Morgan Giles.

Morgan Giles, who was destined to play a vital part in the class history, later opened a yard at Hammersmith on the Thames. These W.E.C. dinghies were sea and estuary boats — and proved extremely popular in the Navy, being referred to as ‘Pengelly Skiffs’. The principal W.E.C. Challenge Trophy was a match race ~ preliminary races being sailed East and West of Start Point. The Finals were held at a suitable venue on alternate sides of Start Point.

In Norfolk, at this time, a very different type of craft had been evolved mainly for use inland, to the rules of the Yare and Bure Sailing Club, clench (clinker) built with a single lug sail (140sq.ft.), and with 80lb. plate. The principal builders were William Mollet of Norwich and Alfred Burgoine of Kingston-on-Thames.

Interesting points about Norfolk dinghies were that they believed in development, a few even sported very long rudders, the idea being to increase the waterline length of the boat — the idea was not a success. Others had solid masts without shrouds, the crews being expected to lie full length along the narrow gunwale when on the wind to reduce windage.

The early days of small boat racing on the Thames was confined to a menagerie class of open centreboard boats collectively known as ‘Gigs’, all raced on handicap on the Old Yacht Racing Association formula of length and sail area. Construction was either carvel or clinker and they had to be open as opposed to decked craft. They were designed more for use in smoother waters rather than rougher conditions of the Conference craft.

In the early days control of racing also tended to be local. On the Thames the Sailing Boat Association, founded in 1888, held sway with the Y.R.A. rules modified for inland use. The Y.R.A. was only interested in larger craft, so in the early 1900’s the rival Boat Racing Association came into being. The B.R.A. later made an attempt to get a National class going when it adopted a 14ft. half-decked class based on the West of England Conference dinghy.

In 1911 Morgan Giles wagered £50 on a race between a Conference dinghy and a Norfolk dinghy. The races took place on the Broads and in spite of Norfolk winning the first race as the other boat was late at the start, the sloop-rigged Firefly (later International 233) designed and sailed by Morgan Giles, decisively beat Irene with her balance lug by 4 races out of 5. Twenty or so years later the sloop versus cat rig was to be re-fought on an International plane during the first team races between Britain, Canada and the U.S.A. and again the sloop was to prove the better.

Another interesting Norfolk boat of the period was Kismet, designed by Morgan Giles for Harold Morris, father of Stewart Morris; she was designed to take every advantage of the rules and proved highly successful. However, her very narrow bows, coupled with her rig being set well forward made her extremely difficult to control off the wind in a blow. Some years later she passed into the hands of Colin Newman who swept the Broads with her.

One night, unknown to the owner, the boat was removed from her mooring, brought ashore and measured. She could not be faulted, she was returned to the water, in those days a boat had to stand so much weight on her gunwale when afloat — a stiffness test, again she could not be faulted. However, further weights were added until she passed the limit. Then knowing how much weight was required, the rule was later amended and KismetSafety First, (48) and the following year, again carried all before him on the Broads. Outclassed. Colin Newman ordered a new boat.

An incident that had far reaching results was brought about when an owner discovered a loophole in the Yare and Bure rules and started to experiment with a sloop rig on a Norfolk dinghy. The pundits noted this and ‘in one sail’ was added to the rule limiting sail area to 140sq.ft. and progress was halted in that direction. Throughout the history of yachting this battle between the rulemakers and those of an inventive frame of mind has gone on, and the importance of a development class is that it accepts this as a fact and allows continuous controlled experiment. However, to return to the sail incident — it had a most important sequel for it so incensed Leslie Lewis, a noted half-rater sailor from the Trent, that he determined to do something about it, and it was he who provided much of the driving force for the idea of a National Fourteen development class.

In 1914, just before the First World War, Gann of Teignmouth designed a Conference Dinghy Chip (198) which played its small part in this history, for she had the fine entry and long run which is often believed to have been originated in the middle 1920’s. After the First World War, Chip was thought to have been the first Fourteen to have Marconi or Bermuda rig with a 25ft. mast, 23ft. hoist (weighing 15 lb). She also had a track for her gooseneck, with a square pin for reefing.

Following the First World War, the B.R.A. merged with the Y.R.A. when most of its members were elected to the Council of the Y.R.A. Within a few months of the end of the First World War the Y.R.A. published rules for a National 14ft. — rules that had been written by Morgan Giles for them (see page 110). The Y.R.A. believed there was a need to bring the many local classes together. But this rule at first attracted little interest.

