Classic and Vintage Dragon Round-Up
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 16.10.19
Up until recently the classic Dragons, those wooden boats built before 1972, were able to race competitively against their younger fibreglass brethren. However, modern hulls and rigs have now advanced so much that it is rare for a classic to race, let alone get close to the chocolates!
The BDA is aware that the beautiful classic lines and feel of a wooden Dragon still have a magnetic pull for a good number of people and is committed to maintaining a register of classic Dragons as well as providing as much help and support to those people restoring, repairing and sailing these wonderful yachts.
The BDA has a small cadre of members who are happy to speak with classic owners and potential owners. They are a font of knowledge in know where to track down equipment, spars, rigging or sails that can help keep a classic alive. There is an abundance of enthusiasm and willingness amongst them to be helpful, so please feel free to contact any of the following:
Patrick Gifford – Current IDA Officer responsible for the Classic Section. Patrick has been a Dragon sailor, as crew and helmsman for 45 years and has owned and raced 10 Dragons since he started sailing with Aida (K77) at Aldeburgh in 1963. Owner of five wooden Dragons in his time, built by four different builders. Patrick is interested in the restoration of classics and the challenges that provides, as well as advising about forthcoming events and regattas. Call Patrick on 07930 558737
Sir Richard Rycroft Bt – He has been sailing Logie at Burnham for about 20 years. Although he has never had to restore Logie, her winter maintenance has seen Dick update all her control systems, refasten many of her timbers, rebuild the cuddy and replace the deck. For reference purposes, he has copies of Dragon class rules going back to the 1960s and a full set of drawings retrieved from the old Nunn yard where Logie was built. Dick would be happy to advise anyone and you can call him on 01621 784435
Tim Wilkes – Started his Dragon sailing in a classic Borresen and is the current outgoing BDA Chairman. He is also responsible for helping keep track of all British classic Dragons. Call Tim on 07720 288100.
John Mellows – John has owned a succession of classic Dragons and has experience of keeping them sailing and racing. He also has useful contacts for tracking down those elusive bits of kit needed to restore a classic. He will talk enthusiastically about classic Dragons for as long as you wish to! You can call John on 01329 662248
Peter Wilson has been associated with Dragons for a very long while and for a period his Suffolk boatyard was the most prolific UK producer of his St George’s Dragons. His wealth of practical boatbuilding experience and knowledge of Dragons will be of immense help to anyone restoring a classic. You can call Peter on 01728 453523