The design for the Flying Fifteen was conceived in the bathtub of Uffa Fox, an eccentric but brilliant yacht designer and builder who was born in 1898 and died in 1972.
Uffa (named after the Great Mercian King of East Anglia) described his bath time vision of a beautiful keel boat marching in triumph before a brisk “Nor Wester”? Whilst sitting in the bath, he quickly sketched the design on the back of a magazine which was close at hand.
Initially the yacht was known as the Dainty Duck design and the first prototype built in 1947 was named after his current girlfriend ‘My Dainty Duck’. Uffa was dissatisfied with the name of the design and the outline of a duck on the sail. One evening at home he was joined by two very happy friends for a joyful celebration. These two friends played a most enthusiastic piano duet which became more and more exciting and finished with a tremendous burst of powerful music. Uffa leapt to his feet and cried ‘fortissimo’ and so was conceived in a flash, the symbol ff which he enclosed in a Crescendo V. He went on to design many other flying yachts such as flying 10’s, flying 12’s, 20’s right up to flying 50’s, but Uffa is best remembered for his Flying Fifteen, which is numerically amongst the largest keel boat classes in the world.
The Editor of Seacraft magazine who Uffa nicknamed “Australian” sailed in the prototype Dainty Duck or Flying Fifteen, it gives an insight into Uffa and the wonderful boat he designed Read it Now!
There are many more interesting articles on Uffa Fox, who was one of yachting’s real characters. There is a web page where you can read up on this wonderful yachtie.
Another Yarn from Uffa Fox written in 1963
THE GOLDEN RULE of yachting is that the boat we should sail in has a length of 1ft. for every year of our life. When we are ten years of age a 10ft. dinghy is ideal – it is within our strength and ability. When we are seventy, we need a vessel 70ft. in length, so that we can have not only a captain to run it but also a steward to look after our bodily needs.
But the Flying Fifteen is another kettle of fish altogether, for at sixty seven years of age I still enjoy sailing her, as being easily driven, she needs only a small sail area to drive her at exciting speeds.
Her design came to me as swift as light when I was enjoying my bath in those magic moments of anticipation between a day’s work and the joy of the evening ahead with friends, for in the bathroom we enjoy our own private thoughts; thoroughly relaxed in the warmth and buoyancy of the bath itself.
All over the world, present-day centre-board design is based on the lines and practice I developed in the International 14 ft. class some forty years ago.
If you open any yachting book published before 1928 you will never see a reference to planing and planing speeds in sailing boats. It took me several years to develop lines that would sail to windward well and also hydroplane over, rather than through the water, at double the boats normal speed off the wind, directly the wind was brave enough, whereas today on almost every page dealing with small boat sailing there are either photographs or talk of planing. All of this, together with kicking straps and the various improvements in rig conceived in 1923 and born in 1928 with the International 14 footer Avenger with which I won Fifty two firsts, two seconds and three thirds in fifty seven starts in one season. As I was a cruising and not a racing man this record illustrates the great step forward in design with Avenger, for, being the only planing boat at that time, she was invincible directly there was a wind of twelve miles an hour or more.
After this, for many years, I had at the back of my mind the idea to make the heavier keel boat plane. In order to do this she had to be a light boat, good in a sea way and with a low and moderate rig, for she would only excel in strong weather when a tall rig would overpower and undo her.
It was only natural that I should step out with the International 14 footer in my mind when I walked towards this keel-boat design. So the Flying Fifteen has the same height, size and weight mast and the same mainsail and jib as the International 14 footer, the only exception in the rig being that the jib is 18 in. higher on the mast and is spread 18in. forward from the mast, having less overlap but breathing more air.
The lines of the hull show that she is 15 ft. long on the waterline and 20 ft. overall with 5 ft. beam so she is six ft. longer than the International 14 footer overall with approximately the same beam.
In the old days the International 14 footers had drop keels weighing 100 to 140 lb. Nowadays, when every effort is made to plane at the earliest moment, the drop keels are made of wood, which, of course, tends to float instead of sink so they have gained in speed but lost stability.
The Flying Fifteen, on the other hand, has a shark like fin-keel that weighs 400lb. This makes the boat steady and easy to sail, for with her six foot of extra length and the 400 lb. Weight in the fin keel and only an International 14 footer mast and sails, she is easy and safe although swift and exciting.
Now seventeen years after I designed the class, when I am sixty seven and should be sailing a 67 ft. boat, I am still happy and contented in a Flying Fifteen because, although as fast as an International Dragon and most often faster than an International Star, she is great fun to sail for an afternoon race lasting about two hours.
Younger chaps have sailed Flying Fifteens up and down the English Channel, also across to Cherbourg from the Isle of Wight and back, but I am quite contented with an exciting afternoon race on the Clyde, in Ireland or the Solent.
The hull only weighs 275 lb., the fin-keel 400 lb. and the mast 27 lb. The complete boat, with all sails and gear, weighs 750 lb.; she is therefore easily trailerable.
