History of the Yorkshire One Design (YOD) by David Armstrong.
It must have been a remarkable sight for those holidaymakers and other passengers standing on the railway station platform that day, to see a London & North Eastern Railway engine steam slowly into the station, hauling eight goods wagons, each carrying a 25ft racing yacht. Unknown to them, they were witnessing history in the making, for what they were watching was the approach of a ‘special’ train from Southampton, and the arrival of The Yorkshire One-Design fleet at Bridlington. It was June, and the year was 1898.
In those closing years of the 19th century, the idea of creating a one-design class at Bridlington was very popular amongst a number of members of The Royal Yorkshire Yacht Club, and in the years 1896/7, well supported meetings were held at the club’s premises based in Vincent Street in Hull. Plans were drawn up and agreement reached on the design of boat which is still in existence today.
It is important however, to understand the reasons why a select number of members of a prestigious club like The Royal Yorkshire, should choose to build a comparatively small and innocuous little boat such as a 25ft rater. Primarily it was intended that they should provide level racing, on equal terms, and at moderate cost, but secondly, and more importantly, that these boats would provide the opportunity for the rank and file to take part in a sport which hitherto had been the prerogative of the wealthy.
A rule existed at the RYYC known as The 20 Ton Rule which precluded any gentleman not owning a yacht of a minimum of 20 tons Thames Measurement from becoming a member. Several enlightened members who wished to see the membership increase, recognised the iniquity of this rule, and they envisaged the idea of a small one-design boat as the ideal vehicle with which to compel the hierarchy of the club to rescind it.
In those days there was no small boat yacht racing as such in Bridlington, but there existed a group of owners of private, sailing fishing cobles, which they used to race on a Sunday. The commercial coble owners however wouldn’t dream of even putting to sea, let alone fish, on the Sabbath, and they suspected that the private coble owners undertook more on the holy day than just race their cobles, thereby depriving them of part of their livelihood. They were referred to as ‘nobbut a bunch of pirates’. Clearly, here was a band of sailors whose recreational activities should be encouraged, and the renegade members of the RYYC and owners of the YOD’s merged with this group to form The Pirate Yacht Club, occupying small premises on the north side of the harbour overlooking the water. And so it was that in that June of 1898, the brand new one-design yachts, all painted grey, were detrained and, after the owners had drawn lots for them, they were towed – by horse- down to the harbour. There, under the supervision of George Nightingale, they were launched and rigged, then put to sea for the serious business of stretching canvas, under the burgee of the Pirate Yacht Club, showing a black skull and crossed bones on a red ground.
The YOD was built by Field & Co of Itchen Ferry, Southampton, and designed by their yard foreman. At 25’6” loa, 6’9” beam and 3’6” draft, with a long cast iron keel and 5cwt internal ballast, they were planked up in larch on oak, and weighed about 2 tons. Compared with conventional yacht building practice of the day, they were lightly built, and deliberately so, as they were built to last only 5 years, the time span within which their Owners predicted that they could bring the 20 Ton Rule to an end.
The original rig was for a vertical gunter lug mainsail and working foresail, supplemented by a reaching foresail and spinnaker. The spars were solid, the mast not to exceed 20’ from deck to truck. No bowsprit was allowed and the spinnaker boom had to be of such length that it could be swung across the boat between mast and forestay when at deck level. It had to be attached to the mast by gooseneck or similar means, and setting it from the shrouds, Samson post or the topsides was prohibited. Designed to stand up to North Sea conditions, and drawing only 3’6” they were well suited to the tidal harbour at Bridlington wherein they take the ground at low water twice a day. The boat is ‘cod-headed’, the maximum beam being well forward, in way of the mast, which earned her the reputation of being un-capsizable and “even in the worst weather a bucket will help keep down to a safe level any water that finds its way below”. The YOD proved to be very popular, a fact which did not escape the notice of many members of the RYYC.
