The years of challenge, 1946 – 1955

The war over, in January 1946 the Y.R.A. announced a date for the P.O.W., to be held in Torbay. During the year 39 boats were built, the majority by Uffa, but of these 16 were for export to Bermuda. Shorty Trimingham tells an amusing story. The boat he ordered was much delayed. Supplies for builders were hard to come by except for export orders, and Uffa, it was said, used to produce ‘Shorty’s’ boat whenever the Inspector called! Among the new boats were three more of the Jack Holt clinker design.

It was in 1946 that a second new Fourteen Foot Class was introduced. Just prior to the war, Uffa had designed the 14ft. decked Looe Redwing, with a heavy plate for use in the rough waters of the West Country. Uffa has never approved the introduction of lightweight plates believing they made the Fourteens less seaworthy. Now a syndicate of the Ranelaigh Sailing Club got together and for them Jack Holt produced a lighter, cheaper 14ft. restricted dinghy with decks, greatly increased buoyancy and a small high sail plan — the Merlin. The International Fourteen faced increasing competition from these and other new classes as they came along.

The P. O.W. Cup itself was won by Thunder and Lightning sailed by John Winter and Peter Scott. Using the same mainsail by Ratseys that had won the cup for Stewart Morris in 1932, John Winter in 1934 and John and Peter Scott in 1938 and now 1946.

T.R.H. Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, sailing with Sir Philip Hunloke, Commodore Royal Yacht Squadron, attended informally to watch the racing. Also in the fleet were two boats imported from Canada, Coyote (424) and Negaunee (429), both were fast off the wind but not so good to windward.

The following year Uffa designed and built Martlet (507) for Stewart; a development of Alarm and Develin, being slightly more beamy and flat aft than the 1946 boats she was considered to be a good year ahead of her time. With her, Stewart, crewed by Martin Beale, won the next three P.O.W.’s. Another new boat of 1947 was Thor (501), belonging to Mike Ellison and Graeme Hayward, with one of the first effective angling plates. Also produced that year was the first known metal Fourteen, Salvation (509) — in fact she never got a certificate. Designed by Lord Avebury she was a mixture of round bilge and hard chine, had windows in her bottom and transom while a bicycle chain meandered along the centreboard case to control the position of the plate. Although full of ideas, she didn’t go very well. In 1970 another all metal Fourteen was built at Tynemouth but it failed to make a lot of impression on the fleet other than its ability to fill with water on the plane!

By now, nylon spinnakers were becoming popular. One reason was that, unlike the cotton ones, it did not matter if they got wet. Nylon also allowed larger spinnakers to be produced and from this point they were to grow steadily larger until the limiting factor would seem to be the strength and courage of the crew; 200sq.ft. being typical with the largest known being 300sq.ft. almost as much material in them as Dragon spinnakers. As designers become more knowledgeable, so spinnakers progressed from triangular to parachute and crosscut to spherical, all the time being carried on closer and closer reaches.

The 1948 P. O.W. at Cowes was interesting for a notable duel between Martlet and Tip Toes (521). Tip Toes, sailed by Colin Ratsey, was a development of the ‘Flat Iron’ Hawk; she was fitted with a bridge thwart, on which were the fairleads and a snubbing winch. It was this device which was probably the cause of her downfall. The race was sailed in strong winds and Tip Toes led until the penultimate leg when Martlet, who had gradually closed the gap, caught up with her. Just then a heavy squall struck the fleet. Both boats had spinnakers flying and roared away in a cloud of spray. Tip Toes started to roll and it is thought her bridge prevented her crew from moving aft; she broached and that was that. Into 2nd place then moved Joyful (395) sailed by Paul McLaughlin, a member of that year’s Canadian Olympic Team. Finding Joyful — a boat he had been lent — rather wet, he had fitted strips of plywood below her gunwales, the start of wide outwales or ‘mudguards’ in the class. Also built during that year was Destiny (526), a boat with a prophetic name as it was designed and built by W.A. Souter.

