Classic and Vintage Dragon round up review of 2019

The Classic Dragon scene remains one of only sporadic activity spread over a number of fleets but without any strong centre. I think I know of 52 Classic Dragons in Britain. There are certainly more but they are typically in sheds where their owners have either forgotten about them or have an intention to sail them again, but something else always gets in the way. The 52 can be categorised as follows: 13 laid up but not for sale, 9 under restoration, 9 for sale, 4 racing and fully competitive, 8 racing locally and/or in Classic events, 5 cruising, 4 wrecks and unlikely to be restored. Within this I may have misclassified a few, but the general picture is correct, and not very encouraging.

This year’s Classic and Vintage Championships were held within Medway Regatta at the end of May. Royalist, sailed by Roger Dawe, won the Classics, sadly by virtue of being the only boat there. She also finished a very respectable fourth in the whole fleet.

The Cowes based contingent of Tschuss(Street family), Mistress(Bill Daniels) and Aurora(Adrian Green) went to Cowes Classic Week and the Hamble Classics. Mistress won Cowes Classic Week from Tschuss and Aurora but the positions were reversed on the Hamble with Aurora winning from Tschuss.

Apart from these Classic British regattas, there was a split between the four fully competitive Pedersen and Thuesen boats, Blue Haze and Debutant both owned by Ivan Bradbury and Joanna and Heuschrecke both owned by Dmitri Bondarenko which went to various championships with some success, notably when Blue Haze was the top Classic Dragon overall at the 90th Birthday celebrations in San Remo. Classics participated in club racing at Aldeburgh(Harkaway and Kestrel) and on the Forth(Wizz Too). There may well be others but I have been unable to trace them. Of these Harkaway did best, winning a race in Aldeburgh Week and the week’s personal handicap series.

The Vintage Championship was won on the Medway by Molly(GBR588) sailed by Heiko Schupp from Repeat Offender and Flos. Molly also finished sixth overall. Several Vintage boats enjoyed good seasons, notably Full Speed(sailed by Martin Payne and others in many regattas), Scorpio(Ian Gray), Basilisk(Patrick Gifford and Tom Mehew), Whistle(Wendy Howland and Quentin Strauss), Kismet(Cathy Ogden) and Rackham(Mark Dicker). However, the fact remains that, despite the evidence that such boats can be competitive, there are really very few of them around. There were about 150 British sail numbers allotted to GRP boats built before 1994 but I am now only aware of about 40 of these boats. It is particularly strange because they are newer than the Classics and effectively indestructible in normal life. I know of some that have been exported but most seem to have vanished into barns or the back of boatyards.

There doesn’t seem to be a magic answer that will revive the Classics and Vintage boats. To a great extent the problem is bound up with the decline of regular club racing and the discipline of Season’s Points series and suchlike. That revival is possible was shown by the Abersoch fleet and, incidentally in Ireland, by the Glandore fleet. These examples suggest that evangelical enthusiasm and energy are necessary and that a price cap is useful. In the meantime the rest of us need to concentrate on getting the boats we have out on the water to demonstrate that high quality racing is available. If new participants appear there really isn’t any shortage of available boats in varying condition at different price points.

Patrick Gifford 16.10.2019

A review of the Classic and Vintage British Dragons from 2017

Classic Dragons

The Classic Dragon scene in the UK continued to be very varied in 2017. At the very top level, Blue Haze(GBR 375) won the Regates Royales in Cannes and was very competitive in a number of other top level events. Similarly Josephine(ex-GBR333) was campaigned at a high level but is now Turkish-owned and is apparently shortly going to be based at Bodrum.