When delivered to Bridlington, each of the eight boats was numbered with roman numerals from 1 to 1X carved into the corner post at the forward end of the coamings forming the large, pointed, open cockpit. Traditional sail numbers were displayed on the cotton mainsails, but because the numbers were applied back to back, on sunny days 3 appeared as 8. It was for this reason that the original fleet of 8 was numbered to 9: YOD No 3 never existed.
When the serious business of racing was entered into, No 9 established herself as the boat to beat, and it was thought by some that she was the best boat in the fleet. It seems far more probable however, that her successes were attributable to the skill of one of her owners, John Deheer, who acquired considerable ability as a helmsman. According to history, a race was sailed to determine the matter in changed boats, John Deheer gaining either 1st or 2nd place in No 2. His own boat No 9 came in at the tail end, which proved the theory that as intended and designed, the boats were a class, and that helmsmanship was the determining factor.
Between the years 1898 and 1900, the boats raced every Saturday afternoon, wind and tide permitting, for a sweepstake. In 1901 however, a Major Campbell Thompson of Hull presented a trophy depicting a YOD under sail, which was cast in silver and mounted on an ebony board. He named it The Shield, the winner’s name being engraved on individual plaques, surmounted with the yacht’s racing flag in enamel. Every plaque and enamel racing flag on The Shield between the years of 1901 and 1907, with the single exception of 1906, records the winner as No 9. Under its deed of gift, having won The Shield on 3 consecutive occasions in 1903, John Deheer claimed it for himself on winning it again in 1907, and took it to his home, where it was to remain for the next 27 years.
In those early YOD years, the boats were known only by number, and it seems that the boats were given names around the turn of the century. Their origins are well known, but perhaps the name given to No 1 is of most interest. The original 8 boats were owned in varying proportions by no fewer than 21 Owners; amongst those associated with No 1 was a Haggitt Colbeck, a relative of William Colbeck.
In 1898 Lieutenant William Colbeck RNR, FRGS, set off with the explorer C.E.Borchgrevink on a sledge journey across The Great Ice Barrier towards the South Pole, in the capacity of Chief Magnetic Officer. He was required to take a sledge flag, and the flag he took with him showed a black skull and crossed bones on a red ground. After transferring from SY ‘Southern Cross’ onto the ice, the sledge party and Pirate Yacht Club burgee achieved their furthest south at Lat 78 degrees 50 minutes on 17th February 1900. The previous furthest south had been achieved by Capt Ross at 78 degrees 10 minutes.
On his return home, Haggitt Colbeck named No 1 ‘Southern Cross’ in recognition of the vessel which brought William home safely, and no doubt in acknowledgement of that constellation which showed Lieutenant Colbeck his direction. Interestingly, the burgee used as a sledge flag by Colbeck was placed with the RYYC for safe keeping; it hung in a display frame in the Dining Room until the mid 1970’s when Colbeck’s grandson asked that it be returned to the family, as they wished it to be displayed in the National Maritime Museum. It can now been seen on display on board Discovery in Dundee. An exact replica, donated by the Colbeck family, now hangs in its place in the dining room at the clubhouse.
In around 1905, the YOD fleet suffered a severe setback when No 4 (named ‘Betty’) was stood onto the Smithic Sands. Whereas the crew was taken off by a coble, the yacht was wrecked. The precise year is not known, due to a distinct lack of recorded history not only of the YOD Class, but of the RYYC itself. A serious misfortune befell the club in 1921 when that central part of Hull known as The Land of Green Ginger was inundated by the waters of the Humber. The club minute books were stored in the basement of offices in Bowlalley Lane, for reasons of security. On Saturday 19th December, a spring tide, coinciding with a strong easterly wind, caused the Humber and the river Hull to overflow their banks, and the city was flooded. Water poured into and filled many city centre basements, including that wherein the minute books were stored. When the basements were eventually pumped out, it was found that the 1860-1906 records were ruined. However, from a brief entry recorded in the ensuing minute book which did survive, it can be established that the One-Design Class was incorporated into the RYYC in 1906. From this entry it can be deduced that the infamous 20 Ton Rule must have been rescinded at some point between that year and 1903 when it was known still to be in force.In 1908 the Pirate Yacht Club was disbanded. The Yorkshire One-Designs could now put to sea under a burgee showing the Royal Crown of England, and the White Rose of York.
