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Are old boats and female sailors the key to the Squib class' popularity?

by Magnus Smith 25 Mar 2022 05:00 PDT
The keel of a Squib on its trailer © Magnus Smith

Looking around at the RYA Dinghy & Watersports Show 2022 there were more keels on display than one might expect. From the fairly new RS21 class to the Flying Fifteens which started up in 1948, there were options for dinghy sailors to consider, in case they felt the need for some lead underneath them.

But who would choose to make such a move?! Magnus Smith of spoke to a recent convert to the Squib fleet, Hattie Henderson, in order to answer this question which perplexed him.

Magnus Smith: Whilst I've heard that the Squib is a popular keelboat (Cowes Week 2018 saw 100 entries, I recall) I've never had the chance to look inside one, so I'm glad there were steps at the Dinghy Show so I could climb up and examine the cockpit properly. It's roomy! But what I want to ask you is why you joined this class, if you were a keen dinghy sailor beforehand?

Hattie Henderson: I did a lot of team racing at university, then was in the RS200 and RS400 fleets. My husband Dan had won the Musto Skiff World Championship in the past but we now wanted to sail a boat together. We wanted a really good social side. The Squib has been around for a long time but still gets high numbers at a Nationals so we knew that we would have a good fleet, and they have a really good social side too.

Magnus: So you are both familiar with performance dinghies, yet were attracted to a keelboat?

Hattie: Although they are slower boats they are very technical, and every inch matters. You can have very close racing in a boat that is much more accessible. There is a range of boats out there, and we felt we could get a good entry-level boat easily; we could race competitively without having to spend an extortionate amount of money. It's much more affordable for us to sail together this way.

Magnus: So you didn't just go out and buy the latest, brand new, top of the range boat?

Hattie: No! Much to my husband's disgust, the older boats are just as competitive. Some people believe the thinner keels on those older hulls are faster. So we bought a boat that was over 50 years old and took the time to do it up over lockdown. It was a labour of love, but we can line up against newer boats no problem. It doesn't matter what boat you buy; it's down to the sailor.

Magnus: But, even at national championship level?

Hattie: Yes! In 2019 the boat that won was 50 years old that year [the Hyde Sails pairing of Nigel and Jack Grogan - see full results] and in the top five that year were plenty of low number boats, so it really does vary with the sailor more than the boat.

Magnus: So the Nationals can see between 50 and 100 boats, but what about the open meeting circuit?

Hattie: It ranges depending on where you travel to, but 20 to 30 boats on the start line is normal, with lots more people supporting off-the-water too, so there's a really good social side - it can be very lively in the evenings! Regardless of where you've come on the water, people are really open and it's a friendly atmosphere.

Magnus: So we've moved from talking about the boat, to talking about the people now. Is there a dominating demographic?

Hattie: It's really nice that it is a big fleet, with people from different backgrounds. The Squib class has such a range of ages, and you get many skilled sailors - older people racing against youths. Then you get a lot of mixed teams and couples sailing. We know a few families who all come along.

Magnus: So there's a decent female contingent in the crews?

Hattie: Yes, and it's quite a nice boat to sail with your other half. I know some people find that quite difficult, but there's plenty of space in that cockpit if you need it!

Magnus: So if someone is getting interested in trying out a Squib, is that possible?

Hattie: Yes, it's a really, really friendly class, and there are lots of clubs up and down the UK. If you get in touch we can signpost you to the best place to go. People will let you have a go in their boats; when we first bought one we had a go in a friend's to make sure we liked it. See the various Facebook groups (England or Ireland) or the class association website.

Magnus: Actually, isn't one of your slogans, "the friendly class"?

Hattie: It is, and I think they live up to that name. We've been with them two years now; we joined during Covid - which must be one of the hardest times to join a new fleet - but we've definitely felt welcomed. We've been invited to stay in people's houses during events, so there's a lot of help to get you on the water.

Magnus: It's great to hear all this positive news, thank you Hattie.

Next steps:

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