At the end of 1948 Wyche and Coppock built a new clinker hull – Robin Hood (531) — costing £160, some £80 less than a carvel hull of the period. She was tested against a representative collection of designs at Rickmansworth and seemed as efficient as the others. In the following Spring at Itchenor, she sailed well, skippered by Bruce Banks, but although comparable in most respects to her carvel sisters, only a few Robin Hoods were built. With a reduced rig, the design was later to achieve fame as the Rocket, which was in turn to be amalgamated with the Merlin to form a second restricted National class. At least one Robin Hood Fourteen (594) was converted into a Merlin Rocket. Probably one of the main reasons for the failure of the Robin Hood was the introduction of the famous ‘Mouldies’ by Colin Chichester Smith of Fairey Marine. This was the end of an era, for the advent of synthetic resin glues marked the finish of the traditional ribbed construction in the U.K.— the last boat to be built by Uffa in this way being Windrush (597).

The Fairey boats, designed by Uffa, cost £220, a figure not far removed from the pre-1939 level. Moulded dinghies had already been built in America since 1942 and Canada since 1945 — Paul McLaughlin summed up the great advantage when he said ‘You don’t take a sponge aboard, just a duster’; in the U.K. the Fairey Firefly, built in a similar way for the past two years, had already achieved considerable success. The Mouldies’ clean interiors made them a joy to maintain. In shape they were not very different from Martlet, and in subsequent years a succession of twelve Marks were to be introduced by modifying the original mould; they were all excellent boats but of them the Mark I was probably the most popular (over 26 were produced to this design) while the Mark III was considered by many to be the most successful. In general, bows became finer and hulls beamier and more powerful, whilst buoyancy was steadily made more efficient. The main disadvantage of the Faireys was their heavy shoulders which tended to slow them in a seaway. There were many who feared that these mass production methods would turn the class into a one-design, and to a certain extent their fears were justified, but the Fairey Fourteens played a vital part in keeping the class going at one of the most testing times of its career. Apart from the moulded hull, the Fairey boats also marked the introduction of metal masts to the class, rigged in the same ‘bird cage’ manner as their wooden counterparts; they had a spruce topmast, as at that time it was too expensive to taper metal masts in the modern manner. Of much slimmer section than contemporary wooden masts, they weighed 24 lb. complete, which with their low centre of gravity contributed in no small way to the Mark I’s noticeable stability. Some of the first Mouldies were taken across the Atlantic where they raced with considerable success. In Canada, Charles Currey, crewed by Tony Warrilow, and Peter Scott, crewed by Keith Shackleton, won some two boat team races, in which Canada, U.S.A., and Bermuda took part. Charles Currey later won the Governor-Generals’ Trophy, crossed into America, where he won the Warner Trophy and then went on to Bermuda to win the Princess Elizabeth Trophy.

1949 was one of the biggest years for building in the history of the class with no less than 43 new boats being registered – this may seem very small beer by comparison with some one-design classes, but as lan Proctor remarked ‘rabbits breed faster than racehorses, and no doubt boast about it’! The Fourteens have never gone out of their way to get numbers for numbers’ sake; all they have asked is a high standard of competition and the only times when the committee has had cause for concern have been when it seemed likely that insufficient talent was coming into the class to maintain the standards demanded.

1950 was to be a landmark for the Fourteens, firstly because a Class Association was formed — first Chairman being Stewart Morris; up until then the class had been controlled by the R.Y.A. Dinghy Committee. Secondly a new boat marked the end of the Uffa era.