Heuschrecke(GBR422) made a brief appearance at the Edinburgh Cup with her Russian, UK-based, owner Dimitri Bondarenko, and won two races.  At the other end of the spectrum, among the fifty Classic Dragons known to be extant in the UK at least three, Suzanne(GBR 34), Rumba II(GBR368) and Kingdom of Fife(GBR373) are in what is likely to prove to be terminally poor condition. My old boat Polly(GBR 11), a 1966 Borresen, has apparently been crushed by a tree and written off. A sad fate for a good boat. In between these extremes there are a number of Classics which are racing and some more which are laid up and for sale. The Classic racing scene has benefited enormously from the enthusiasm and energy of Tim Street, especially in the Solent. For the second year he ensured that Cowes Classic Week ran a class for Classic Dragons. This year it was also the BDA’s Classic Championship. Six boats competed and it was won by Kestrel(GBR207) sailed by Matt Lingley from Aldeburgh and crewed by his wife Niamh and Tom Kiddle. Matt in fact sailed Kestrel from Aldeburgh to Cowes and back for the championship. He has written elsewhere in this magazine of his experiences. 

Classic Dragons

Kestrel was built by Tucker Brown and is by no means an example of the heavily renovated, usually Pedersen and Thuesen built, Classic. She does, however, have an enthusiastic and practical owner who is , usefully, also a boatbuilder. Second was Rupert Street in Tschuss(GBR457) and third was Adrian Green in Aurora(GBR39). A similar class for Classic Dragons also formed part of the Hamble Classic Regatta run by the Royal Southern Yacht Club in September. Four boats took part and Aurora won ,taking her revenge on Tschuss. This was also a first appearance for Mystical Rose(GBR184) which was once one of the top British Dragons under the name of Inge. Elsewhere Classics continued to participate in Dragon class racing. Harkaway(GBR151) and Kestrel have raced in Aldeburgh with Harkaway proving to be very competitive at times. Royalist(GBR455) and Snap(GBR292) have raced respectively on the Medway and at Falmouth. On the Forth Wizz Too(GBR343) and Meteor(GBR402)have been active participants. Apart from club racing the number of Classic events is continuing to grow and Dragons are generally accepted as eligible boats. Such events can in fact provide a circuit for Classics that don’t feel able to compete effectively in open Dragon events. It is less clear that there would be demand for a separate Classic start at the Edinburgh Cup. My suspicion is that this would split the Classics and Vintage boats, leaving only a very small fleet in their own start. 

Classic Dragons

Next year’s BDA Classic and Vintage Championship will be at Aldeburgh from 15th to 17th June. This will be the first time that Aldeburgh Yacht Club has hosted a BDA event though it has had a Dragon class since at least 1948. The reason for this can be seen from a glance at a map. The Alde estuary is long and thin. We expect to be able to provide a great mix of courses on different parts of the river but conventional windward –leeward courses are impossible because the mud will arrive before the corner layline. However, if Burnham and Medway can have Championships so perhaps should Aldeburgh. The good news is that large waves are unusual and it is a very kind venue for elderly boats. For more details, please contact either Matt Lingley or me. The Vintage scene is above all characterised by an apparent shortage of boats. A trawl through the BDA White Book revealed a mere 18 GRP Dragons over 25 years old. This was a surprise for two reasons. Firstly there were about 130 sail numbers issued over the relevant period. Secondly old GRP boats don’t fall apart in quite the same way as neglected wooden ones. They do , however, lack the intrinsic style of wooden boats and are apt simply to look scruffy. Like all boats TLC is a good idea. Among those that remain, Kestra(GBR489) sailed by Richard Leask is the current BDA Vintage Champion. The event was sailed on the Forth as part of the East Coast Sailing Festival. Second was Cathy Sedgeworth in Kismet(GBR 508). Other Vintage Dragons that have competed successful in 2017 include Full Speed (GBR585) sailed by Martin Payne which won the Derby Dragon at La Baule, Basilisk(GBR 515) which won Aldeburgh Week and Scorpio(GBR 586) and Rackham(GBR 610) which participated highly competitively in several events. These boats do prove that good maintenance can give you a competitive boat for many years at a very reasonable price. So where are the others?

-Patrick Gifford 13.10.2017