Celebrating the National Solo

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

It Has Been a Bit Quiet

It seems an age since my last report, and while many Classes have used the Winter season and associated handicap events to gain some much needed publicity, the Solo fleet have remained noticeably quiet.

In truth, the Solo fleet welcome the short reprieve that the Christmas period brings as it gives the sailors a chance to embrace wives and loved one's. Some name their Solos' after their children, seemingly a sentimental gesture but in truth, a clever way to remember their names.

The short off season offers little respite for the National Solo boat builders, with around 100 UK new builds per year, order books continue to bulge as sailors upgrade their year old National Solos' with very little depreciation at sale.

The secondhand market is buoyant and this is no more apparent than at club level where very modern National Solos' fill dinghy parks, where, once upon a time rotten old wood and fibreglass examples would be the default club boat. The FRP product with it's longevity and minimal maintenance has undoubtedly enabled the Class to flourish. There are also many wooden examples (Gosling, Thresher, Miles and Ledger) that still prove efficient, the application of west systems epoxy in the mid eighties reduced the chances of water penetration to virtually nil. These qualities, in unison with the N.S.C.A. free training, Solo Specific mag and online site with tips and videos provide an enviable platform for success.

Here is the Secret

The beauty of the National Solo, and one that designers should take note of is, the allowance of different spar and sail manufacturers, alternative boat control configurations, a variety of foil builders and of course a plethora of National Solo builders who can construct in FRP, wood or a composite of the two. These variables, carefully administrated by the Class association provide sailors with choice while maintaining a one design ethos. Whether heavy or light, young or old, athletic or lazy, the sailor can tailor the Solo to suit his/her requirements and this is the trick that Jack Holt devised back in 1956.


This brings me nicely to the National Solos' 60th Anniversary. A pretty amazing feat for this little single handed dinghy designed by Jack Holt on the banks of the river Thames at Putney. The simple plywood construction enabled home building and many were built in garages or back rooms in the late 50s-early 60s. Jack Holt and Alec Stone produced the core of the new builds and there was a strong group of sailors who campaigned the Solo, the best form of promotion. The wooden masted, five battened sail had reefs and no kicker, transom sheeting and no hiking straps. Toe holes, cut into the centreboard case were the sailors only means of hiking and these are still effective today, if you have long legs!

In terms of sailing apparel, well it was pretty basic. A Salcombe sailor recounted to me once that the great Alec Stone used to wear an inflated inner tube around his neck, tied with rope around his crouch, his proficiency in swimming lacking somewhat. Then again Alec won the National Championship 6 times between 1963-1971 and I doubt he did much swimming. I need to do more research on this era but alas, we are all getting older!



Numbers jumped significantly in the early 70s with the introduction of fibreglass mass produced Solos' largely due to Seamark Nunn. There are still examples of these at clubs up and down the country, though the colour pigment used often resembled the bathroom suites of that era. The Class was evolving, alloy spars and innovation in sail material from Mountifield, Bainbridge and Musto and Hyde ensured interest was maintained. Sailing attire consisted of jeans and an oilskin jacket, a pair of Javelin wellies and a manually inflated life jacket (the phrase "buoyancy aid" was a few years away).

The association received news that a number of countries including Italy, Holland and Australia were racing Solos', though a fire destroyed the manufacturing plant in Italy so the Class wained there. The Dutch would regularly order 100 sail numbers and this remains the strongest non UK fleet with their own active association. The fleet in Australia still exists, albeit with some very early examples of National Solos' and some "non standard" looking hulls. There is now a small fleet in Lagos, Portugal and the association are very keen to cultivate this European outpost.

Back to the plot and numbers peaked in 1973 with over 500 new builds! This dropped by around 100 per year with the introduction of the Laser (1974), no surprise when you see the number of builds for that Class! The National Solo saw another surge in sales in the late 70s with the emergence of the Richard Lovett built Solos'. These were beautiful examples of craftsmanship while being incredibly competitive. The rules of the Class had allowed + and- 5mm on different points of the hull for builder error but, as dinghy design and the science of hydro dynamics was evolving, so too were hull shapes. Builders could now provide more or less rocker depending on the sailors weight or where they sailed. That said, the National Solo design was heavily controlled thanks to a number of very strong willed Class measurers. The ability to try and find a tiny advantage through hull design was proving successful and numbers increased but if you had "a fast one" you would tend to hang on to it.