Strangely, at that time, the International 12ft. dinghy, a one design, not to be confused with the present National Twelve, did prove popular, both Nationally and Internationally, and was built in some hundreds, and yet by 1963 had all but vanished, except in Holland and Japan, for being one design it was outclassed in this country by newer sloop rigged 12 ft. dinghies, the National Twelve and the National Firefly.

In November 1922 a Marine and Small Craft Exhibition was held at the Agricultural Hall, Islington, at which Leslie Lewis read a paper supporting the idea of a National Fourteen Dinghy Class. The meeting called on the Y.R.A. to convene a meeting of interested parties, which they did on the 14th February at the Piccadilly Hotel with Major Philip Hunloke in the chair. Again Leslie Lewis presented his case, the basis of which was that experience had shown that a well designed 14ft. dinghy was equally at home on sea or inland – in other words a good boat was good in any circumstances – and that it would be to everyone’s advantage to have all 14ft. dinghies adhering to one set of rules. This gathering discussed at some length the development of dinghy or open boat racing and as a key issue, resolved to form a body with representatives from various parts of the country to control and develop the sport. This was known as the Small Boat Committee, which later became the Y.R.A. Dinghy Committee. Its first Chairman was Sir John Beale, who was to guide the development of dinghy sailing so skilfully over the next twelve years and to whom the International Fourteens owe so much. From this point the idea of a National Class was at last to get under way. It is interesting to note that in these early days there were many who were worried about cost — indeed a strong move was made to get a price limit built into the rules, but the move was defeated it being claimed that it was impractical and in any case batch production could bring down costs. It was suggested that an excellent dinghy could be built for £4 a foot.

Overseas, Fourteen racing had been taking place since the late 1800’s. In Canada, the originator was believed to be a Mr. I. Wilton Morse. Around 1897 he built a 12 ‘ dinghy, and then a 14 ‘ version which proved very popular. The Lake Sailing Skiff Association (L. S. S. A.) soon adopted it as an official class and they drew up the class rules. A number of people then designed and built boats to these rules including George Aykroyd, T.B.F. ‘Bing’ Benson and George Corneil. Over the years these designs were gradually refined but without making radical changes. They were clinker with a max beam of 5 ‘ 7 1/2 “, mm beam 5’. All were plumb stemmed and sterned with very fine bows, quite fine sterns and slack bilges. They were decked although Decks in fact were optional, and carried a gaff cat rig with 140′ sq foot of sail. Construction was of Canadian white cedar and they were light compared with International Fourteens of the 1930’s. The L.S.S.A. Fourteens were raced most enthusiastically in Toronto and Hamilton areas and proved very seaworthy little boats.

Most important Canadian dinghy Trophies date from around the 1900’s and the first recorded International competition between 14 foot dinghies took place on Lake Ontario in 1914. This was for the Douglas Cup, which Canada wan and held until 1921 when the Americans built, challenged and won with ‘Gloriette’. She was built on the ‘waveform’ theory with a hollow bow and hard bilge. She was also cat rigged but with a Bermudian (Marconi) rather than Gaff main which proved markedly superior and started a gradual swing, as in the UK, away from Gaff rig. Although the latter were retained for heavy weather where the ability to reef, spars and sails was an advantage.

By 1928 over 170 L. S.S.A. Fourteens were recorded in the Toronto/Hamilton area and they fitted in to the International Fourteen rule except for decks and lightness, and so it was relatively easy to introduce the International Fourteen. But it was not until 1959 under the C.D.A. that Canadian Fourteens fully matched the International rule. The L.S.S.A. continued with its own rules and in 1963 boats were still being built and raced under them.

In America, in the early days, greater interest seemed to be in racing sailing canoes, and it was through them and to a lesser extent the Canadian Fourteens that America came into the International Fourteen fold.

In Australian waters Fourteen racing was also taking place in the late 1800’s. But their craft evolved in a very different way. The origins, as in the UK and Canada were rowing craft of various sizes. Sail was used when the wind was in the right direction as an additional means of propulsion. It was not long before they were being raced for fun by working sailors. To bring some uniformity, various restrictions in length etc were introduced. The common feature of all Australian open boats was the tendency to pile on more and more sail (up to 400 sq foot on the Fourteen’s class) with long booms and vast bowsprits featured, in the search for greater speed. To balance the rig so number of crew was increased. A typical Fourteen foot craft could have a crew of 6 to 8. It was not until 1956/57 that the Australian open boat class finally evolved into their present farm when they discovered with ‘Darkie’ that by reducing both sail area and crew, and using lighter boats, a faster all round craft could be produced. So that today it is possible to race Australian Fourteens and International Fourteens together without either being hopelessly outclassed.