The boat Windsprite (583), was designed by Austin Farrar, who in the next twelve years designed and built some of the most successful, but all too few, boats the class has ever seen. She was built by a cold-moulded process — the Faireys were all hot moulded, being cooked in an immense pressure cooker. Windsprite was laid strip by strip over the mould, each being glued and stapled into place. She was the second boat to be cold-moulded in this country, for Sorcerer (551) was built at home by Dr. Steavenson in a similar manner during 1948 and 1949 — but was completed with ribs. Windsprite was a very stable boat. She was rather more beamy and had a straighter run than the Mouldies of this era. Her inner planking was diagonal and outer longitudinal. Her forward buoyancy tank was much larger than usual, similar to that popular in the 70’s and early 80’s, but her side tanks still did not run the full length of the hull. She was most cleverly thought out by her designer and her owner Bruce Banks, being full of original ideas, among them a fully enclosed centre board case. The plate was controlled by two ropes that stuck up through the cover — pull one for up, the other for down. She also had the first successful automatic reefing gear. This was built into the mast. By turning a handle, the boom rotated, reefing the sail and the mechanism was so geared that at the same time the halyard was eased while maintaining constant tension, so allowing reefs to be taken in and shaken out whilst racing. The rigging of the wooden mast also was a departure from tradition, having a simple single swept spreader rig, (used by Uffa on R.I. P. in 1931), but with a set of jumper struts at the hounds. Windsprite was one of the most advanced and perfect Fourteens ever produced. She won the P.O.W. in 1950 in heavy conditions, in 1951 in light conditions, in 1953 and again in 1955, the most times that any one boat has won the race. She had many famous sisters, including Atua Hau (KZ 610) who won the P.O.W. in 1958, Warrigal (596) which won five replicas in five successive P.O.W.’s Dream (KB 28) which has had many successes in her home Bermuda, and also came 5th in the 1955 P.O.W., the year there were three boats of Farrar design in the first six. Farrar designs, up until 1963, been first home in half of the Post War P.O.W.’s.

In 1952 there were to be no notable developments. Some of the top helmsmen were away for much of the season in preparation for the Olympics. Mick Martin in Mordicus (613), a Mark IV Fairey, won the P.O.W. at Seaview.

The next year Austin Farrar designed the well named Thunderbolt (635). Below the water she had similar lines to Windsprite. Above she was all new. For years the minimum width seemed to have a strong attraction for designers and rule makers, who feared hulls getting too narrow like canoes, but Thunderbolt’s topsides flared out, giving almost another 12 in. of sitting out power, without any increase in waterline beam. They also curved down – the bowler-hat shape — with the object of deflecting spray and splash downwards, later seen in Coronet and the 505. Among other changes were air-bags for buoyancy and a sloping transom set in 2 in. from the edge of the hull at the bottom. She was undoubtedly a very powerful boat, but her very stiffness caused her to break a lot of gear. Her excessive flare seemed greatly to increase windage, to upset the air flow in the jib and, when she heeled, tended to scoop up a lot of water. Also, when she did heel, the wind caught the flare adding to the heeling moment, and Thunderbolt capsized as readily as her less portly sisters. However, in a wild P.O.W. at Lowestoft, sailed by Jack Knights, she was more than holding third place when her mast vanished over the side. So Thunderbolt’s hour of glory passed. She is now in America, the home of her much more successful sister Windsprite.

Thunderbolt was considered by many to have undesirable features, with the result that the ‘string rule’ was introduced. This limited flare to 2 1/2 in. from the planking at any point. A maximum beam of 5 ft. 6 in. was also introduced as it was believed that excessively wide hulls would be both difficult to trail and handle on shore, and would also tend to be structurally weak. It was significant that none of the class experts thought it worth their while taking Thunderbolt over. But the fact that such an unconventional boat could be built within the rules pointed to the undoubted advantage that a development class offered the sailing world.

1954 saw the P.O.W. won for the first time by an overseas competitor. Held at Weymouth in a strong wind, the race was led by Brian Rowsell in Silver Cloud (608) from the start, but Shorty Trimingham of Bermuda, sailing another Fairey boat Barilea (KB 27) passed him in the third lap and went on to win. The finish of the race, for the boats immediately astern of him, provided an excellent example of tactics. Up to this point, no-one had used a spinnaker. On the penultimate reaching leg both Charles Currey and Stewart Morris overtook Silver Cloud and half way along the leg, Stewart suddenly broke out his spinnaker, too late for Charles, who was just ahead, to get his. Stewart roared up and obtained an overlap at the gybe mark. Charles gybed, but Stewart in Wildfire (607) could not, in the strong wind, immediately gybe. Charles in Sunbreeze (653) luffed desperately under Stewart’s stern, rolled and took Wildfire’s wash over the side and half filled. Stewart tore away to take second place leaving Charles bailing furiously to get his boat going and finish 4th behind Silver Cloud.

