The National 18s are the oldest active class in the Royal Cork and it is quite safe to say that the bulk of the credit for this fact must go to the Dwyer family. In this article Tommy Dwyer outlines the history, the people and the fun that has made the class so enduring.
WbW – No. 9 – By Tommy Dwyer
The first National 18s originally came to the club in 1939. A special committee had agreed at a meeting in the Metropole Hotel to order two 18s for use as club boats. The pair cost £274, and within three months had been delivered and named Meander and Melody.
This was just two years after the famous English boat designer Uffa Fox had originally designed the Uffa Ace and Hurricane (No. 1) had been built to sail out of Whitstable.
Melody went on to be probably the most successful dinghy in the history of Irish sailing such was her haul of trophies under the ownership of Capt. Jimmy Payne and subsequently his son Somers.
During the war years, due to the lack of activity in the club, it was decided to dispose of the two boats. Meander was sold to Dublin while Melody was raffled at a cost of 10s per ticket. Luckily for both the club and the class, the winning ticket was bought by Jimmy Payne and she remained in Crosshaven. For the next 40 years, she won every trophy available for an 18.
It was from this point that the class really started to become established in Cork Harbour, becoming the longest standing active class in the Club.
In the late 40’s and early 50’s boats were built by various builders around the Harbour. Most notably by Pierce Power in Passage and by George Bushe and Jack O’Driscoll in Ringaskiddy. Other 2nd hand boats were brought in from West Kirby and other English clubs.. By 1950, there were five boats racing in Cork Harbour. The names Crowley, Dwyer, Wolfe, Lane, Kenefick and Woodward were soon to become household names within the class.
A tradition which emerged at that time within the Cork fleet was the use of the letter “M” when naming a boat. Hence Melody, Mistral, Mystic, Maestro, to name but a few.
By 1954, the Cork fleet consisted of sixteen boats, with a further three under construction at various location around the harbour, making Cork one of the strongest fleets in both Ireland and Britain
During this time, fleets also evolved in some Dublin clubs, most notable being Skerries and a very strong bond grew between the two clubs with championship and team racing events taking place on a regular basis.
Somers Payne won his first Cock of the North in 1959, and went on to take a firm grip on all the trophies for which the 18’s raced, both nationally and internationally- in time he became almost impossible to beat. In fact by the 1960’s Cork sailors had proven themselves hard to beat, and since then have won the lion’s share of championships to the present day. Early winners included Somers Payne (’59 & ’62), Charlie Dwyer (’60), Dick Lane (’61), Alan Wolfe (’66).
Until now, there was no overall championship trophy. The Cock of the North and Medway Bowl trophies were presented for the first half of the week and second half respectively, a throwback of the earlier days when road transport was difficult and there was a separate northern and southern championship. A new perpetual trophy, The Cork Harbour Trophy was presented to the class by Tom Crosbie. This became the overall championship trophy even though to this day the event is still affectionately known as the “Cock of the North”
In the early days of the class in Cork, 18’s used to take part in the annual August Bank Holiday ocean race to Kinsale. Crews would usually sleep on their boats, compete in the Regatta race and sail back to Crosshaven on the Monday. No mean feat for an eighteen-foot dinghy.
At this stage of the class development, crews were not only known for their exploits on the water but also for their ability to enjoy the social side of sailing with many songs sung and late nights enjoyed, a tradition which still holds true to this day. So much so, that the class commissioned its own song book and many songs were composed to celebrate various incidents and occasions.
The 60’s saw the first of a number of developments taking place in the class. The cost of building wooden clinker boats had become prohibitive and as a result the building of new boats ground to a halt. In 1968 the class made the huge decision to engage Ian Proctor to design a GRP hull to replace the existing wooden boats. He had by then designed the Wayfarer, Merlin Rocket and Topper dinghies among others. He is also credited with building the first aluminium masts. Jim McCarthy who had been sailing wooden boats until now, was the first to make the transition to fiberglass with Edelweiss. Wooden boats continued to dominate with the exception of one year 1971, until 1978 with Somers claiming another 3 titles in that period.
In 1976 the era of GRP really arrived in Cork when the Cork class commissioned its own hull mould to enable us build our own boats here. Jim McCarthy was the driving force behind this initiative. Whitings in Midleton were tasked with building the new boats and they were mainly fitted out by the new owners. Jim had three of these boats built for himself over a few short years and he also made a deck mould which now meant that we had a totally fibre glassboat – no more sandpaper and varnish!
In 1979, shortly after the Fastnet disaster, the Royal Cork hosted one of the biggest championships ever with 36 boats. The event was won by Mike Kneale IOMYC (crewed by Ric Tomlinson photographer) in his controversial boat Woodstock a radical new design and his fourth championship win.
The most successful of these Cork built boats, was 329 Ma-tic-ilus owned by Martin Lane. He went on to win the Cock of the North on four occasions in quick succession.
By the mid 80’s, the class was struggling for numbers since a number of stalwarts had moved on to other things – Somers, Jim McCarthy, Flor O’Leary, and Albert Muckley to name but a few. It was decided to introduce an event to try to attract new sailors to the class. An invitation series was decided upon and sailors from other classes and Clubs were invited to partake in a day of sailing and 18’ hospitality on and off the water. This grew to become one of the main events on our calendar and at its height, the Bantry Puffin (Wietse’s tug) would be seen heading to sea complete with piano, loaves of sandwiches and a couple of kegs of beer. This became a great success and did attract a lot of new members.
