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Major Tony Hibbert MBE MC (1917 - 2014‏)

by John Claridge on 7 Nov 2014 7 November 2014
Moth sailing on the Salterns © Archive

His great impact on the sailing world

I'm not someone who can get to grips with the notion that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon jungle can affect our weather. However I do believe that what a person does in their lifetime can send ripples of consequences all over the world.

One such person was Major Tony Hibbert, I'll leave aside his wartime exploits and the rescue for the nation of the historic Trebah Gardens, as much as been written about these already. Instead I would like to concentrate on what he has done for sailing today.

In the late 50's he had on his land an 8 acre salt pan, which he had dredged out to a depth of 3 feet to provide a safe place to learn to sail, and with the help of a few local parents set up the Salterns Sailing Club, a club for children run by children all under 16.

Over the years thousands of young people have learnt to sail here, developing a respect and love for the sea which has stayed with them all their lives. Many applied their experience in running the club to good effect, in running of other clubs and in their chosen careers. The Salterns has been a starting point and inspiration for many national and international champions in a myriad of classes.

Whilst this has undoubtedly influenced the sailing world, perhaps more important was his recognition that the U.K.'s so-called International Moth, named to differentiate it from the trusty British Moth, was certainly not international. He identified other similar classes in Europe, Australia and America all of which had the same length but very different rules and regs.

Major Hibbert then set about, what would be called today, intensive shuttle diplomacy, and with his charm and enthusiasm persuaded them to join together with a set of rules; basically maximum length, beam, and sail area, that all could comply with.

Whilst others like the Merlin and Rocket have successfully combined, none have done so on the same scale.

With Major Hibbert's continued communication and organisational skills the class quickly gained official international recognition, and his enthusiasm and support for sailors and builders ensured rapid growth all over the world.

With no minimum weight and very few rules, it immediately formed a conduit for professional and amateur designers to try out their ideas, making its appearance at the dinghy exhibitions a must see for everyone interested in sailing. There was many heroic failures but the moth has always led the way in hull and rig design, strongly influencing other development classes and indeed the new production boats today.

I could list a whole range of firsts for the moths but obviously the introduction of wings to give narrow hulls more righting moment, and of course foils used initially to give fore and aft stability and later to totally foil, are perhaps the most significant.

So to sum up, without Major Hibbert and his inspiration and foresight, thousands of people would not have experienced the joy of being at one with the sea, the International Moth would not exist and the world of sailing would look vastly different today. Indeed I don't think we would have had the excitement of watching foiling America's Cup boats in the last series.

A truly amazing man.

P.S. The honours board are due credit for awarding Tony with an MBE in 2006 for his services to sailing and tourism, at least they got that one right.

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