In the years following the Great War, the class raced regularly during the summer not only as a class, but also off handicap with the Small Cruiser Class, resulting in some boats being temporarily equipped with extraneous gear to make them sail faster; for a brief period No 2 ‘Mona’ was fitted with a bowsprit. In 1934 however, One-Design racing as a class was given some real purpose when John Deheer re-donated The Shield. His grandson, a keen yachtsman and club member, relates that the trophy was returned to the club on account of the fact that his grandmother had become fed up of polishing it! Whatever the reason, it has since been known as The John Deheer Shield and is one of the principal trophies to be won.
In 1938, two more raters were built by the local boat building business of Topham & Rooke (known locally as Stop’em and Rook’em), and they were allocated the numbers 1 and 4. As has been mentioned, No 4 (Betty) had been lost on the Smithic, so what fate had befallen No 1 Southern Cross that her number should be re-allocated to another boat ?
At the conclusion of the second World War, only 5 of the original 8 boats remained in Bridlington. No 5 ‘Yilt’ No 6 ‘Iolanthe’ No 7 ‘Sinner’ No 8 ‘Saint’ and the famous No 9 ‘Ditherumpop’. No 2 ‘Mona’ was known to be in Whitby and in 1947 she was bought by a member and returned to Bridlington, bringing the compliment to 6. They all still race in Bridlington today. No 1 was the only surviving original YOD not sailing in Bridlington, having previously been sold to an owner in Ireland. In 1961 the sad news was received at Bridlington that ‘Southern Cross’ had sunk at her deep water mooring at Dinnish, Eire, during a great hurricane, and there she rests.
Between 1946 and 1948, four more YOD’s were built at Stanilands yard at Thorne, near Doncaster, differing from the originals in so far as they were planked in mahogany instead of larch. Another was built over a period of time in the 50’s by a local character whose skill at boatbuilding was only equalled by his passion for drinking. Stage payments invariably heralded a cessation of boatbuilding and the start of a session in the pub. Returning to boatbuilding after one sabbatical, our worthy ‘overbalanced’ – for want of a better word – and with arms flailing like a windmill, dislodged a prop, allowing the half-planked hull to fall over onto her side, where she joined her creator on the floor. Fed up with all the to-ings and fro-ings twixt boat shed and pub, the owner named the boat Yoyo and sent her off to Stanilands to be put together properly. Notwithstanding the slight twist which she subsequently inherited, her name appears on the Shield on more than one occasion.
In the mid-1950’s, the International Dragon arrived on the scene at Bridlington, at about the same time as a new sail cloth called terylene came onto the market. The mainsails on the YOD were a big sail, the main boom extending beyond the counter; counterbalanced by a relatively small jib, the boat carried a lot of weather helm when it was blowing. In 1954, the Class approved the use of terylene sails, but only one boat opted for it, which was probably just as well, because the new sail cloth proved so efficient that, despite her great stability, in strong winds she was quite un-manageable.
At the end of that season, it was decided to re-design the sail plan. The gaff rig was retained, but whilst significantly reducing the area of the mainsail, the jib was proportionately increased, and in 1955 the whole fleet converted to the new rig. The boats were easier to handle, they were better balanced, stress on the hull was reduced and the performance was not adversely affected.
The arrival of the Dragon at Bridlington however, was to have a greater effect on the YOD than many could have foreseen, and in the early ‘70’s when metal masts were being fitted to the Dragon, it was decided to cut down a discarded wooden Dragon mast and, by way of experiment, step it into a YOD, and No5 (‘Yilt’) was commandeered for the job. (Her name derives from the initial letter of the surnames of the 4 joint owners who built her). A new mainsail had to be made, but the mast was altered such that it would carry the existing headsails. Dispensation was granted to allow her to take part in class racing, on the understanding that she was not eligible for any of the trophies. This was just as well, for the old boat romped away from the rest of the fleet, especially when the surf was up, and her rivals could get nowhere near her.
