Snapshots of the Beginnings of the Class

GP14 Sailing Forums Forum Snapshots of the Beginnings of the Class

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    • #20150
      Oliver Shaw

      The Bell insignia.

      The official view  –  which has been stated several times  –  seems to be that it represents the legendary Bells of Aberdovey,  since Aberdovey is where the prototype was first demonstrated with a view to adoption by the local club,  who did indeed adopt the class.   (There had been an earlier demonstration of the prototype at Newtown Creek for Gp Capt Haylock,  Editor of Yachting World,  who had commissioned the design,  but Aberdovey was the location for the first “public” demonstration.)

      Numerous members have suggested from time to time that the Bell insignia is related to Bell Woodworking,  who were the first commercial builder of the Class (after Jack Holt’s own prototype).

      Both would seem to be right.

      The minutes do not record the reason for the choice of Class Insignia,  only the decision,  so the Minutes do not answer that question.   The relevant part of the actual Minute,  from the first official meeting on 11th November 1951, reads, “The Class Insignia to be adopted was discussed at some length and after some opposition it was proposed, seconded and resolved by a large majority that a ‘BELL’ be adopted.   It was generally agreed that the present title of Yachting World General Purpose 14’ was unwieldy and that it would be an advantage if in due course this class could be known as the ‘Bell’ class.”

      However, 50 Years On The Water, referring to the initial trials at Aberdovey,  records (page 19),  “…  the Bell Woodworking Company was invited to bring down one of their new mass produced plywood dinghies for a trial.  …   …  One snag remained,  what type of insignia would be shown on the sail?   The manufacturer already had a Bell logo displayed.  This dilemma was finally resolved at a later date.”   

      As a third document,  Gp Capt Haylock,  recounting how he commissioned the design,  wrote that,  “Dusty Pollock  …  undertook to produce the ‘Build-her-Yourself’ set of parts.   He sailed at Abderdovey and the Aberdovey SC was the first club to adopt the GP as a club boat.   As no-one had thought of an insignia,  we adopted the Bell (Bells of Aberdovey),  nothing to do with Bell Woodworking & Co.,  which caused some confusion.”   (ibid. p.12)

      So there is some apparent contradiction in the documentary evidence.    At that point,  taking all the evidence together with the official tradition,  my own personal initial best guess was that the Bell may have originated with Bell Woodworking,  but that the “Bells of Aberdovey” was probably a very convenient and politically more correct solution to the problem of satisfying those who did not want their boats to carry commercial advertising,  in a way which kept most parties happy

      Then Graham Knox emailed me on 23/4/20 to say “Of course no one can really know the full truth about the origin of the bell emblem. Perhaps the reality is that, because the directors of Bell Woodworking (originally making kits for bee-hives) had existing contacts with Aberdovey, they decided to adopt the symbol themselves. Certainly Searson Thompson denied the emblem resulted from the company’s name.

      “Now I also remember being told (by a Past RYA Chairman) that the prototype had first been launched at Aldenham Sailing Club, near Elstree (a club founded in 1920), which is very probable and done in a private manner.”

      In the light of both Graham Knox’s and Gp Capt Haylock’s comments,  I now wonder whether it is possible that Bell Woodworking themselves derived the use of the Bell  –  and perhaps even the company name  –  from the Bells of Aberdovey.   If so,  that would indeed “square the circle”.



      • This topic was modified 4 months, 4 weeks ago by Oliver Shaw.
      • This topic was modified 4 months, 3 weeks ago by Oliver Shaw.
      • This topic was modified 2 months, 1 week ago by Chris Hearn.
    • #20151
      Oliver Shaw

      The 1951 Minutes refer to a discrepancy between the Jack Holt plans and the Yachting World plans for the boat, but do not record the details.

      It is known that at least some early boats were built with 4 frames instead of 5,  and reputedly with thicker plywood.   The minutes make no mention of this,  and it is not clear whether this is the discrepancy between the two sets of plans referred to,   but the Minutes of the AGM record that it was agreed to increase the tolerances sufficiently to accommodate both versions;   this suggests that the discrepancy mentioned was only a small dimensional difference,  rather than a major structural disparity in the number (and position) of the frames.



    • #20152
      Oliver Shaw

      Spinnakers were controversial for a very considerable time.

      A proposal at the first AGM,  27 January 1952,  not to allow spinnakers was defeated;   however a second proposal not to allow them that season and not to review again at the next AGM was carried.

