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What's in a Name?

by Will Loy 19 Apr 23:33 PDT
Geoff Carveth racing Bungler in 1983 © NSCA

I thought I would pen a small article on the long forgotten art of boat names, specifically targeting the Solo class.

The introduction of the production FRP Solo, a Winder Mk 1 which was first displayed at the RYA dinghy show in 2000 marked the beginning of a resurgence in numbers which has surprised everyone, especially the hardened Solo sailor who had seen the GRP version degrade on no time at all in the 1970's. Wood was acknowledged as the fastest material and if you were lucky enough to own a 'fast one' you generally kept it for a good number of years before selling it on at a profit.

The sea change from wood to FRP marked the end of an era in construction which had begun 44 years earlier on the banks of Putney, South London where Jack Holt had built Solo number 1. Over the following decades the Solo class grew in numbers with a whole load of professional builders throwing their hats into the ring. There were many home built examples which were not necessarily the most aesthetically pleasing or quick and then there were some builders who put speed before beauty but you cannot find fault with that approach, it's DNA is after all, a racing dinghy.

While the FRP 'off the shelf' Solo has given the class an incredible product, the anonymity of the standard grey gelcoat has, I believe removed the personality and individuality that older examples exude. The plus side is that they are apparently invisible on the start line and buying and selling is much easier than back in the day.

Once upon a time, Yachts and Yachting magazine was the 'go to' if you were in the market for a boat and there would literally be pages and pages to search through. It was a skill to write something that would stand out from the crowd and you had to pay a premium to get a border around it. The magical strap line on any successful advert would read 'Open meeting winner' or/and 'good result at Nationals' and this would usually begin with the headline, as an example, '3817 Monologue'.

Before we get to 3817 let's take it back a few decades.

Jack Holt and Alec Stone were the principal builders pre 1970, I would suggest these two had 90% of the market with home builds making up the other 10%. Alec Stone, was the more successful on the water with 8 National titles to his name and eventually 1 World Championship, his skills learnt from racing at the very tidal location of Salcombe giving him the edge against such opponents as John Conway Jones and Graham Tapper. Alec had a sense of humour and this was reflected in the naming of his Solos'. Jack though has the bragging rites after winning the first National Championship at Twickenham Y.C. in 1958 racing of course Solo 1 'Solow'.

Alec won his first title in 1968 in Solo 170 'Sweep' and defended the title in Solo 200 'Clean Sweep', I suggest this was quite a ballsy prediction but he delivered. Incidentally, this hull was eventually refurbished by Harmony Wood in 1986 and a young Ian Mitchell who went on to become a world championship winning 505 crew won and then defended the junior title, the Stone hull defying it's age and proving itself against the much newer Lovetts. Other memorable boat names of that era include 186 'Free' a Holt built for Tony Allen, later to become Holt/Allen. This boat won a Nationals race in 1964, the year of my birth. Another Stone win in 1969 in Solo 1212 named 'Whitehall', initially an obscure name for a boat until you realise that it was at that time the telephone code for Scotland Yard, London. One of the most successful Stone hulls was 1370 'Winsome' which won the World title for Alec in 1971 and this Solo would go on to record (28)-1-11-11-10-6 for Martin Payne in 1989 which saw him finish 10th overall in a fleet of 96. This hull was later owned and raced competitively by Tony Freer who finished 4th at an Inland Championship and left plenty of sailors scratching their heads as to it's speed. Incidentally, Geoff won the 89 event racing a Lovett 3252, then owned by Roy Barnes and there was no one prouder! It had never gone so quick.

My father once mentioned as we flicked through some old photos' that he had raced against John Conway Jones who won the National title in 1972 at Southend, sailing a Stone 1405 named Geronimo. It was lime green and left a lasting impression in my imagination which I now acknowledge as to my taste for the bright coloured hulls I have owned. 'Geronimo' was also the first word my mother uttered on my birth having bore three sisters beforehand. Had my parents chosen this name for me, I would surely have gone on to greater achievements.

