Mirror History

Flotilla editor, April 1990

Like a lot of brilliant ideas, the Mirror Dinghy “just growed”. The first seed was planted, in the late 1950s, by a small boy in the United Kingdom. He complained to his dad that when the family dinghy was being used he never had a chance to sail because the big kids always muscled in. The lad’s father, handyman Barry Bucknell, set about building another dinghy to increase the family fleet and, at the same time to train up another helm. Always ready to exploit ways of doing things more efficiently, Bucknell used a system of construction that had become popular for canoes: stitch and stick with copper wire and glass fibre strips. This overcame the problems inherent in the traditional methods of boat building: planked lapstrake or smooth carvel construction techniques, both of which were beyond the average do-it-yourselfer. Also he incorporated a blunt or ‘pram’ bow (not very elegant but a mighty sight easier to make than the traditional sharp cut-water or stem). Such hulls look a bit box-like but, if it works, what the hell?

The finished craft was seen by a friend on the staff of the Daily Mirror (like the Toronto Sun but older) . At that time, the newspaper’s publicity department was looking for bright ideas to keep the paper’s name in front of the public. A little gadget like a sail-boat would seem to do the trick since the News Chronicle had been successful in sponsoring the Enterprise and the Sunday Times had created the SigneT. The Mirror Group, from tabloids to glossy magazines, from sailors to land-lubbers, writers to publicity to marketing, were all roped in to launch, in the promotional sense of the word, this simple-to-build, simple-to-move and simple-to-sail pram dinghy.

Even the famous yacht designer Jack Holt was asked to get involved too, because the directors of the Mirror Group wanted to be absolutely sure that this little boat not only worked but was also very safe. In fact it’s unlikely that any craft before or since (except the Americas Cup contenders), has had lavished on it such expertise of brain and brawn. Two of the most well-known ideas were implemented by the land-locked art department: the famous red sails and the jaunty logo.

With all this interest from press and sailing community, Bucknell found himself spending a lot time in his workshop, turning out more prototypes, always bearing in mind that the end-product was to be build-it-yourself kits. His main concern was not only with the appearance and handling qualities of the finished craft and the ease with which it could be constructed by the average handyman, but how it could be stowed and transported, preferably on a car roof. The then popular gaff-rig was made more efficient by converting it to gunter: the spar, when hoisted gave a much higher peak on the necessarily short mast thus making the rig Bermudian.

At the London Boat Show in 1963, the first three Mirror Dinghies were displayed. The public’s reaction varied, yet there was enough enthusiasm to kick-start the kit manufacture. Within a few months there were enough owners in Britain to form an Association and to hold the first National Championships. That year also saw the introduction of the first Mirror into Canada and it was registered as M460. The highest number now listed in this country is 68098. World wide, the numbers are over 69000. These sail numbers, though not precise as to the real numbers of active dinghies, give a resounding report on their popularity. The Ontario and Québec Associations were formed in 1970 and a year later the first National Championships were held at Lake of Two Mountains, coinciding with the organization of the National Association. The following two years saw local fleets starting up in places as far apart as B.C. and the Maritimes, thus making the class truly national.

It’s ironic that our club’s Mirrors are now no longer a designated fleet for the Outer Harbour Centreboard Club came into existence largely because of them and their public-spirited owners. In the early 1970s, the local fleet was organizing Thursday evenings races with the skippers trailing or car-topping their dinghies down to Cherry Beach. The race committees set buoys and superintended activities with Mirrors powered by paddles or teeny-weeny oars. At that time the stretch of protected water we know so well was, in fact, a Mirror lake. So great was the enthusiasm of those skippers that pressure was exerted to establish a real club site. Several Mirror owners (some of whom are still members of OHCC) together with sailors of other classes, and with encouragement from the Toronto Harbour Commission, hustled around and formed the Federation of which our club now has the largest membership.

More: Mirror on Wikipedia