In earlier years I took the fin-keel off Flying Fifteens and put this in the back of the car. Then I lashed the hull, mast and boom to a superstructure over my Humber Super Snipe and travelled to Scotland, Ireland and so on at any speed I wished, for there was then a speed limit of 30 m.p.h. with a trailer. But now that this has been raised to 40 m.p.h. I have a much better combination. A Terry-designed and sprung trailer not only takes the Flying Fifteen but also the Fairey Dinghy behind my 3-litre Rover car. Its automatic change ensures that the driver never overloads the car, and 40 m.p.h. means we can get from England to Scotland in reasonable time
Whereas keel-boats are confined to sailing in their own area, the Flying Fifteen, because of its portability, can enjoy sailing anywhere, such as Pitsford reservoir in the middle of England as well as anywhere on the coast, for the Flying Fifteen is equally at home on the open sea or on inland waters. It can be taken anywhere a car will go and owners have enjoyed as many as six different sailing centres in a season.
The Flying Fifteen is faster than the International Star when there is no wind at all and you can see your face mirrored in the water. When it blows 3 to 10 m.p.h. the International Star is a little faster, due to the fact the Star’s sail area is double that of the Flying Fifteen. In winds of 10 m.p.h. there is no difference in their speed round the course, but in all winds above 12 m.p.h. the Flying Fifteen is faster as both have a crew of only two but now the long mast on the Star and her enormous sail areas overpower her and in 19m.p.h. wind the Flying Fifteen beats the Star by three minutes a mile dead to windward.
The Portsmouth Harbour Sailing Association invented a yard-stick that would measure all boat speeds and enable handicappers all over Britain to give any class boat a fair handicap without ever having seen it sailed before. The Flying Fifteen is on exactly the same mark of the yard-stick as the International Dragon. As the Flying Fifteen costs a quarter the price of a Dragon or International Star, it can be seen that it is the boat that gives the greatest fun for the least money.
A sail I shall never forget was the Royal Southern Yacht Club race from Hamble to Yarmouth then back to Hamble the following day. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Coweslip was entered, but due to pressure of work he could not be with her, so his former secretary, Commander Michael Parker, R.N., steered her with the Dukes equerry, Squadron Leader Michael Horsfield, R.A.F., and myself as crew.
It was blowing hard at the start, and when we reached the broken water in the Solent we had to reef. After passing Cowes there was a steep sea for such a little boat with the south west wind directly against the tide. We could not sail her for long in the full strength of the tide, because of the seas we shipped at the speed we were going, and so we continually tacked into the lee of the island shore and out again into as much tide as we could stand, then back again into the shelter of the island.
The first time we called on our squadron leader equerry to bale out, as we had shipped a lot of water, he attempted to jump overboard, giving the R.A.F. interpretation to the order. After we had explained he became quite good at bailing.
We arrived at Yarmouth about half-way down the fleet, and then went ashore for a most enjoyable dinner. The following morning there was still a strong wind and in amongst it a great thunderstorm curving round in a half-circle over Yarmouth. In the race there were great schooners, cutters and yawls, and as it was a running start they were all busily occupied getting their spinnakers ready.
I said to Mike “We will not set our spinnaker as this thunderstorm will shift the wind 90°. We must run with it as we can until the weather has settled down. If we set the spinnaker we shall be in trouble.”
At the five minute gun the great cruisers were running to the line with their spinnakers up, and still the thunderstorm had not struck. But between the five minute gun and the starting gun came torrential rain, hail stones and the roaring of the wind as the thundercloud with all its fury burst upon us. The great ships rolled and lay over on their beam ends; some gybed and wrapped spinnakers round their forestay and rigging and almost the whole fleet was in trouble.
Meanwhile Coweslip, even without a spinnaker, was only just controllable, for she was planing along at a terrific speed with the white water flying up on each side. We were sailing like a horse in blinkers, as we only had a narrow view straight ahead between the high spray flying up on both sides.
As it was ebb tide we kept on the gybe which took us nearest to the island shore where the tide ran against us least, then with the wind shifting we had to gybe, a frightening thing in this weight of wind, otherwise we should have been ashore, then after a while with the wind still shifting, we had to gybe once again.
We were grateful that we were in such a small boat with only 100 sq. ft. of sail in the mainsail as this enables us to twist and turn to suit the shifting wind and still keep close to the land in smooth water out of the foul tide.
Meantime the rest of the fleet with their great sails were battling and struggling out in the full strength of the adverse tide and hardly moving ahead.
By the time we were at Salt Mead Ledge Buoy, half-way up the Solent we had a lead of three miles from the rest of the fleet. Though the wind now settled down and was steady enough for the fleet to set its light sails and kites and travel fast, we also set our spinnaker and continued planning up the Solent at an exciting and exhilarating speed with white water flying out each side. Although some of the larger yachts closed the gap we arrived in the Hamble river first with a lead of over two miles from the second boat, and so won on the two days’ race easily from the whole of the fleet.
This race illustrates why at the age of sixty-seven I can still sail the 15 ft. waterline and 20 ft. overall Flying Fifteen, for she has the stability of a keel yacht and the small sails of a 14 ft. dinghy – a combination that makes for easy and safe sailing.
Webmaster comment – The International 14 in 1963 was a much more subdued version of current I14’s