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Seven reasons for keeping the sail area as it is

by By Robin Steavenson

In the last Newsletter the Editor asks if anyone cares to disagree with Brian Miatt’s seven reasons for more sails area. While appreciating that Brian has genuinely put forward these suggestions in the best interests of the class I hate to feel obstructive — but nevertheless, with equally genuine interest in the class I do, and I am sure Brian will accept my point of view just as I do his. My seven reasons for leaving well alone are as follows:

1. The image of the National 12 is one of a little boat suitable for ‘husband and wife’ and ‘boy and girl friend’ sailing, where advanced techniques and physical strength are not demanded of the crew, though finesse and general expertise are obviously necessary.

2. It is inevitable that in recent years there has been a slowing up in the expansion of the class as there are now several other classes from which a newcomer can make a choice. Frequently one of these new classes is an excellent choice for someone who was previously a misfit in the Twelves (e.g. the Cherub is a better choice for fit young men who want tough, complicated sailing, in a 12 foot boat). The fall in new boat registrations is partially due to the above but also to the fact that the various modem National hulls are so similar in performance that there is not a call to be constantly buying the latest. Nowadays most of us keep our boat for five or more years.

3. Always young people will leave the class and explore other classes (they do this with their jobs, too!). It is not at all a bad thing since most leave with happy memories of the Twelves and some later return the better for their experiences. No one will ever stop this con­tinual wish to try different classes.

4. The present boats have the right sail area for average use by average sized people. More sail may make everyone go a fraction faster but will not necessarily improve the racing. Extra sail area must increase the heeling moment and will introduce expense or complication in either reefing gear or trapezes and may well lead to everyone in the next year or so having to change their hulls for even wider and flatter boats. This may or may not be good for design but it will certainly cause a number of present owners, who want to preserve the simple little boat image, to consider leaving the class and it is doubtful if it will attract more recruits than come into the class at present. The performance will not be out­standing when compared to other boats in the same price/sail/area range.

5. If it is logical to break a fundamental rule and increase the sail area by as much as 30% it is equally logical to extend the length of the hull which will make the boat faster still. It seems absurd to put about 125 square feet of sail on our present waterline length and to do so can only alter the character of the class and make us into clinker Cherubs. We don’t have to use our imagination much to realise that as soon as we lose our small boat image we shall become almost Merlin Rockets or Larks — both excellent classes but not Nationals and not appealing to the bulk of present National owners.

6. If sails are larger they must cost a little more. The change over cannot be gradual, as it was with weight, so that on a given date everyone will need new sails. Their old sails will have little market value. The experiences of 1955-58 should not be forgotten. On the introduction of Terylene people became sail conscious so that every year sails became larger until restrictions to limit the areas were introduced. Certainly at this time the larger sail area improved our overweight boats but it led to an armament race in sails and radical changes in hull designs which was for the good, as our hulls at this period were unstable and cramped. Now, after ten years experience with our present sail area, the hulls have been developed to such extremes that they are comfortable, and by and large, over a season, there is little to choose between any modem design — we are all having excellent sailing without constantly having to dig into our pockets to have the latest shapes. The introduction of increased sail area would immediately upset this balance. If you don’t believe me, try an
Enterprise mainsail on your National (usually you can just get it on), and you will see what I mean!

7. The call for increased area comes mainly from those sailing on tree-lined rivers churned up by motorboats. What is really needed here is a higher sail plan and a larger hull, and I think that to be honest with ourselves we have to admit that there are some places where sailing in anything is ‘hell’ and sailing in a National with any degree of pleasure is just impossible. I know we want to do everything to help the class and those unfortunate enough to have these conditions, but I think neverthe­less, we must be realistic and accept that while most rivers are excellent for National sailing, some are not, and it is wrong to change the character of the class just for these few places. On the sea and lakes most of us have just the right sail area to give us good performance and yet not so much as to force our small crews ashore in fresh winds.

As for Brian’s reference to spinnakers I can only say that even in 14 foot tubs these cause more family rows than anything else in sailing and I hesitate to risk such disharmony in our happy 12 foot class, not to mention that their introduction would again increase the expense of the boat by anything from £10 to £20. Spinnakers are alright with know­ledgeable experienced crews who are prepared to dedicate themselves to crewing but I am dubious of most 12-foot crews showing enthusiasm for this extra complication even though many other classes have them. However, I would rather experiment along these lines than interfere with the existing sail plan and it might not be a bad idea if a few of us borrowed some spinnakers from other classes and tried them on our boats — but, as someone who sails in another class with a large spinnaker I can only say that hanging on to the tiller and feeling helpless as the crew plunges forward to untangle a fouled spinnaker in a fresh wind with the boat riding over white-topped waves, feels one of the quickest ways of getting a coronary thrombosis that I have met, and one usually says goodbye for ever to one’s crew after the race! I am sure most Twelve-foot owners would be happy to leave things as they are.

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