A total of 18 boats were built from these moulds between 1976 and 1993 the last two 344 and 345 being commissioned by Tom Dwyer and Martin Lane who continued to do battle after 10 years of trying to best one another.
In 1989 our own Dom Long was elected class president for UK and Ireland. During his tenure, he oversaw not only the major rule changes such as the class redevelopment but also many minor changes to rigs, hulls sails foils etc. Dom held this position until 2017 when the biggest of all the changes was approved by the class – this will be dealt with later.
1991 enter one Anthony O’Leary who dominated the results sheets for three years winning the championship in 1992, 93, 94 and again in 1997. Anthony through his innovative approach to sailing and boat set up, helped everybody in the class to up their level of performance.
1995 saw another milestone in the development of the class. The fiberglass Ian Proctor design of 1968 had been deliberately been made heavy in order that they did not outclass the timber boats, but by then there were no timber boats racing competitively. In the winter of 1995, the newest class mould, which had been built in the Isle of Mann was brought to Cork and a prototype was built to show that a fully fibreglass hull and deck could be built at a reasonable cost 50kg’s lighter than the current minimum weight. Tom Crosbie and Paul Tingle had a boat built, moulded in Kinsale and finished by Mark Bushe, under the guidance of Rob Jacob (originally of Ron Holland Design).
The class agreed at the 1996 AGM to reduce the minimum weight to 200kg’s and the following winter a further 11 boats were built in Tralee by O’Sullivan Marine under the guidance of Tommy McCarthy and Davy O’Connell. Ultimately, some 28 new boats were built to this specification and other earlier boats were lightened, and this carried the Class forward for another 20 years. Much of the now redundant fleet were sold to various locations in Uk, a large number going to Findhorn where most of them were re-furbished and hull weights reduced to almost the minimum allowed. This meant that Findhorn now had a fleet which could compete at championships. All this was possible as a result of the skills and dedication of Ali Somers, a great friend of the class.
The 90’s and 00’s saw Cork sailors continue to dominate at all major events with names like John Crotty, Anthony O’Leary, Tom Dwyer, Tom Crosbie, Nick Walsh, Colin Chapman, Davy O’Connell and the Barry brothers Ewan and Colin all winners of Cock of the North during this period.
The class continued to flourish during this period and in 2011 the championship was hosted by RCYC. This was to be the biggest ever gathering of 18’s for an event. Peter O’Donovan, class captain at that time, went to the highways and byways dragging old 18’ sailors and old boats out of garages and ditches and where necessary, patching up both boats and sailors and getting them into a seaworthy state. A tremendous effort from local class members orchestrated by Peter saw 53 boats take to the water for what was one of the best championships of all time.
2011 was also a watershed year for the class. A small team led by Colin Chapman began to assess the options for the class to take the next development steps to be “Fit for The Future.” In late 2012 Phil Morrison, a world leading dinghy designer, was commissioned to present the development team with a proposal for a new N18 design. To make a fully informed decision the class decided to privately fund the construction of a prototype.
In Oct 2013 the prototype, named Odyssey was launched. With a wider transom, hard chines, finer bow, flatter bottom and a weight reduction of 50kg’s the transformation was the most significant since the birth of the class. The rig did not change but the prototype was evidently quicker with better stability and was much more predictable in loaded conditions. Odyssey was sailed extensively in Ireland and the UK allowing class members to experience the new design.
In 2014 President Dom Long chaired the most significant AGM since the inception of the class. The new Morrison designed N18 was almost unanimously accepted as a National 18. Work then began to update the class rules, find a builder and move to production. White Formula UK, based in Essex were selected as the class builder. Local class member Julian Berney worked tirelessly with White Formula, Colin Chapman and many others to produce the moulds and tooling necessary to manufacture the new boats. The moulds were finished in early 2015 and the first new boat named Hurricane was launched. The owner, Jeremy Vines is the son of Murray Vines who launched the very first 18 also named Hurricane.
Production ramped up in the spring of 2015 with Cork owners eagerly greeting several delivery trucks in the dinghy park. And so it was that four years after the decision in Cork to develop a new boat the first championship was held in Cork in the new look class. Building continues to this day with a total of twenty-six new 18’s launched.
The Cock of the North returns to Crosshaven in early August this year as part of the Cork300 celebrations. The local class committee are working hard to ensure another fantastic week with 18ers from all over these islands returning once more for great racing and social. Details are in the Notice of Race recently published.
Speaking of social…..
There is a great book on the first 75 years of the class published in 2013 by Brian Wolfe – well worth a look if you come across it.
Click on this link for details including pricing of a new build National 18 from White Formula, the class builder.
Some secondhand boats are also available and crewing opportunities always abound – the class has always been delighted to advise so talk to someone in the fleet about how to join the fun.
WayBackWhen is being published as a regular series in the run up to the Cork 300 celebrations next July. The publication team are interested in photographs and articles showing the life of the club in living memory and are inviting submissions at this time. A number of members have already kindly agreed to write articles on specific subjects like this one by Tommy Dwyer. If you have items of interest or a good story that fits the theme please make contact through firstname.lastname@example.org