At the annual class meeting at the end of that season, after hours of soul searching, it was resolved to finally abandon the old gaff rig in favour of the new Bermudan set-up. Discarded wooden Dragon masts were procured from all parts of the country, and duly cut down in length. New sails were produced, and at the start of the 1973 season the transition to the new rig was complete. And as the purists among you throw up your arms in horror, there is more to come. In 1976, No 9 ‘Ditherumpop’ came into the hands of an ex-Dragon sailor and boat-builder, who took her to his yard to be re-decked. Retaining the traditional mahogany king planks, covering boards and rubbing strakes, she was fitted with an elegant Dragon-style cuddy and equipped throughout with Borressen hardware. She was a formidable but beautiful contender, and instigated a trend which virtually the whole class has since followed.
The YOD is an endearing and enduring class which today continues to grow from strength to strength. In 1994, joiner and boatbuilder extraordinaire John Lake, embarked on building a new YOD. Although built entirely in conventional materials – mahogany planking on oak, his building technique was quite different in so far as he built her upside down, turning her the right way up of course to put the deck on. No ordinary, painted plywood deck would do for John, who meticulously laid a superb teak deck, which is the perfect touch to a wonderful creation. The lines of the boat were lifted off No 2 ‘Mona’. After devoting 4 years of labour and love into building his boat, John was rewarded when former prime minister Edward Heath attended a naming ceremony in July 1998. Appropriately, he bestowed upon her the name ‘Patience’.
In the autumn of 2003, ‘Blackie’ (numbered 1 to replace ‘Southern Cross’) sustained a grounding of a rather unusual nature. Whilst being towed towards Hull from South Yorkshire where she had been stored for a year or two, the trailer carrying the boat became disconnected from the Landrover on the bridge which carries the M62 motorway over the Ouse. Trailer and boat capsized, blocking the motorway for some considerable time. She was taken back to the intensive care unit at Settrington, and placed in the hands of John Lake where the experience gained in building ‘Patience’ was applied to repairing ‘Blackie’. But this was to be no ordinary repair, because after a grounding on the M62 motorway at over 30mph, substantial damage had occurred. During the next 18 months, she was totally re-built, emerging from her shed in Malton only a few hours before the start of Regatta Week 2005 virtually a new boat, the hull looking for all the world as though it had been built of fibreglass! In that same summer, another newly restored YOD also re-appeared.
During their history, YODs have vanished off the scene, sometimes just for one season, sometimes for many. ‘Yilt’ No5, which had been in the same family ownership for many years after World War II, disappeared off the radar in the mid 1990’s, emerging in the hands of an owner living in The British Virgin Islands, who instructed Crispin Blyth (Blyth Classic Yachts) to re-build her. Over a period of two or three years, the deck was removed, the keel taken off, and the hull fitted with new floors, ribs, some new planking and new beam shelves. With the keel back on and the woodwork complete, instructions were given that work should stop; in the early part of 2004 the hull was sold, to be re-decked by her new owner; she was fitted out with new fittings and sails, and was re-launched in time for him to take the salute in the Fleet Review at the start of Regatta Week 2005 in his new role as Commodore.
The emergence of ‘Blackie’ and ‘Yilt’ in that summer of 2005, created considerable interest in YOD restoration, resulting in a significant change in ownership of two boats in particular. ‘Jesta’ No 11, (built in mahogany by Stanilands at Thorne in the late 1940’s), was the first to change hands, and was sent off to Barton on Humber, where she was to be re-built. Here an extremely talented boatbuilder by the name of Joe Irving had set up a yard, establishing a considerable reputation as a craftsman, being awarded with ‘The Restoration of the Year Award’ sponsored by Classic Boat magazine in 2007. No 9 ‘Ditherumpop’ was also sold and she too was sent off to Barton for similar treatment. No 2 ‘Mona’ – in the same ownership for over 30 years, also underwent a substantial re-build by her owner Crispin Blyth. Finally, and intriguingly, No 4 ‘Lady Lena’ was moved to a mud berth adjacent to Joe’s yard around this same period, and is assumed to be on the operating waiting list.
