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Brightlingsea One Design fleet continues to expand

by Fiona Brown 3 Apr 2016 17:50 BST 3 April 2016
Brightlingsea One Design C56 Never Say Never - Owner Geoff Gritton at the helm © Fiona Brown /

Now in its 89th year, the Brightlingsea One Design (BOD) Class - a classic 18-foot three-man clinker dayboat which has been sailed continuously at Brightlingsea since its introduction in 1927 - is going from strength to strength and continues to expand.

Easter Friday 25th March saw the launch of the very latest addition to the fleet, C65 Never Say Never. With GRP mouldings by White Formula and woodwork and fit out by Simon Hipkin Boat Builder for owner Geoff Gritton, Never Say Never is without doubt the most innovative BOD built to date and a large crowd gathered to celebrate her naming.

For years Geoff, who is perhaps best known in the sailing world as the owner of Quarter Tonner Panic, had joked with his BOD sailing friends that he wouldn't be caught dead in one. But in 2015 a friend persuaded him to race a BOD seriously for the first time and the scales fell from his eyes! "I'm used to the cut and thrust of Quarter Tonners, which without doubt offer some of the closest keelboat competition you could hope to find, but the BOD fleet has an incredible depth of talent with multiple World, Continental and National Champions and even the odd Olympian racing on a regular basis. To have such incredible racing on my doorstep persuaded me that it was time to join the fun. And after everything I've said about the BODs over the years Never Say Never really was the only choice when it came to the name!"

Attention to detail, outside the box thinking and meticulous planning are Geoff's stock in trade so he knew he wanted much more than just a standard product. Geoff takes up the story;

"Coming from a sports and big boat sailing background I was keen to introduce some of the developments in fit out that I've seen in other classes. My first call was to BOD Measurer David Chivers, as whilst I wanted to take advantage of what I've learnt from other classes, I equally wanted maintain the ethos of the class and the traditional style of the boat.

"Many of the innovations are really just a natural progression in boat equipment and materials. For example, the boat has only three hard shackles - the main halyard as it's locking, the jib tack and centreboard - everything else is soft attach, including all blocks.

"It's been an exciting time, working so closely with Simon Hipkin who has brought my ideas to fruition and fine tuned them to work superbly without detracting from the traditional look of the boat.

"It's also been fascinating working with David and analysing the class rules in more detail. Traditional classes tend to follow a pattern purely on the basis that 'we've always done it like this', but this time, with David's help, each item was assessed against the Class Rules for opportunities to improve and innovate. Some of my ideas had to be modified, but with Simon and David's help we've navigated the mine field and I'm thrilled with the finished product.

Whilst Geoff wanted innovation, he didn't want it at the expense of the traditional look of the boat. Many of the original wooden boats have beautiful varnished transoms and Geoff worked with Simon Hipkin and White Formula to create a system to allow a 4mm plywood "transom" to be inserted into the mould after the gelcoat was applied and before the boat was laminated. The result is a gleaming varnished transom that certainly makes this GRP boat extremely hard to distinguish from her wooden sisters on the water.

Although 18 feet long, the forward end of a BOD cockpit can be quite crowded with two crew needing good coordination to get over the substantial centerboard case and duck under the kicker during manoeuvres. Already familiar with their use on sports boats Geoff opted for an above boom G-Nav instead of the conventional kicker used by the rest of the fleet.

Having freed up cockpit space he now had much more leeway for locating control lines and sheet cleats. Another major issue for BOD crews has been the discomfort of sitting on and hiking out over lots of deck fittings, so Geoff ran jib and spinnaker sheets and the runner control lines through the deck with custom cleats on the edge of the cockpit combings to minimise those tell tale bruises.

The devil is in the detail and many of Geoff's ideas took already proven systems and refined them. From a jib cunningham which leads through the bow fitting and down a watertight tube in the forward buoyancy tank into a cleat at the front of the cockpit allowing adjustment without sending a crew forward, to developing stainless steel centerboard winch components instead of the usual bronze, every item has been honed to perfection.

He solved the occasional problem of the mainsheet, which traditionally runs under the boom above the helm, catching around the helm's neck by simply running it inside the boom until just aft of the turning block to the mainsheet cleat.

One of the most unnerving moments in a BOD can be steering through a crowded weather mark rounding with just the very end of the tiller (which does not protrude far) clamped between your thighs and hoisting the spinnaker at the same time. Having used pump action spinnaker halyards in the past, Geoff installed one on Never Say Never and it has proven very effective.

Perhaps the most radical of all Geoff's ideas was the addition of self bailers in conjunction with a new flooring system in which fore and aft sealed floor compartments combine with narrow drainage channels along the centerline and outboard that force water to a drainage sump in line with the bailers. Previously the large shallow bilge prevented sufficient water depth/pressure for the bailers to operate well.

So with all these innovations does Never Say Never stand out like a sore thumb when compared against the rest of the fleet? Most pleasingly the answer is no, she is as elegant and beautiful as her sisters and whilst Geoff's ideas will undoubtedly make her a joy to sail they do not improve boat speed.

Never Say Never will join a fleet of 26+ active BODs that race at least twice a week from May to October from Brightlingsea Sailing Club and the Colne Yacht Club. Alongside the construction of Never Say Never, half a dozen older BODs have been undergoing signification refit and restoration work during the winter and the fleet is expected to be in fighting form by the time it gets to Pyefleet Week in early August, the highlight of the BOD year where once again it will be one of the largest classes racing.

A detailed review of the new ideas incorporated into Never Say Never can be found at

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