Another significant improvement in boat design was the flared gunwale, introduced by Lovett, this made hiking so much more comfortable. National Champions included Roger Gates (1978) who took the title at Southend when the dutch were at their strongest.


In to the early 80s and with Lovetts the must have hull, (other reputable builders included Richard Uttley and Richard Willetts were available) it was mast and sail design that saw significant development. Proctor C and the bendy Needlespar black top were the masts of choice and the sail makers were in abundance. Bob Beckett started building Solos' and he was another who looked at how the boat could be improved. One of the failings of the National Solo was that originally the centreboard case was glued and screwed to the hull which became a weak point for water ingress, ( I renovated my father's Solo 186 in 1994 and removed over fifty brass screws from the hog). Bob had the idea to recess the case into the hog which made it stiff and totally watertight. The Beckett hull was much admired and they still command a good price, testament to Bobs' craftsmanship. Dick Batt, who had worked for Bruce Banks in the 70s had his own loft at Maidenhead, and was soon cutting winning sails for a youthful Geoff Carveth (3286 "Bungler") who brought a new level of performance to the Class. Geoff was able to party hard and get on the water the next morning with the biggest hangover and yet win by the hugest margin. With Craig Moffett (3313 "Gail ellen", remember what I said about remembering children names), his arch nemesis and other Solo stalwarts such as Martin Payne, Paul Hemsley, Nick Yeoman, the Houston brothers, Richard Goodenough and Martin Lambert, it was these Solo enthusiasts who promoted the National Solo as a proper thoroughbred one design racing dinghy.


Other sailmakers who put their hats in the ring included McNamara Sails and Musto and Hyde. Sail design was evolving and also being widely copied by some entrepreneurial individuals. On the fashion front the long john with sponge shoved down the legs was the early form of hiker and, matched with the spinnaker cloth spray jacket was standard kit. Throw in a pair of Musto race boots in white with blue trim and you were sorted. Buoyancy aids were colourful affairs, think of the C+A fashion of that time and you get the gist. Nationals entries were healthy, always a benchmark for how successful a class is and with the introduction of foam sandwich construction under the Omega branding, there was another spurt in growth figures. In the mid 80's there was some unrest within the Class as some looked to develop the rig to allow a wider range of helm weight, this was rejected and numbers fell in the aftermath. Lightweight Simon Cray won the Nationals at Brixham in 1984 sailing an Uttley built Solo that carried a huge amount of mast rake. At that time I also noted that the underside of the hull was not wet and dried flat but had paint lines running it's full length, bad prep or an early hydrodynamic discovery? Simon also wore a weight jacket (remember them) and these were subsequently banned.

Tony Thresher built the first of many National Solos' in 1985 and his input into hull construction and the use of epoxy filleting was as important as Lovetts' involvement in the 70's. Tony also embraced the ethos of cheap Solo sailing and enabled many sailors with a tight budget to race competitively, thank you mate.

The 1985 Championship at Pevensey Bay was also a very memorable one with huge winds and seas and some awesome racing. Ken Falcon, sailing 3315 "Pogs" won the first of 4 National Championships after a week long tussle with Dick Batt. For those who do not know Dick he is short and light (sorry Dick) so his skills were epic in those conditions. The Dutch were also in strong attendance and as a unit they were unbeatable in getting their Solos' off the punishingly steep shingle beach! A re-shuffle of volunteers saw another resurgence in the late 80s, the core sailors from up and down the country were united in the common cause, the Solo newsletter a vital channel of communication, so important in sustaining interest in the Class was sent out on a three month cycle, no internet then. Regular Y+Y reports also denoted the Classes popularity and provided (and still do) great free publicity.

While reminiscing, I served as mag editor in the eighties and the collating and printing was basic to say the least. Pages were typed, photos cut and pasted (glued, not command ~V) to the page and the whole booklet was sent to the printers for mass production! A lifetime away from my modern Apple Mac software and digital photography used now.