      At the second AGM,  on 4th October the same year,  (and,  yes,  we have already spotted that they cannot both be Annual General Meetings when they had two in the same year,  but there you go …)  despite the previous resolution not to review again at the next AGM they nonetheless did so;   however it is not entirely clear whether “not to review” applied only to the decision in respect of the 1952 season,  now passed,  or to the entire question of spinnakers.   The Meeting confirmed the adoption of spinnakers, but not for 1953 Nat. Champs; carried by just one vote, 19:18.   A separate motion for a poll of members, and for Committee to have power to rescind the decision to allow spinnakers in the light of the poll result, was carried unanimously. The subsequent poll was 49:36 against, but Committee decided not to rescind the AGM decision.

      Minutes for 1953 record that Spinnakers were not to be allowed in Championships, and individual clubs were to make a clear ruling on whether to allow them for club racing.

      The 1959 Minutes record a request from Dale YC to clarify the rule on spinnakers, asking that they be either universally allowed or universally banned;   the resulting decision was that they be permitted from January 1961. The Secretary then received a formal request from the required number of Members for a Special General Meeting,  to consider reversing decision to allow spinnakers.   That was resolved by agreement to hold a postal ballot of Members instead.

      The 1960 Minutes record that the spinnaker ballot result was YES (729:551),   they may be used from 1961.



    • #20154
      Oliver Shaw

      Draughting and Building the first GPs:

      Gp. Cap. Haylock,  who commissioned the design,  wrote in 50 Years On The Water (pp. 11-12) that Jack Holt was his fourth choice of designer,  after Charles Nicholson,  Jack Laurent Giles,  and O’Brien Kennedy had successively submitted plans,  all of which failed to please Haylock.   He then approached Jack Holt and “When I gave him my lengthy list of requirements he seemed unperturbed and not in the least put out.  …  Within two days he was back with a set of plans.”

      However Graham Knox,  a past President and also a past Hon. Secretary of the Association,  and a man who has been intimately involved with the Association for probably longer than anyone else still alive,  recently told me that Jack didn’t design the boat,  as such;   he first built the boat,  using whatever suitable timber he had to hand in his workshop,  and only after it was built did he draw the plans.   That is why certain features,  such as the seat knees,  are the shape and size which they are.

      Haylock then goes on to write (ibid. p.12) “A week later Jack telephoned to ask whether I was sailing anywhere … that weekend.   I wasn’t,  so he said that,  if convenient,  he would meet me at Hamble,  my home port,  and rang off.   When I arrived that Friday afternoon there was Jack,  standing beside – guess what – the GP14 prototype,  rigged and ready to launch.”

      On a separate matter,  the original design for the rudder blade (the original spoon blade shape) had it swept back,  as was quite usual for boats of that period,  but in 1963 the rules were changed to allow it to drop to bring the leading edge vertical.   Life Member David Gilbert emailed me on 31/1/19:  “Back in the days when there was a GP Association members’ meeting at the London Boat Show,  there was discussion about a rule change to permit the rudder blade to go down to make the front edge vertical.  Jack (Holt) attended, and after the meeting I recall overhearing Jack saying that this was a nonsense, as the draughtsman who drew the plans (note that Jack did not draw them himself) drew the rudder blade swept back (only) in order to fit it on the drawing!”



    • #20180
      Oliver Shaw

      Shroud attachment:

      The original design had the shrouds attached above deck,  usually with either bottlescrews (tubular) or rigging screws (open),  and with the chainplates brought up through the deck.    That was standard practice at that time.

      Indeed when I was returning my vintage GP (Snowgoose,  no. 64,  dating from 1951) to authentic 1951 specification,  this was one of the features which I reinstated.   I was immensely fortunate in being able to acquire a pair of original chainplates complete with the Bell emblem stamped into them.

      A number of Rule changes were made at the end of 1952,  including one to permit shrouds to be brought down through the deck.   However it was to be several years before that arrangement became the norm.   My own first GP,  no. 3239 and built in 1959,   had above-deck attachment,  and this was still absolutely normal at the time.

