Dave Selby

The 1960s were the high-wa­ter mark of de­sign ex­cel­lence... and mar­ket­ing hy­per­bole

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents - Dave Selby Dave Selby is the proud owner of a 5.48m (18ft) Sail­fish, which he keeps on a swing­ing moor­ing on the pic­turesque Black­wa­ter es­tu­ary in Es­sex

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 .... ’

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