One more mention then of an Alec Stone hull in which he won two races at the 1973 World and National Championship, Plymouth but lost to Rob Van Vianen (NED) racing Solo H422. The name of Alec's Solo 2300....Cela Enots.

Let's hop forward a decade, I was in my fourth season of club sailing and the open meeting circuit arrived to Reading S.C like the circus, I was full of excitement, the sailors names I knew from the tired, creased pages of Y+Y reports but their faces were of strangers as they unveiled their magnificent flying machines.

The bright yellow Lovett hull of Custard Tart burst into daylight, that must be Ian Houston then, Junior National Champion followed by the magnolia Beckett built hull with Gail Ellen emblazoned on the side, that would be Craig Moffett. While Craig was clearly lacking in imagination he was either full of sentiment or absent minded, he would not be forgetting his daughters names soon though. As an aside, Craig was possibly the unluckiest Solo sailor ever, always second to Geoff Carveth and then Ken Falcon came along.

A stunning white hulled Lovett was next to be unveiled, 3309 'Bird of Prey', owned by Barry Green who went on to own maybe one of the last Lovett's built, 3402 'Run to the Beat'. Barry was the son of long time NSCA measurer Ron. His parents were the consummate pit crew, ensuring the boat was fully prepped and put away dry following Barry's efforts afloat and they always brought their own lunch.

Across the dinghy park more of my heroes readied their craft, my gaze falling on a lovely Runnymede Dinghies example 'Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster', now that is a memorable name and indicative of the era. Richard Willetts built a nice boat. Tony Cook had made the journey up from Dover with his menacing black hulled Utterly. Mike Wilkie was there, Buccaneer I believe and some of his later hulls were Musketeer and Cavalier, all very British Regiment which is him all over.

Last if not least, the red and white hull of Bungler, 3286 and possibly up there in the top 3 of famous Solos'. Carveth was at the meeting! The current World Champion oozed class as he set up his winning machine. battens were fettled with a file and slid into place, the Solo was on it's side and we all looked on and devoured every intricate alteration to batten tension. With hull freshly polished, Geoff showed us all the way around. I can even now, recall seeing him head off to the unfavourable gap in the islands at Sonning and, catching the first zephyr of breeze proceeded to sail of into the hazy horizon. Geoff eventually sold Bungler to Max Blom who would later go on to a hugely successful career and at that time was a suspected Diamond Broker, rumours still persist to this day as to how much Max paid! Incidentally, this paint job was copied a number of times, I am not sure if Geoff was very impressed when 3386 turned up with exactly the same livery.

Of course names can backfire and a good example of this was at the 1982 World Championship in Hoorn where Jack van Duyveybode (NED) finished last in... Invincible!

Plycraft had a strong following and both Paul Hemsley in 3424 'Alias' and Nick Yeoman in 3236 'Auntie Flo' were pretty successful, Nick then went on to buy a Lovett, 3302 'Vindaloo' from Midland maestro Richard Goodenough for an undisclosed sum.....we all reckoned it was a lot.

Into the mid eighties and another Lovett was set to dominate the major events, this time in the hands of Ken Falcon. 3315 'Pogs' proved unstoppable,producing World Championship wins in 1985-86-87 and the Nationals in 1988. Only the Richard Utterly built 3406 had got one over on the Lovett's, that was back in 1984 when Simon Cray won it at Brixham, utilising a weight jacket.

I, myself had a number of Solos' in the eighties, High Performance Sailboats built me 3517, 'Will Power' which was a reference to how I approached the racing in my prime. This Solo was one of four built by HPS, all were very different, mine had an exceptionally flat rocker which resulted in the chines at station 1 being very weird looking. It was also ridiculously light, a point my dad made to me as we carried it into our back garden for the fit out process. You have to take into account that lead was forbidden in the rules so we would have to find upwards of 3 kids in wood! As we did not happen to have room for a 2 x 4 scaffold plank or a thin slice of timber from a thousand year old petrified tree we resorted in sliding two equal weight bags of sand into the side tanks to remain legal. Eventually I was able to convince a friend with the necessary carpentry skills to fashion two wooden correctors with a secret compartment in which were melted lead! I am not proud and my dad was even less so but at least it weighed 70kg!