It was at the Owner’s Meeting that year, that a strong case for transom bailers was made by Lt.-Col. Farrant with the object of allowing ‘draining while planing’. Whilst few wanted to change the open boat characteristic of the class, or to reduce the penalty for a capsize by making self-rescue too rapid, the majority felt that it was hardly good seamanship or even good sense for the boats to be quite so hard to right after a capsize. In the following year transom scuppers and suction bailers were allowed, each type being restricted to an area of one square inch, and the horizontal surface area of buoyancy apparatus increased to 15 to 23sq.ft. Self-rescue was now possible, although a capsize still carried a penalty of several lost minutes. These changes were to lead to a gradual change in the characteristics of the boats, in which they undoubtably become more seaworthy and some of their recent increased popularity can be attributed to this change. During the Trials to determine the best combination of buoyancy and automatic bailing, Golden Spray (658) was fitted with two experimental transom scuppers of about 7sq.in. With full permitted buoyancy and two suction bailers, the boat could be capsized, pulled upright, and planing again in a little over a minute — the Committee of that time thought this was a little bit too swift, but today 14’s are completely self draining, draining while planing has reached its logical conclusion.

Late in 1954 lan Proctor entered the class, designing Vitesse (650) and Soo-Perb (656). Soo-Perb, built by Chippendale for Mike Pruett, was designed to take advantage of the introduction of self bailers. She had a hollow flare amidships to the maximum beam allowed by the rules, but this faded out forward of the shrouds and aft of the helmsman’s position. Thus extra power was gained without excessive windage. She also dispensed with the heavy shoulders that up to now had been a characteristic of the class: her slim shoulders were designed to slice easily through the water and not to cause the bow wave to break away so abruptly. This proved beneficial to windward and also helped to get the boat on to the plane more quickly. Her aft sections were as flat as could be. Soo-Perb, now in Canada, was not sailed a great deal in this country, but she did achieve a 4th on points in the 1957 P.O.W. Her construction was unusual being triple-skinned, but with the outer skin covering all fastenings, leaving a completely clean and very attractive hull. Vitesse was very different, being the only Proctor Mark I in this country. She was designed as a light weather river boat with maximum rise of floor and low wetted area. In fact, she proved efficient both inland and on the sea but was not a fast planer. She was the first Fourteen to be cold-moulded by W.A. Souter of Cowes, and was completed in 1956 from a shell by her first owner, Alan Meikle. Her construction was unusual, the two inner skins of 3mm. plywood being laid diagonally, and her outer skin of Honduras Mahogany fore and aft.

The end of the period found the class somewhat on the defensive. Racing, it was true, was as well supported and as keenly contested as ever. But new construction had slowed right up. This was, in all probability, due to uncertainty as to which direction development could next best take. The rules were being re-written at the time and that, together with financial considerations, put a damper on new building.

The big change however was not in the class, but in the sailing world in which it found itself. In 1939 the class was significant both in terms of quantity and quality, and automatically attracted the keen dinghy sailor. In 1955, while the quality was still unsurpassed, so far as quantity was concerned the class had long since been outstripped by newer National classes, particularly hard-chine one-designs, only then just starting their massive build up. The hundreds of new clubs started in response to this boom in dinghy sailing generally ignored the International Fourteen. In the main they sought an inexpensive, easy to sail, trainer for their usually inexperienced members. But it is also true to say that the Fourteens as a class made no real attempt to sell themselves, being quite content to remain as they had always been. So nothing was done to challenge the misleading mystique that was allowed to grow up that the Fourteen was only for supermen in sailing skill and pocket.

The Olympic classes were also tending to attract some of the talent that once would have gravitated to the Fourteen. In years gone by the class provided an essential reserve from which were to come many of the successful U.K. helmsmen in Olympic and other International events. The tendency now was for the Olympic hopeful to concentrate on the Olympic class of his choice.

In the long history of the class, there had been similar moments when the future had seemed uncertain. But then as now coming events were to confound such pessimism.