The Championship at Mumbles in 1988 was memorable for the race where the leeward mark drifted out to sea as the fleet followed obediently. There was dismay, anger and frustration from the leaders while those near the back cheered as the abandonment was signalled.



The 90's saw steady growth with Inland Championships regularly hitting the 70-80 entry figure and the emergence of the Boon, Miles, Crawshaw, Severn Sailboats and Gosling Hulls. Kevan Gosling had served his apprenticeship under the wing of Merlin Rocket builder Rowsell, so there was no surprise when 3817 "Monolog" was unveiled at the 1992 Nationals in Penzance. Not only was it a work of art but it also won the Championship, albeit in the hands of Geoff Carveth.

The Bond brothers, Andy and Graham campaigned their fathers Severn Sailboat composite hull and their incredible energy brought much success.The enigma that plastic could not be competitive was being slowly eroded. The Inland Championship in 1998 saw the largest fleet ever assembled for an inland event (116) and Carveth won after a masterclass in last beat comebacks. Placed a long way back at the bottom mark he hit the left hand corner and surged into the lead at the gun. Classic Carveth and classic Rutland!

A proliferation of sailmakers including Pinnell and Bax, Performance Sails, Batt, Purple and Speed Sails put time, money and jockeys into the Class. Graham Scott used his time sailing a Contender to produce the Wavelength rig, a very dynamic combination of bendy mast and large roached dacron sail. This proved a big hit with the lighter sailors in the fleet. Harvey Hillary campaigned a Gosling, 4004 with Wavelength mast and North laminate SM7 in 1998 to good effect, just pipped by Jim Hunt (Miles/Cumulus side taper/Purple Sail to the title at Paignton. 4004 also sported a blood axe centreboard which allegedly had concave aft sections to generate more lift. He did break it a lot when he stepped on it to avoid capsize so that is perfectly possible.

Jon Clarke put his time working for Performance sails in the 80's to good effect and founded Edge Sails. This small independent sailmaking company produced some awesome winning sails and Jon continues to construct each one by hand at his loft in Earlsdon, Coventry. On the fashion front some sailors donned full body lycra suits in an attempt to reduce windage and reduce the chances of getting clothing caught on the ever decreasing boom height. Builders had rumbled that the Class rules did not state the point at the base of the mast foot of the bulkhead so this could be surreptitiously exploited. lThe Class measurers worked hard to maintain a level platform while allowing building techniques to evolve inline with construction and material innovation.


A seminal moment in National Solo evolution was the introduction of the FRP hull, built by Winder Boats in 2000. With input from Jim Hunt, who had won the championships in 1998-99 the hull was soon proving successful. 4278, the first boat out of the mould won the Championship in 2000 at Tenby with Hunt at the helm. Jim had also helped develop a new rig with Selden and North Sails, the Winder/Cumulus/North SM8 was the first complete package. Keith Videlo, Ian Houston and Jamie Lea were amongst those that reached the highest level with this set up and it was not until 2007 at Paignton that the Winder stranglehold on National Championships was broken.

Andy Davis, who had been campaigning a FRP Speed hull for two years took the title in 4767 "Daisy" with matching Speed sail and Milanes foils. FRP sales were dominating and though other more conventional builders such as Poulson, Thresher, Gosling and Boon still had orders, they too were looking to the future of dinghy development. Thresher produced an FRP composite that could be purchased in kit form, Gosling too had a female mould produced for composite construction and would also utilise ply foam ply for the topsides.

Meanwhile, Steve Boon went "all in" and, in 2008, with the involvement of Hunt produced the Boon FRP package which included a laminate sail as standard. Though laminates had been allowed for a number of years ( I had used an Mc Williams Kevlar one in 1989) they were always looked upon as a bit flash and prohibitively expensive. The Boon FRP/Cumulus/Laminate ST1 was an instant hit and, in the hands of North Sails Charlie Cumbley, collected many titles. The finished item also sported continuous control system and shortened padded hiking strap points, Jim and Charlies' time in the Finn Class was clearly evident. Matt Howard, current UK Finn coach spent some time in the Boon Solo and he, Cumbley and Andy Davis in the Speed contested many of the majors.

