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Racing Royalty: 74-year-old classic races at the 2022 Dragon World Championship

by North Sails 18 Jul 14:00 BST
Bluebottle © Tom Körber

"Take the measurement certificate, for example, it says the owner, and it's... well, Her Majesty the Queen. So, when you go to the regatta office to register [your entry] and they're looking at it... they're taking photographs and they can't believe it."

The speaker was Graham Bailey, and we were talking about Bluebottle, the 74-year old classic that he had just helped Ruairidh (Rory) Scott - a leading designer with North One Design - sail to a fifth place at the 2022 Dragon Worlds in Germany.

Bluebottle was a wedding gift from the Island Sailing Club to the-then Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip in 1948. She was raced by the Royal couple, and others - winning bronze at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne in the hands of Graham Mann - before being retired from racing in 1961.

Bluebottle spent the next forty years at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. "I'm told that no cadet dare use her for fear of pranging her," said Bailey. "So, she was sort of a precious, unusable item... until she was taken in by the National Maritime Museum in Cornwall."

It was Bob Downie, the far-sighted CEO of The Royal Yacht Britannia Trust that rescued her and brought her back to the racetrack. Downie was already responsible for the remarkable second life of the Royal Yacht Britannia, now a superb tourist attraction in Edinburgh, and home to two other royal yachts, the ocean racer Bloodhound, and the Flying Fifteen, Coweslip.

Downie was given custodianship of Bluebottle, and this is where Bailey - a long-time Dragon devotee - came into the picture. "He [Downie] was seeking guidance on who best to restore her," said Bailey. It was David Heritage Racing Yachts of Cowes that got the job. The question was, how complete a restoration should be undertaken?

"They kept on referring to the Duke," explained Bailey, "and he kept on saying, 'Well, yes, if we're going to restore her, we might as well restore her properly, not just to be on display again in another museum... Let's put her into sailing condition.'" And then sailing condition became racing condition, and slowly the plan was hatched to get Bluebottle back on the water where she belonged. At the front of the world's Dragon fleets.

Sadly, the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh in April 2021 meant that he never got to see his beautifully restored Dragon, but the loss of the Duke didn't change the plan. Bailey and his wife Julia were asked by the Palace to race her - to take the Duke of Edinburgh's boat to the Edinburgh Cup in Edinburgh. "She was last raced in 1961, it was a full 60 years until she crossed a start line [again]," explained Bailey, after they came third at the event last summer.

It was such a success that the team decided to go to the Worlds. "Rory kindly agreed to come with us... he's about the hottest property in Dragon racing at the moment," said Bailey. "He's just won the Europeans and has had stunning successes whatever he's done."

"We'd never sailed together as a team or at all, or on that boat... and no one had a clue how we would go," explained Scott. "We opened with a 22nd or something like that, and then from that point on, all our results were top ten."

"I can't understate Rory's contribution to getting her rolling," said Bailey. "The first couple of races, we weren't really able to hold a lane... but we fiddled about for a couple of days, and then all of a sudden, we started hitting some sweet spots."

"We put all our standard sails on it," said Scott. "We have a light, a medium, and a heavy genoa, our latest R5 Spinnaker, and they already had a mainsail, which was the A7. We offer two designs, a deeper one (A7) and a flatter one (A14). And this was the deeper one, which suited that boat very well because the mast was pretty soft.

"We managed to get in a position where we were one of five boats going into the last race that was capable of winning. And as it was, it didn't go our way," added Scott. They got a black flag in the final race. "At least we were pushing to do our best," he concluded. "It was a pretty cool experience, to be asked and to be involved." Finishing fifth, Bluebottle's result - at the grand old age of 74 - was the icing on the cake, with North Sails powering the top three overall.

There is little doubt that Bluebottle is a very special Dragon. "We were packing the boat up and an elderly gentleman turns up on his bike. He's cycled from the next village because he'd been reading in the newspapers about Bluebottle and he wanted to see her himself," recalled Bailey. "She's got her own charisma."

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