For the record, racing in the class went into severe decline from about 2006, with only two or three boats spending the summer in the water, sometimes with only one turning out for weekend racing, owners of other boats choosing instead to race solely during the regatta in August. Historically pretty much everything in life is subject to ebb and flow, and the YODs at Bridlington are no exception. A substantial number of boats are in better condition now (2009) than at any stage in their history, and it is understandable that the stresses imposed on the boats in the cradles in Bridlington Harbour, and the damage that ensues, act as a deterrent to owners keeping their boats in the harbour for long periods. During the years 2004/5/6 particularly, Bridlington Harbour Commissioners were under considerable pressure to accede to the construction of a high volume yacht marina. The construction of a run of floating pontoons in the harbour during the summer of 2009 funded by BHC, raised hopes among the membership of the RYYC and especially YOD Owners, that more accessible and secure berthing might be on the horizon, possibly heralding a resurgence of YODs being berthed in the harbour and competing throughout the sailing season.
Each YOD is steeped in her own history of course, and anyone who has either owned or sailed one, inevitably adopts a life-long affection for these ubiquitous little boats. A typical example of this is No 10 Joca. Her name derives from those of her owner’s daughters, Josie and Carol. Built at Stanilands in around 1946 in mahogany (all the earlier boats were planked up in larch and painted), Joca was varnished; her build was commissioned by an ex Royal Navy man, who was not only an accomplished sailor, but also very competitive. Seeing an opportunity to acquire some cheap scrap metal (doubtless not the only ‘opportunity’ he spotted), he arranged for the keel to be cast in armour plate, sourced from the ordnance works at Leeds where 2nd World War tanks were being dismantled for scrap. Seemingly armour plate is denser – and therefore heavier than conventional steel, and this advantage quickly became apparent at an early stage of Joca’s first season at Bridlington when – to coin a technical sailing term – she cleaned up.
Challenged over the weight of the keel, the owner conceded that he would remove it and cut out a section, equivalent to the additional weight of the armour plate, substituting it with a timber deadwood. This exercise proved fruitless, because in the following year Joca once again proceeded to clean up. In the face of continuing acrimony within the class, her owner undertook to build another boat, agreeing that she would be built under the supervision of other YOD Class members. The new boat was again built at Stanilands yard, and in order to comply with the originals as closely as possible, she was planked up in larch, then painted battleship grey. She was launched in 1948 and, appropriately, given the name Jesta. The installation of a ‘standard’ keel failed to have the desired effect however, and no doubt much to the chagrin of other YOD owners, Jesta’s owner once again proceeded to ‘clean up’. The ethos of one-design yacht racing had once again demonstrated that the skill in winning lies within the sailor, and not the boat.
Some stories surrounding boats in a class as old as the YOD Class become lost in the mist of time, whereas others inevitably are based on myth; the reality of this story however emerged when Joca was also sent to Joe Irving’s yard at Barton on Humber in 2009 for restoration where, on removal of the keel, the timber deadwood, fitted into the heel of the keel to compensate for the additional weight of the original armour plate, saw the light of day for the first time since it was fitted, back in 1946/7.
This tale has a happy ending however, thanks to that enduring affection which abides in all those connected with the YOD class. Sold by her original owner in 1948, Joca was purchased by an owner who was to keep her until his death some 55 years later. After a brief spell of ownership by another member, Josie’s two sons bought the boat back into family ownership in 2009 after more than 60 years, thus securing the future of another boat for generations to come. She is to be launched back into Bridlington Harbour for the 2011 sailing season, resplendent in battleship grey.
Copyright © 2010 D Armstrong