The Boon also used advanced vacuum bag technology with the top section included decks, floor and centreboard case, bonded to the hull to produce a hull which was incredibly stiff, another innovation thanks to our forward thinking builders.

John Poulson developed an FRP derivative of his wooden Solo and his eye for detail matched with the involvement of P +B produced a lovely looking boat. The Poulson/P+B hull is notable for the very sharp bow profile which really reduces resistance in the chop. The P+B rig has also proved very successful with the likes of Vince Horey, Ollie Wells and the man himself Ian Pinnell bagging the wins.

Sailboats.co.uk threw their hat into the market and with Cumbley and Pete Mitchell, (North Sails) have proved the worth of the FRP hull once again, Cumbley has won the last three Nationals in this hull matched with very successful Selden D+ and North 3DL.

Steve Boon has stepped down from production but Ovington Boats are now producing an FRP hull, one of which will be on the N.S.C.A. stand at the RYA Suzuki Dinghy Show this March.

Tony Thresher has built a new wooden hull (though you have to twist his arm to do one) and Gosling continue to roll out beautiful fast ply foam ply examples.

The team at Boatyard at Beer produce their own FRP hull with many innovative features including integrated forestay fitting.

Rooster and the man behind the brand, Steve Cockerill have developed the Rooster sail, an incredibly light laminate and the proof of the pudding was Steve securing second at Brightlingsea in the 2014 Nationals. Just as importantly has been the Rooster sailing gear which in my opinion is responsible for lifting the look of sailing into the coolest form of sports fashion.

Development in the rigs culminated with the Selden D+, a section that had bend characteristics that allowed looser shroud and forestay tension. This, matched with advanced sail cloth laminates and layouts, resulted in the dynamic rig we have today. SuperSpars are developing their sections for the Class, the M7 still a very successful mast and their involvement with the National Solo goes back to the early eighties. The modern examples are also sealed to reduce the chance of inversion in the event of capsize.

SUPERSPARS are our title sponsor for the 2016 National Championship.

Our suppliers and our Class insurer, Noble Marine are a huge part of the success story. Their support, innovation and continued interest in the Class provide the variables that keep the National Solo vibrant.

60 Years and Counting

To celebrate 60 years the N.S.C.A. is giving away a BRAND NEW National Solo in a free draw which will take place at the Inland Championship in September. Any member of the National Solo Class Association will automatically be included in the draw, just join online at www.solosailing.org.uk. Solo 6000 will be a Winder FRP hull and foils, fitted out with Harken hardware, Selden spars, HD Gold sail, Creation Covers and hiking straps and Chris Brown Combi Trailer. The boat will be insured with the Class insurer Noble Marine and will be fully measured and registered. Dave Winder is overseeing the production and fit out and it will come fully tuned! The boat will be on display at the RYA Suzuki Dinghy Show in March so come along and take a look at what you could win.

Huge thanks to WINDER BOATS, HD SAILS, SELDEN, HARKEN, CB TRAILERS and CREATION COVERS for their generosity in supporting this event. A Celebration of 60 Years We are also holding a Vintage Championship in August to celebrate all forms of construction of the Class and with the emphasis firmly concentrated on fun but with a touch of competitiveness of course. Full details on the www.solosailing.org.uk site.


Moving Forward

So, the choice of hull, sail, foils, mast and control layout remain huge while the actual difference in performance is imperceptible. The evolution from home built, plycrafted, hull with teflon fittings, sliding gooseneck and obligatory bailing bucket have been carefully and gradually updated as innovation and technology have advanced.

The National Solo remains very well supported across the UK and in Holland, an enviable 100 new builds per year since 2000 and a hugely well supported club, open meeting and "major" circuit. It continues to attract those who seek one design racing with the latitude to choose the equipment that best suits you.

The history of the Class is rich with memories, good and bad, from the sailors who attained the win to those who had it ripped from their grasp on the last beat. The laughter shared after the race, the bond that being part of the National Solo story continues to tell.

Will Loy President N.S.C.A.

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