      Indeed in the late sixties I was  on the permanent staff of a sailing school,  and if memory serves correctly all our various dinghies had the shrouds attached above deck.    Apart from the Fireflies which I sailed at university,  the first boat I ever met with below-deck attachment was my second GP,  no. 4229,  built in 1961 and purchased by myself in 1967,  and at that time I regarded that arrangement as unusual.    And even then,  the shrouds were connected to the chainplates by rigging screws,  and the forestay likewise;   the rig was set up by adjusting these rigging screws,  the headsail was hanked onto the forestay,  and the headsail halliard was used only to pull up the sail.

      The practice of using the genoa halliard to tension the rig came after the introduction of the genoa in 1967,  and Highfield levers were permitted from 1969.    I am not sure when (pre-set) vernier adjusters (or simpler ones) came to generally replace rigging screws.



    • #20289
      Oliver Shaw

      Fenn & Wood boats

      See also the earlier post on this forum,  and the ensuing string,  which features two highly modified Fenn & Wood GP14s;   one as a Thames launch,  complete with aft cabin,  and the other being the Meteor Sportsboat developed from the GP14 at the instigation of Donald Campbell and intended for waterskiing.   Fenn & Wood were a well-known and highly respected builder in the early years,  and John Fenn was part of the Bluebird project with Donald.

      Meteors do periodically come up on the second-hand boats market,  restored or otherwise,  so it seems that a significant number were produced;  an internet search on Fenn & Wood Meteor produces several adverts for these boats for sale.




    • #20300
      Oliver Shaw

      Jack Holt Ltd.

      We of course know that Jack Holt was the designer of our class,  and most of us know that he was also a boat builder,  and the man who built the prototype.   And of course Jack Holt Ltd was his company,  although I suspect that this was at a slightly later date.

      It was therefore a surprise to receive some scanned sales brochures recently,  dated 1963,  for Jack Holt Ltd. and marketing the GP14,  in which it was clearly stated that the boats were built by Fenn & Wood.   The latter were of course a highly respected boat builder of that time,  but until seeing these scans I had always assumed that Jack Holt Ltd had done their own building,  and that the two firms were commercial rivals.

      It was also of interest to see that Jack Holt Ltd were also marketing kits of wooden parts for amateur construction,  again made by Fenn & Wood,  and that these appear to be designed for assembly in a very similar way to the Bell Woodworking method.



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    • #20311
      Oliver Shaw

      More on Jack Holt

      A private email today from Graham Knox,  posted with his permission:

      “I have just read your update of the early days and Jack.   While I am struggling with dates,  Jack did get involved with plastic moulded GPs.   He had found a Plastics moulding business in Todmorden.   In fact I worked at Barclays in Todmorden in the 1980s and occasionally bumped into Jack at the local pub at lunchtime.   So I did get to know him (and, indeed, his son John).   The moulded boats went to Richard Estaugh and eventually he took that over and later transferred it down to Aldridge.   The staff who worked for Jack went on become the business that is now Woodwind,  undertaking many repairs.   It is still located in the three storey mill (on the 2nd and 3rd stories!) that was the old fire station.”

      For newer members of the Association,  it may be of interest to fill in the information about Richard Estaugh.    He was World Champion on multiple occasions from 1979 to 2000 and National Champion similarly but over an even longer period,  and the owner of Speed Sails,  who built and marketed the Holt Speed boats.   He was also a very good friend of the Association,  and the Richard Estaugh Fund is named in his memory;   the initial capital for the fund was the proceeds of a raffle for boat no. 14000 which he donated to be used as we wished.

      I have now deleted my tentative comment about K & H Summersgill Boats,  who were based in Todmorden;    Graham has now clarified that I was mistaken in wondering whether they were the moulder which he had referred to.    Despite being registered boat builders with the Association for some time Graham advises that they were never actively involved with the Class,  which tallies with the fact that I have never come across any of their boats and have never heard of them in any context beyond their registration.




      • This reply was modified 3 months, 3 weeks ago by Oliver Shaw. Reason: Correction; K & H Summersgill
    • #20321

      When I was sorting out my Speed GP14 No 13954 I was told that at the time she was made Speed about 2008, Speed were very busy and that hulls and decks were being moulded by an outside company in Todmorden, never got the name, and then shipped back to Speed for the fit out before delivery.  At the start of this arrangement Speed provided the plywood reinforcement pieces, but later the sub contractor sourced the plywood reinforcement locally – they didn’t use a good quality plywood which in my boat and a number of others rotted, leading to structural failures in some key parts of the boat.

      Steve Corbet

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