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Simply the Best: 5o5 celebration at Hayling Island

by Dougal Henshall 7 Mar 2023 10:17 PST 4 March 2023
Top of the world! Just a few of the UK's World Champions and their years (l-r) Larry Marks 1969, 1970, Peter White 1973, Ian Pinnell 2008, Bill Masterman 1995, Keith Paul 1962, Tim Hancock 1993, Derek Farrant 1965, 1971, Jeremy Robinson 1995 © Leonie Austin

It is one of those sadder facts for our long established 'senior' classes, that when they were first developed, no one could have envisaged that they would still be at the forefront of our sport a lifetime later.

Those hardy innovators could hardly have foreseen that they were creating a generation of icons, and even if some well meaning (and forward looking) soul had told them that they were onto something special, there simply wasn't the means to easily document it. Just getting pictures way back then would be an issue, with black and white photography dominating, which for most people meant 127 format negatives taken on a 'box brownie' or equivalent. There were of course the wonderful pioneers of marine photography, the Bekens, then the supremely gifted Eileen Ramsay, but even their pictures are few and far between.

Little wonder then that what happened at the birth of a new class, not to mention the all-important 'why', is often shrouded in mystery and doubt, but if the researcher digs deep enough, then there are still people around today who were there. Better still, some might even have had a camera to hand as well, the real difficulty comes in finding them on a day when their heads are clear.

This was the task facing writer Dougal Henshall as he set out to document the last great 'untold' narrative of dinghy development, the story of the 5o5. His project harked back to when he was writing for another sailing magazine and ran the highly successful 'Top Ten UK Dinghy Designs' series, which had the FiveO placed at Number 1. That article was titled 'Simply the Best', and when he made a presentation to the 5o5 Class at the Dinghy Show, the comment was made that this would be a cracking title for a book about the boat. First though the writing for the books on the Contender and Merlin Rocket had to be completed, before in 2016 serious work started on the next project, which from the outset had the working title of Simply the Best. It would have been a much easier and quicker task to write the story from the perspective of the 5o5 in the UK, and there was no shortage of material had this approach been taken. But, set against that, from the very beginning, the 5o5 has been all about international competition, so the writing had to reflect the glory of the boat wherever it was raced, from the heat of South America to the very cold waters of northern Finland.

However, if there has been one consistent feature in the story of the FiveO it has been that 'Home has to be Hayling'.

Early in 1953, John Westell was working up his Coronet dinghy (which would soon morph into the 5o5) on the waters just in front of the clubhouse at Hayling, and from then on the class has maintained a close link with the sailing club. It was only right then that when the long awaited 5o5 book was finally ready to be launched, the only possible venue would be the stunning clubhouse at HISC. It helped that so many of the Hayling top team have enjoyed a long and successful life afloat as 5o5 sailors, which showed as the club pulled out all of the stops to make the book launch go with a 'bang'. As well as top sailors of today, the invite was extended to the great and good from across seven decades of competition through the medium of the increasingly popular 'OFB' (The Old F*rts Bash) who continue to prove that once a FiveO sailor, you're always a FiveO sailor.

First though there would be drinks in the bar to allow plenty of time for guests to arrive from across the UK and loosen up, then it was through to Hayling's dining room with its panoramic views out over the Harbour and the fearsome 'Hayling bar' that guards the harbour.

By now the room was full, with every seat taken, whilst another non-eating crowd gathered in the bar. Once the excellent meal was over, the two groups came back together in the bar, and the noise level grew to the point that World Championship winning 5o5 crew Tim Hancock had to shout to bring the room to order.

On behalf of Hayling he welcomed all and sundry to the gathering, before handing over to Vernon Ralston, one of the prime movers of the OFB brigade. It is rare for Vernon to speak without him attracting a loud barrage of heckling, but he has long experience of the FiveO scene and carried on (and on) before finally handing over to the author for the main event of the day!

After a brief run through the history of the links between Hayling Island and the 5o5 Class, old timer 5o5 helm Mike Hattemore was called forward to receive the first copy. As the lead proof-reader, Mike had already waded through the manuscript five times, which is some going as there's close to a quarter of a million words on the 400+ pages. Well, if Mike does read his copy then he will be heading for the one and a half million count, one would think that he must be word perfect by now. Next up was Belinda Cook and Leonie Austin, who accepted a copy on behalf of Hayling Island Sailing Club, as this will go into their growing archive.

For the author however, before the boxes of books were finally opened and ready to be passed out, there was one more task to be completed. The gathering all raised their glasses and not once but twice! First to be so honoured was the World Championship winning crew 'H', the irrepressible Harold Barnes, who was taken from us at a far too young an age. There was an even bigger roar of approval with the second 'shout', which was made for the memory of one of the great Hayling favourites and long standing 5o5 crew, Bev Moss. This was the high spot as things went rapidly downhill from there, with a number of high profile, top flight sailors all sat at the bar counting the pages before they got a mention... well, with 400 pages to go, at least the book will keep them quiet for a while!

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