National 12 - find out more...


There is an illustrious tradition of National 12 sailors trying their hand in International 14s, going back to the days when there were only National 12s and International l4s. A few have mastered both classes: Bruce Banks, Robin Stevenson, Will Henderson. Not all enjoy this success.

There was a time when there were passing similarities between the two. Admittedly 14s were undecked, overcanvassed and had spinnakers and 12s were undercanvassed and clinker built. But they were both sweetly round bilged, of sensible beam and you sat them out. Times changed: 12s became wider and wider and, after brief experimentation, banned dagger boards; 14s became wilder and wilder - two trapezes and almost five times the sail area of a 12.

Most 12 sailors know better than to mix with such beasts and most have the sense to stick with venues they know and the familiar tedium of the M1 and the A12. But the allure of an inaugural European championship on Lake Garda seduced a few this spring. Strange behaviour was observed: 'two 12 helms with a hull that remained even more obstinately upside down than Mike Jackson's Gryphon at the last Llandudno championship; a class committee member spotted going the wrong way down the M3 on the morning before a committee meeting.

They should have known better. Lake Garda is no place for amateurs. At around noon, after a quiet morning (this is a vital ingredient for 14 sailors who, unlike 12 sailors, spend at least half the time "bimbling" with their boats), the Garda Doctor fills in at a steady (vicious ) force five, funnelling between cliffs a couple of thousand feet high. The professionals were clocked at 23 knots but even they had all fallen in n at least once by the beginning of the second race. The amateurs (regular Nationa112 sailors) fell in rather more often and complained of gear failure and planned radical modifications for their boats - the results showed them 52nd and .56th in a 63 boat fleet. However, the semi-professionals (14 sailors first and foremost but known to sail 12s as well did rather better - Mike Moss came home 5th and Roger Yeoman managed 12th despite several months away from sailing.

On the other hand, we did discover that sailing in interesting places has some appeal. The hotels can be massively better than the best at our seaside resorts - better value and warmly welcoming to sailors; the food beats anything that Tynemouth or Harwich can offer; and the water is likely to be warm (and in Lake Garda it was also salt-free). Even the rigours of transport are not too severe (although the cost of ferries and tolls can't be ignored); fourteen hours driving on autoroutes, autobahns and autostradas beats a few stuck on the M25 at the Dartford tunnel any day. (However, service areas are a bit thinly spread - your correspondent would still be stuck at the side of the road 10 kilometres short of Calais had Ronnie Millar not appeared at the right moment with a jerry can).

Back in the seventies, the National 12s -and the International 14s organised a joint regatta somewhere like Santander or La Rochelle or was it both? After Garda 90 the 14s are already thinking about their next European holiday (the class hierarchy regard it as building the class in Europe- but the rank and file see it simply as finding good places to sail). Why don't we try it again too?

Tom Heyhoe  

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