A shroud of mystery surrounds the fourth HPS hull, initially owned by Peter Brook but handed back to the builder after it emerged that it did not measure. Much body filler and sanding later, the hull was given dispensation...maybe it should have been called 'Phoenix'.

Green Gilbert 2505 (I think) was raced by Salcombe guru Martin Payne at one of the Dutch Championships back in the late 80s's. Martin had car topped Gilbert and they popped into Amsterdam for a night following the event. The Salcombe guys including Billy Barnes and Harold Cranch then hatched a plan which saw us track Gilbert's whereabouts. The kidnapping went smoothly, I imagine Martin had some linguistic problems trying to formulate a police report.

Bob Beckett had been building Solos and was responsible for dropping the case down into the hog which removed the age old problem of water ingress. I raced 3178, co-designed by a prominent British Moth sailor and named 'Metronome', though I was never accused of rocking. There were a select bunch of talented owners of Becketts, Mike Barnes owns 3847 'Top Drive' which I now look after. To illuminate as to the name, Mike's background is in the oil industry and Top Drive is one of the main parts of the drill in the oil rig. I would suggest it also reflects Mike's drive to be so successful!

The Lovett domination was finally ended when Carveth won the title at Thorpe Bay in 1990 racing a Gerry Ledger Solo 3726. I don't think this Solo was given a name, Geoff, being the God that he still is, invariably borrowed Solos for the Championships as he was busy racing other classes.

Had Lovett continued to build I do believe the domination would have continued. You must also remember when looking at these hulls numbers, the class was only building 10-20 Solos' year on year.

I need to mention Tony Thresher who was heavily involved in the development of the class, his first Solo 3420 was quick and he went on to build some very successful Solos. Many of the top sailors of that era have had a Thresher at some time or another.

One other notable Solo was Red Alert 3733, the stunningly beautiful Red Solo owned by Pete Hammond. It was a one-off build from Phil Morrison and was much admired.

So into another decade and the nineties brought a whole host of builders as the popularity of the class continued to thrive following some dodgy times in the mid eighties.

1992 and the arrival of the first Kevin Gosling built Solos' 3817, 'Monolog'. If the Solo was a woman then this was Raquel Welsh at her best. All the right curves in all the right places. Gosling hulls had all the quality of craftsmanship of the Lovett but used all the latest materials. From memory, some Gosling Solos' that stick out in my memory banks include, Kevin's Widget 4004, owned by Harvey Hillary and No Excuses and Inspector Gadget, owned by Gordon Barclay.

At this time I should also mention that Andy Miles who started building some lovely looking Solos which were very fast. I owned 4160 'Living on the Edge' which reflected my economic situation at the time and also tipped my hat to Jon Clarke at Edge Sails who had been cutting some great sails for me for over 13 years.

Jumping forward into this century and with the flood of FRP and a very buoyant second hand market, adding personality to your Solo was conducive to making it hard to sell! I learnt this first hand after buying a new Speed Solo with green/bronze effect hull. 4835,Lean Green Speed Machine' was a very fast ship, the minimum beam dimension prompted the name but the colour was like Marmite, some loved and some hated and it was a struggle to find someone interested. My advert included many shots of the colour scheme and I finally lured a prospective customer over to view. Initially interested, our conversation finally turned to talking money at which point he remarked, "it's nice...but the colour'!

There was one FRP Solo that has stood out over the last 13 years and that is 4767 'Daisy', Andy Davis's winning Speed hull from 2007. The Navy blue hull with daisy graphic on the transom reminded me of that halcyon era when the character of the Solo was a direct reflection on the sailor who owned her.

Just to finish, our esteemed Hon Secretary, Graham Cranford Smith owned one of the most amusingly named Solos ever and one that would have no problem identifying with 80% of the fleet... 'The Only Grey in the Village'.

I hope the fleet continue to push the boundaries of clever, amusing and ironic names for their Solos, all in the best possible taste of course.

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