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Scorpion Foundation gives new life to hull from the 1980s and encourages younger racers to join

by Nick Lightbody 22 Apr 19:07 BST
2022 Scorpion Nationals at Looe © Lee Whitehead /

Scorpion 1929 was commissioned by Graeme Bristow in 1989 and was the very first boat built by Kevin Gosling when he set up Gosling Dinghy Craft after working with Jon Turner for seven years.

She was a good boat who went through only a few owners before being acquired in early 2022. She had an initial full refit in Phil Morrison's garage in Exmouth using mainly previously enjoyed fittings found on eBay and was raced over the 2022 season.

She was sailed at the 2022 Nationals at Looe by Mick Greenland & Nick Lightbody - powered by excellent Moat Sails, thank you Richard Bowers. Twin poles were fitted in the autumn and Graeme Bristow & Nick Lightbody sailed three meetings again using the excellent Moat sails.

Despite various mishaps she proved both her strength and her good performance - when sailed well - which justified a complete hull restoration in 2023. At Easter she headed off south-west to her birthplace near the top of Hatway Hill, Sidbury for Kevin Gosling to start a major refurbishment and preservation project.

Having spent about ten weeks with Kevin the hull had been stripped top and bottom, long boarded, and refinished. The case was extended to accommodate a new centreboard designed by Phil Morrison. The fittings layout was improved from the previous experimental season.

The Scorpion has modest righting moment and a rig that is only marginally smaller than a 470. 1929 was rebuilt with a powerful centreboard with a higher aspect ratio than is the current fashion. The rules govern the size of the centreboard case. Ingenuity & good design inform what you fit into that case. So the Scorpion's ability to maintain balance and de-power its rig using rake is an important element in the success of the class.

Although it is a One Design the boat can be rigged and fitted out as you please, subject to a few prohibitions. As a result the class has a long history of innovation in fittings layout and control systems.

1929 was re-launched for the Practice Race of the 2023 Nationals at Eastbourne and initially sailed by Nick Lightbody & Mick Greenland with a combined age of 143 years. Later she was sailed by Joe Warwicker & Nick Lightbody enjoying single figure first mark roundings when steered by a talented young helm.

This experience combined with the Association launching the Scorpion Foundation, to encourage younger racers to the join the class, opened the idea of working with some younger sailors who appreciated being offered the opportunity to race a well prepared fast Scorpion, albeit 34 years old.

Millie Irish & Szymon Mat sailed the Draycote Open with some initial success but had difficulty adjusting the rig as the breeze increased. Improvements were made. Jack Lewis & Fraser Hemmings sailed the Staunton Harold Open and finished fifth, counting an over the line. They had little difficulty in getting ahead of the pack in each race. Both Millie & Jack felt the boat was fast. Then Jack & Szymon sailed the Datchet Flyer in heavy weather. Nothing broke but they were unable to flatten the rig sufficiently to beat Dave Wade.

The next stage of development was to determine an objective: of getting a young racer to the front of the 100-boat Scorpion fleet at the 2024 Nationals in Weymouth.

A couple of engineering changes were made to front of the boat, an old Racing Sailboats colleague Mark Rushall was recruited to help build a new mast. The original mast was 34 years old. A Selden Zeta was selected, to be fitted with Jon Turner's neutral foot and lower then normal spreaders. Diamond wire shrouds for less windage and low stretch completed the job.

Then a new Selden boom was built using the 2628 section. Tony Wetherell helped build the boom and improve the mainsheet system.

Then Andy Davis at HD Sails in Birmingham was selected as the sailmaker with whom we would work in trying to develop a slightly faster Scorpion Rig.

In early 2024 another visit to Kevin Gosling resulted in a coat of Dinghy Show quality International Perfection Pro Varnish. Rob Henderson at Marlow Ropes kindly provided support so she could be completely re-rigged with Marlow. Richard Thoroughgood at Selden helped with a replacement for the 40 year old Proctor boom and Chips Howarth at Cyclops Marine loaned a rig tension sensor for display on Niccolo Bianchi's Vakaros Digital Display.

Tony Wetherell lent a hand and his talent for elegant rigging for three days and after much work 1929 joined another recently renovated Scorpion, 1959 (refinished by Nigel Potter & Jake Willar), on the National Scorpion Association's RYA Dinghy Exhibition stand at Farnborough.

These beautiful boats, 34 and 25 years old, proved a popular attraction amidst the sea of grey plastic. Elegant boats displaying modern rigs and new ideas these two racing dinghies demonstrated the strength in depth of the Scorpion class and that this design remains competitive for many years, in contrast to the need in some other classes for frequent recourse to new boats to remain competitive.

The next stage in 1929's career will be a period of practice, boat tuning and training in preparation for the 2024 Scorpion Nationals at Castle Cove SC in late July. With Joe Warwicker at the helm and Andy Service taking care of the front end, with support from Nick Lightbody we are looking forward to discovering what we achieve in the 100 boat Scorpion Championship fleet.

The Scorpion Foundation wants you to get in touch if you would benefit from trying out a class boat. Contact

Thanks are due to all of the following:

  • Graeme Bristow: for having her built and showing she was still fast
  • Phil Morrison: for new centreboard design and much encouragement
  • Kevin Gosling: for much love given to the hull restoration
  • Jon Turner: for designing an amazingly good mast heel and foot
  • Mark Ormiston: for our diamond wire shrouds
  • Mark & Liz Rushall: for considerable time and enthusiasm supporting the project
  • Andy Service: for fascinating dialogues
  • Adam & Richard Bowers: for their encouragement, support and great ideas
  • Jim Thompson: for being Jim and providing the shed
  • Chips Howarth: for lending us Cyclops load cells
  • Ben Hazeldine: for showing us how to use the Cyclops kit
  • Richard Thoroughgood: for great help on the Selden spars front
  • Rob Henderson: for helping us re-rig with beautiful Marlow Ropes
  • Andy Davis: for agreeing to talk sail design at HD sails
  • Tony Wetherell: for wise counsel and spending three days helping with the re-rig
  • Tim Hampton: for the excellent photos from Staunton Harold
  • Deskspace Corp: for making it happen

Our thanks to the following young sailors who inspired this project:

  • Joe Warwicker: for opening our eyes to the possibilities of youth
  • Millie Irish: for finding she had speed to burn
  • Szymon Matyjaszczuk: for his unfailing enthusiasm for the project
  • Jack Lewis: for proving that we were getting there speed wise
  • Fraser Hemmings: for ensuring it was a great weekend

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