International 12 foot dinghy

woensdag 21 november 2012

Dinghy vision of Dolph Blussé

The Dutch national 12ft-dinghy class, the oldest completely original and active One-Design class in the Netherlands, one of the oldest in the world.

The nerve of these Dutch 12ft-dinghy sailors to celebrate their own centennial party at their own time in 1914!! Could one foster any doubts about the 12Footers birthday? Early in 1913 the newborn Boat Racing Association held a design competition for a 12ft one-design centerboard dinghy that would sail well, but could also serve as a rowing dinghy. George Cockshott’s design won first prize in April 1913 and was christened the BRA “A” Class One-Design Dinghy, also known as the BRA 12Footer. So the design is one hundred years old in 2013 and the first “A” Class dinghy hit the water in the summer of that year.

Right, but all that happened in Great Britain, where nobody really liked One-Designs and the love for Restricted Classes always prevailed in lengthy discussions. The BRA 12Footer started off alright, but the Great War intervened and it never became a real hit in those islands West of Europe’s mainland. Racing these charming dinghies was popular for some years, in certain clubs for many years, but eventually the sail plan and the hull underwent significant changes or a new design was selected for club races, inevitably leading to the end of the class….. If not a Dutchman staying in England had by chance encountered the ”A” Class dinghy in the fall of 1913 and fell in love at first sight.
That winter he told his fellow members of the Royal Netherlands Sailing- and Rowing Club in Amsterdam about what he thought to be the ideal small racing dinghy for the sailing youth. His club realized the importance of this information and proposed in the next meeting of the United Sailing Associations of the Netherlands and Belgium a national class of ”Standaardjollen” to the rules of the BRA “A” Class One-Design dinghy class. On the 18th of April 1914 this class, also known as the “Twaalfvoetsjollenklasse” was installed. It grew to immense popularity in the Netherlands and stayed firmly alive until the present time.

So what? Everywhere new classes of racing sailboats were created in those years. Most of them were restricted classes but there were also one-designs and some of these classes date from before 1913/1914. The oldest one alive is the Irish Water Wag Class of 1887 that underwent a transformation from double-ender to sloop in 1900, but remained unchanged since then. The American Star-Class (1909) and the British X-Class One-Design (1911) are also older than the BRA 12Footer and have survived until now….. However, these boats underwent important changes to the original concept: a radically new sail plan and sometimes a different construction. Thus, the hull lines may still look the same but a completely different boat emerged.

So here is the great and till recently sorely neglected secret of our dearly beloved Twaalfvoetsjol: absolutely nothing ever underwent any real changes, not to the hull, the lug sail, the construction, the materials used. This is still the same dinghy that was elected by the Dutch to be a national one-design class in 1914 and that was lifted to the status of “International 12ft-Dinghy Class” by the IYRU in 1920 (recalled in 1964). This boat functioned at the Olympic Games in 1920(Belgium) and 1928 (Netherlands) as the One-Design Centerboard Class.
In some minor ways the Twaalfvoetsjol moved with the times: the “Union Silk” sailcloth made way for Dacron fibre; for reasons of safety floating aids are now compulsory and self-bailers are permitted; an hinged extension to the tiller and a boom vang are also allowed. And several additions to the Rules have been added to secure the unity in the class. Two small rules have disappeared: …. the sculling notch in the transom is gone and the name of the boat is not necessarily shown in gold leaf and shade.

We are well aware that in Italy fiberglass 12ft-dinghies with aluminum spars sail along with wooden feather-light hulls stowed full of trimming lines, carrying the lugsail (loose on the boom) higher than normal on a hollow wooden or aluminum mast. We are amazed by the double bottoms, absent floors, non-standard rudder blades and electric bilge pumps. We realize that such dinghies have left the old “International 12ft-dinghy Class”-rules because of these differences in hull, rig, weight and other concessions to the original…… it is a great pity!! And it is no surprise to us (and not really interesting) that these dinghies are slightly faster.

Luckily the Dutch Twaalfvoetsjollenclub, the national class organization, resists any temptations to change and maintains the unique character of the original BRA prize-winner:
The oldest national One-Design class in Holland, fully alive, that will reach the age of one hundred years on April 18, 2014.

Postscript: Isn’t it nice that these Dutch Puritans are no longer the only ones that realize how well this classical and well reglemented dinghy-class is suited not just for recreational sailing but also for high-level competitive racing! We see the fleet of classical dinghies grow already for years in Holland and now also in Northern Germany and on the Swiss Lakes… And these last years the number of registered classical dinghies is growing fast in France and the number of class events rises!

We will keep fashionable nonsense and expensive novelties out of the boats and cherish the clarity and stability of the original class rules. The cost of racing will thus be fairly stable. Provided that a new sail is bought every now and then, it will be feasible to race an old and well maintained classical dinghy successfully in an expanding and exciting circuit of international events. We hope to see many friends of the classical Twaalfvoetsjol at the Dutch centennial events in 1914.