Sailing in smaller boats

Back in the blog on 20 November 2020 during Covid I wrote about my introduction to dinghy sailing.

During our 8 week school summer holidays at Mudeford our main activity was sailing. After the clinker built rowing boat that I adapted to sail and the dinghy that father capsized, we moved to a Cadet. Sister Liz and I loved it.

But at Mudeford our friends had a variety of sailing dinghies. Some had Cadets, some had Fireflies, Enterprises, GP14’s, Solos and other assorted classes. Most of us enjoyed racing, and many of us joined Christchurch Sailing Club. When races were organised by them we would sail up the harbour from Mudeford to Christchurch for the handicap races that they ran.

But many of us wanted to race more frequently. The problem was that as we had different varieties of dinghies – different sized boats, different sail areas and different speeds, inevitably racing was biased in favour of the larger faster boats.

One winter I heard about the Portsmouth Yardstick. It was a classification of various classes of yachts and dinghies. I bought a copy. It enabled us to organise pursuit races where the slower boats started first. The starts were staggered and if we carried out the mathematics accurately, in a perfect world, all the boats would have crossed the finishing line together!

When we weren’t sailing we often used our boats at the “creek”. We found that people would walk towards Mudeford Sandbank along the southern side of the harbour. What they didn’t know was that as they neared the end of their walk they would come across a wide stream. It was wide and fairly deep. Their choice was to turn round and go back the way they had come or pay us 6 old pence a head to transport them across in our boats!

I was reminded about these my teenage years when my old school Canford announced the celebrations for its 100 year anniversary in May and June 2023. I wrote a piece for the online Old Canfordian website about the schools sailing successes while I was there in the 1960’s

I will find and publish that Old Canfordian piece here shortly.


A bit of history

In the Fifties I was at a local prep school in Southampton – Oakmount School and I presume my parents plan was to send me away to a boarding school at 13. When I was 10 or 11, the Cunard Line was struggling. Airlines could fly people to the US in hours and the dominance of the Queens, taking 5 days to get people across the Atlantic, was waning. Cunard was losing money and selling ships. I guess that father worried about the future and when I passed the 11+ the decision was made to send me to King Edward VI School in Southampton – a boys only grammar school.

I must have started there in September 1956, aged 11. I enjoyed it very much. In particular I loved the sport. I’d played regular rugby and cricket before at Oakmount which gave me an advantage.

My father was away at sea when the summer term at the end of my 3rd year finished. On the last day of that term a boy from the year above (also called Smith) hit the Headmaster over the head with a broken bottle. My mother didn’t dare write to father to tell him about it, but when he eventually came home on leave, mother told him and his reaction, apparently, was “Richard’s not going back there”. They contacted Canford and although I had not taken the Common Entrance exam, they agreed to take me.

I loved it and the prospect of sailing in Poole Harbour during the summer terms was a bonus.

I gather that my father went to his bank, National Provincial (later NatWest) Bank and borrowed the money to pay the fees for Canford and that it took many years after I had left school before he was able to clear the debt.

This seems to be developing into an autobiography!


This was written for Canford Global Connect on the 100th anniversary of the school

OC Richard Smith B64 has recently been in touch to share his memories of sailing at Canford during the Sixties

The first 100 years – Sailing at Canford in the Sixties.

I started at Canford in September 1959 in Beaufort House. In those days we had to cycle from Canford to Poole Harbour to sail. It was 7.5 miles each way. It was not too bad on the way there because it was down Gravel Hill, but coming back, after a challenging day racing, was hard.

Lt Pantlin, who ran the Naval Section of the CCF, was in charge of sailing, and when we were more senior, we qualified for a ride there and back in his van.

We sailed against other schools. In those days it was always in Firefly dinghies. Three boats in each team – the racing was tactical – not charging away on a mission of your own, but making sure that you and your team mates were covering and ahead of the three opposition boats.

We also had an Annual match against the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. The Dartmouth team were great hosts and evenings were spent in local pubs. A much better alternative than a Saturday night locked up at Canford. In the 5 years that I was at Canford we won every match against Dartmouth including the year when their team included Rodney Pattisson (Olympic Sailing Gold medalist in Mexico in 1968 and Munich in 1972).

Every year Canford competed in the National Schools Sailing Championships which take place in Chichester Harbour. The Itchenor Sailing Club has always hosted the event, which has now been running for almost 70 years. Ninety different schools have competed over the years and in the Sixties, 55/60 schools took part each year.

Each school was allowed one boat in the event. In my day we would bring one of the school’s Fireflies back from Poole to Canford towards the end of the summer term and we would work on the hull to make sure it was smooth and sleek. Lt Pantlin would tow it behind his van to Itchenor in readiness for the event.

In 1963 I sailed with Nick Bailhache and we came 13th.

In 1963, sadly Lt Pantlin passed away. He had organised sailing at Canford for many years and it transpired that he was to miss Canford’s greatest sailing success which happened in the summer of 1964.

John Elliott joined me for the 1964 Championships. It was anticipated that David Scott, the Vice Captain would sail with me, but at the last minute he could not come. John had sailed and raced in Poole before coming to Canford and was an experienced sailor.

The three days of racing took place in beautiful weather, with strong winds and sunshine. There were 60 schools taking part. The racing was highly competitive and close. We knew that we were in the frame and thought we had done enough to win.

Eventually it was announced that Canford School were the winners of the 1964 National Schools Sailing Championship. It was a very exciting time as it was the first win for Canford in this event and the big bonus was that the prize for the winning school was a brand new Firefly dinghy.

The 1964 Sailing team