The 1960s were the high-water mark of design excellence... and marketing hyperbole
I’ve been reading again, and it’s been an education. And what I’ve learned is that the 1960s represented both the peak of sailing yacht development and civilisation in general. Of course, that was only a few years after Tom Cunliffe had invented sailing, and long before ‘Brexin’, but there’s no doubt boat design has gone backwards ever since. I discovered these amazing revelations in a box of sailing annuals I found at a boat jumble.
It’s hard to believe what was going on in 1964, but it shows just how far we’ve regressed since. I quote from a boat review: ‘Deck and cabin top are a one piece moulding and deck-head leaks just cannot occur.’ Amazing! That sounds like the Holy Grail of all modern boat owners, but the industry had to stifle such innovation as it would have threatened the sealant business that makes up the major part of today’s global marine industry.
These days we all wonder at the high-tech antics of The America’s Cup, but the subject of this 1964 review was light years ahead of the game. Again I quote: ‘Twin hydra-foil [sic] bilge keels and large skeg give her a remarkably high performance.’ Wow!
This spearhead of revolution was the epoch-making turtle-backed Westerly 22, pioneer of GRP mass production. It was amazing to be alive back then because all the boats reviewed possessed qualities today’s owners can only dream of. Every one of them was attractive, lively, fast, dry, stable, amazingly roomy, capable of crossing oceans, and, in the case of GRP ones, built to last forever – there was no need for warranties.
But there was more going on. Terylene, which had been developed so that travelling salesmen’s jackets didn’t crease or bend when hung in their Ford Consuls, migrated into sail cloth. The development of non-breathing nylon, invented for encyclopaedia salesmen’s shirts, was funded by the male-grooming industry which simultaneously produced the most powerful masking scent on the planet – Brut aftershave. And industries worked hand in glove – literally, for when nylon was spun off into boat ropes this led to the development of sailing gloves to protect hands from the bristles.
But an even greater revelation was that feet and inches were much longer back then, because every 20ft boat had at least four berths, sometimes more; even boats smaller than that had the luxury of full lying headroom – and that even included every open boat on the market. Many yachts even boasted ‘flush toilets’: they didn’t flush, but their seat lids were flush with the bunk top. Sadly this development eventually stalled.
But the most notable thing of all was that journalists were a lot nicer back then and far more amenable to a long lunch in an agreeable gentleman’s club with these trailblazing blazered titans of British industry. Back then, journalists had standards, and wore blazers too. But that all changed.
How saddened I was to see how chippy and unsupportive they became in the 1980s and cite an article which sourly rounded on the Westerly 22 for its ‘hideously inefficient looking shallow bilge keels’. All I can imagine is that this journalist had had to buy his own lunch.
To trace the origins of this unpatriotic malaise, I leafed through later editions of this fine annual tome into the 1970s, and was amazed to see no mention of the 18ft Sailfish’s famed ‘six-berth accommodation,’ – admittedly people were shorter then – or indeed of the Sailfish whatsoever.
What I did notice, however, was that boats produced by the manufacturers who advertised were all uniformly attractive, lively, fast, dry, stable, sea kindly, amazingly roomy, capable of crossing oceans, and built to last forever. And it’s only now, thanks to a free and independent press, that I can at least reveal the key innovation of 1971 that set the Sailfish apart and scared rivals, namely the inclusion of a fitted polythene washing-up bowl as standard. You have a right to know.
Terylene, developed for travelling salesmen’s jackets, migrated into sail cloth
‘Well, the standing headroom is in the cockpit and the two extra berths are in the car .... ’