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40 Years On: The Story of the Challenger

by Richard Johnson 22 Dec 2019 15:07 GMT
The Challenger Prototype in 1980 © Challenger class

It all started in the late 1970s when a disabled but adventurous lady worked with a brilliant yacht designer to produce a fast, exciting single-person dinghy that a severely disabled person could sail.

In July 1980 Cheesman-Rollo Ltd. delivered the first Challenger, at a cost of £750, to Oxford Sailing Club and Diana Campbell's goal became a reality.

Douglas Hurndall ran the Seamanship Foundation and saw the Challenger's potential to change lives. It was his firm intention to put a Challenger into every sailing club in the UK, a feat that he pursued with great energy and much success. His daughter was married to a sail maker and so the relationship with Mouse sails began, that would last until 2019.

In the mid 1980s manufacture was briefly taken over by Dobsons of Shardlow, who built river and canal boats and dabbled in mainly wooden dinghies but the next big change came in 1990 when the Challenger was re-engineered by Reg White at Brightlingsea, with redesign and strengthening of the rolled hull-to-deck join, crossbeams bolted to the hulls instead of being held by U-bolts and various other improvements. The first Mk2 was number 111 Pegasus, named and sponsored by Readers Digest. It was delivered in 1992 and sailed by one of their employees at Tonbridge Town Sailing Club.

In 1993 production switched to Anglo Marine, in Clacton and the first boat was probably 144, Telethon Challenge for Clyde Cruising Club, who were very active Challenger users, thanks to the legendary Ian Taggart, who had many friends in high places to provide funds and find sailors.

Anglo Marine made several improvements to the boat including; the lengthened cockpit Mk2a, sliding seats, front cockpits and a number of rig changes, such as the AeroRig and the fully stayed rig Mk3 with mainsail and jib. None of these variants were successful and production reverted to the Una rig until Neville Towler retired and sold Anglo Marine, ceasing the production of boats in 2002.

After a short, troubled period with Care Paravel, who made very heavy Challengers, the manufacture passed to White Formula in 2005 where it remains, with innovations such as control pad wings, the high performance rudder and hulls that actually meet the 140 kilo minimum weight target. There may soon be a new mast with carbon top made in-house, as carbon moulding is a White Formula speciality.

To celebrate the 40th Anniversary, a Committee chaired by David Newton has been formed. Alex Hovden and Marion Edwards will post news on Facebook while Val Millward and Annie Molyneux plan to organise close contact with groups, including talks etc. to build enthusiasm and participation in the Great Birthday Celebration, which should focus on the Ruby Regatta at Oxford, where a lot more than racing is planned. Oh... and the picture is of the wooden prototype testing at Datchet in 1979!

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