International Fourteen History
Stewart Martin August 1990
To tell the story of the I 14 is to recall the early history of small boat racing in this country. Today there is a wide choice of well known dinghy classes and examples of each can be found in most sailing centres. Seventy years aago the situation was quite different. Arguments raged oover the merits of a variety of designs versus restricted classes. From these discussions, the Fourteens were to gain one of their greatest assets: a set of liberal rules that allowed progressive development and encouraged experiment. The I 14 is one of the few classes that allow different countries to design and build craft to their own ideas, and yet still compete on equal terms with other nations; the modern Fourteen draws its inspiration from many parts of the world.
The beginning of racing in open centreboard craft are not clear but it is certain that racing in 14 foot dinghies was taking place in many parts of the world by the turn of the century. Prior to this, there are records of small boat racing in the U.K. It was largely confined to yacht tenders, centreboard Navy whalers and other open boats, sometimes with lug sails of up to 330 square feet. Their size was around 18 feet overall and they carried inside ballast as well as steel centred. There was no buoyancy. This probably explains the open boat theme of the International Fourteen, for in those days the ability to sail such an open craft well was a true measure of seamanship: the penalty for the skipper who failed was dramatic – he sank!
The originator of the Fourteen in Canada is believed to be a Mr. I. Wilton Morse. In 1897 he designed and built a 12-foot dinghy, and then a 14-foot version which proved very popular. The Lake Sailing Skiff Association (L.S.S.A.) soon adopted it as an official class and drew up class rules. A number of people then designed and built boats to these rules: George Akroyd, Bing Benson and George Corneil, The LSSA Fourteens were raced most enthusiastically in Toronto and Hamilton and proved very seaworthy little boats.
Most important Canadian dinghy trophies date from the turn of the century and the first recorded international competition between 14 foot dinghies took place on Lake Ontario in 1914. This was for the Douglas Cup which Canada won and held until 1921 when the Americans built, challenged and won with Gloriette. She was cat-rigged but with a Bermudian rather than a gaff main. This sail proved markedly superior and started a gradual swing, as in the UK, away from gaff sails.
In October 1928 the British applied to the IYRU for international status with their version of the I 14, This was approved and the rules of the class remained basically unchanged until the 1970s. Their soundness was demonstrated by the wonderful boats that were produced: they were pleasant on the eye and able to perform well, both in sheltered inland conditions and in fresh weather on the open sea.
By 1928, over 170 LSSA Fourteens were recorded in the Toronto-Hamilton area and they fitted the International Fourteen rules except for decks and lightness. It was relatively easy to adapt to the new rule changes. But it was not until 1959 under the urging from the Canadian Dinghy Association that Canadian Fourteens fully matched international regulations. The LSSA continues with its own rules and in 1963 boats were still being built and raced under them. The late 1940s saw the advent of moulded hulls and the first Fourteen “One Design” was built by that method. Uffa Fox, a British designer, heavily influenced the plans and he produces a very successful model called Alarm. Some of the US owners were unhappy with the quality of existing American-built Fourteens and they had a mould built to Alarm’s lines. A hundred and fifty hulls were made from this mould. Based on this seccess, the original mould was sold to another builder and eight hundred more Alarm hulls were built but rigged with the popular American Snipe sail plan and sold as the Jet 14. Thus the alarm lines of the 1940s musy be the most common hull af any Fourteen.
Shortly after the first One Designs were built, international competitive pressure started to break down the one-design concept of American boats as owners modified their craft to keep pace with the Canadian and British models. While it was an excellent idea at the time, the one-design concept demonstrated another problem that is still with us today. This is the need of a development class to reduce the speed of change thus enabling professional builders to have reasonably sized production runs to allow them to recover their set-up costs. The result is that this sometimes tends to turn the class temporarily into a One-Design.
By 1963 the tendency was for more and more boats to be made of glass fibre and the two most popular Canadian builders were Kirby and Buller. Boats themselves were becoming simpler in layout; Proctor masts and centre mainsheets were commonly used; centreboards were becoming wider with blunt leading edges, and flat jibs and full mains were the order of the day. 1964-1970 marked the years if international discussions with the forming of a World Association to handle any disputed points. There was a good deal of argument from the Canadians on simplifying the rules to help glass fibre production of hulls, whereas the British were tending to resist change by being concerned with loopholes in any new regulations. Yet by 1975 and new, simplified set of rules was in place.
1980-1989 were the years of change. A twin trapeze was added in 1984 in response to the extra sail area that was allowed ten years previously. In 1982 the total weight was cut to 215 lbs and in 1983 it was further reduced to 200 lbs. Asymmetrical spinnakers and fully battened mainsails were approved in 1988 thus leading to the current design of the I 14. September 1989 marked the first time in Fourteen history that similar Australian dinghies raced on the same waters as the I 14s. The lessons learned in both hemispheres are sparking another round of moderately paced changes. In spite of intense competition from other dinghy classes, the I 14 continues to fill a need for those of an inventive frame of mind, and for those who ask for top flight competition, free from the high-powered dramatics of the Olympic circus and the strict controls of purely one-design classes. No other restricted class in the world has withstood so well the test of time and critisism as have the Fourteens. The soundness of their rules is proven: scope for re-design and improvement is ever present. This room for experiment makes possible the acquisition of knowledge which is useful to all who sail and build boats, whether for one-design or development.
More: I-14 on Wikipedia