Friday, 14 September 2012

Recollections of Sailboat Racing in Strangford by Bobby Magee

A History of the Wychcraft Class

In the winter of 1956/57 a search and debate to find a new class of boat to supplement the traditional punts was underway in Strangford.The young sailors who started crewing in the punts in the early 1950's had completed their apprenticeship in various trades and wished to own their own boats. Numerous enquiries were undertaken and many replies and recommendations received. Visits were arranged to Killyleagh to view and access the International Lightning Class that was established in the Club - some of this Class were owned and constructed by former classmates from Downpatrick Technical School. Adverts in yachting magazines brought replies from the National Flying Fifteen Association, the Yachting World 14' Dayboat, the Redwing Association from Devon amongst others. Senan Sharvin recommended the 14'Waterwag, a long established class from Dun Laoghaire and said he could obtain plans. The 17' Dublin Bay Mermaid was also talked about as being a suitable boat for racing on the river. This was the period of the dinghy ownership boom when lightweight marine plywood boats exploded on the scene, such as the GP14 and the Enterprise. These designs were considered but discarded on the grounds of safety as they were prone to capsizing, which in these waters could very easily lead to tragedy because of the strong tides and whirlpools. We could not compromise on safety. The limited woodworking skills within the group were another factor, and that was at the forefront of the thinking. In conclusion it was thought that a clinker built boat was beyond our capability. This ruled out several of the otherwise suitable designs. However, after all the considerations the best solution was found in Strangford itself. Leslie Peto had served as an Engineer in the Naval Air Sea Rescue fleet, which was based in Portaferry. His adventures in his off duty time took him to Strangford where he met and married a Strangford girl, Betty McKeown. When the hostilities of World War 2 ended the family moved to his home on the South Coast of England where he became one of the leading developers of the commercial caravan sites with a design called The Petone. By the mid 1950's failing health dictated the family return to the peace and quiet of Strangford and "semi retirement" Leslie Peto was not a man to sit with his feet up. He soon constructed a modern workshop on the former site of his father-in-law's abattoir. He was the supreme craftsman working with wood, metal or any other material. Leslie then turned his creative mind to building a boat. During his Naval Service he was impressed by the Royal Navy 14' (or Admiralty) dinghy and obtained a set of plans. The Royal Navy 14' (or Admiralty) dinghy was clinker built but Les chose to use the strip plank method of construction. Work on the project continued mostly behind closed doors. When the hull was near completion he required some welding done on the fittings so he made the acquaintance of Kevin Polly, a local motor mechanic and Sailing Club member. On examination of the new hull Kevin was highly impressed and in conversation told Les that the Club was looking for a new design and his craft was just what was needed. Les promised he would help in the building of a fleet. He had already agreed to build one for Alan McDowell. Kevin told his brother Malachy of the situation and he in turn relayed the news to myself. Inverbrena Local History Group Magazine 2004 3 A visit to the workshop was arranged and we were also suitably impressed with what we saw and gave great consideration to the proposals. The Ballyholme Insect Class is also based on the Admiralty dinghy so a visit to Bangor confirmed our assessment of the design. Senan Sharvin also visited the boat shed and said that the design was nearly identical to the Waterwag.The opinion of John Fitzsimmons, who sailed these dinghies at Plymouth and other ports when he served in the Royal Navy, was sought and he gave a very positive approval   ..... read on http://issuu.com/flixx/docs/inverbrena-2004

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