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100 Years of Jack Chippendale

by Dougal Henshall 13 May 17:00 BST 11-12 May 2024
100 Years of Jack Chippendale celebrated at Fareham © Dougal Henshall

Regular readers will hopefully have enjoyed the recent 'Fine Lines' series of photos that featured some of the best examples of the boat builder's art. The tenth and best picture was timed to coincide with the centenary of one of the greats behind the golden era of the UK's domestic dinghy scene, Jack Chippendale.

For all his considerable talents as a boatbuilder, not to mention as an insightful thinker, Jack was never a great egotist but all the same, I'm sure that he would have been delighted at the incredible 100th anniversary party that was held for him at the Fareham Sailing & Motorboat Club. Jack had been a member here, plus the main premises of his boatyard had been next door.

To say that FS&MC had 'pushed the boat out' would be a major understatement, as not only had the clubhouse been dressed overall for the day, but inside there a range of exhibits charting the life of works of Jack had been put on display.

The day was given an extra layer of gloss as the surviving members of Jack's workforce all turned up to enjoy the warmth of both the sunshine and the hospitality of the club, as Eric Harvey, who had ended up as foreman of the boatbuilders, had played a major role in the planning and organisation of the day. Eric had also arranged access to the Trafalgar Quay building that had been Chippendale's HQ, so he led the visitors on a guided tour, which ended high up on the third floor.

Back in the day this had been a hot bed of Merlin Rocket building (and innovation) with the workers telling of how they built two boats, side by side, with 'planking up' becoming almost a competitive activity! Once the hulls had been completed they were sat onto a frame, with a link that came up through the centreboard base. The boat was then lifted, swung out under a loading beam and lowered down to the ground floor.

Other buildings contained metal working tools, as many of the early fittings were produced in house, with another area put aside for the 'new' activity of GRP construction.

The group was entertained by an interesting description of how a 16 year old boatbuilder, with the assistance of a 15 year old apprentice, created the 'plug' - the tooling for the GRP hull for the Fireball, with both hull and deck mould made (though most preferred the composite option: a GRP hull topped by Jack's super wooden decks)

Then it was back to the club for a BBQ, the cheery tones of a jazz quartet and a well stocked bar, though by now it was standing room only. There was more space though out on the water, as though Jack would have seen some 4,000 racing dinghies made in his yard, from Cadets to Flying 15s, N12 and Merlins, then the iconic prototypes, Osprey, Kestrel, 5o5 and Unit to name just a few, sadly only three entries turned up to go afloat.

Those that did, a pair of glorious F15s and a N12 that had been saved from a Viking funeral and sympathetically restored represented a glorious reminder of how Jack's focus on boats that looked as good as they sailed had raised the bar for the next generation of boatbuilders that would follow.

By now the tide had come in, filling the creek, which allowed a start line right in front of the packed terrace, the three Chippendale boats where joined by the home fleet of Fareham Luggers. The breeze was light and very fickle which suited the F15s who romped around the course but with the sun shining, the beer flowing and the music playing, the party atmosphere extended to events afloat, so everyone had a great time.

Nobody would have been more delighted at the day than Jack, though he too would have been saddened that so many of the great race winning boats that he'd built over the years decided to stay away. Yet for all of that, Fareham Sailing & Motorboat Club are to be congratulated for creating a brilliant day that was enjoyed by all who came along, everyone involved in the day should be proud of how their efforts combined to best celebrate 'the boats that Jack Built'.

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