Hi my name is Brian Phipps, I am currently part of the Windsport Team who supplies Dart manufacturing worldwide along with technical and replacement parts, support and class coaching . I have been involved on the inside, outside and in the middle of Dart 18 sailing since “The Three Wise Men of Dart” realised the need for a catamaran that reached a broad spectrum of sailors who are now known as ”The Family of Dart”.
This is my pocket story of Dart involvement (abbreviated)
1970 :- In the early 70’s I ( Phipsie) was taking a few years out after senior school and ended up working in an old converted watermill near Falmouth where they were making the world class Panthercraft fiberglass Tornado catamaran. Headed up by Ian Fraser and Kim Stephens two of the leading UK catamaran sailors at the time Panthercraft was at the fore front of GRP technology and catamaran manufacture. A year later I had worked through every work station on the factory floor from laminating hulls, to fitting out, making wires, quality control and the final product sign off.
The Tornado had been selected as the Olympic catamaran class and Panthercraft manufacture the best, but the Tornado’s future was sealed, moving from a catamaran for the average club sailor to a catamaran for the elite who had money to burn on performance development. The three wise men knew something had to be done if catamaran sailing was going to continue to grow at club level, it needed a design that delivered fun, practical catamaran sailing on a level playing field, we call that ”Production One Design Sailing” and Rodney March , designer of the Tornado, was the man to design this new catamaran using his early 70’s home built computer. Dart was properly the very first computer designed sports catamaran.!
The team agreed a unique list of design features and the Dart 18 was born. It sounds so simple but this cat was ahead of its time and something that took over two years of development before a pre-production boat could be launched. In the final stages I was there to see and be involved in creating the tooling for this future Panthercraft product. There are many amusing stories about that period including one when a Russian delegation arranged to visit the Panthercraft Tornado factory. Panic as all tooling and reference of the “Secret Dart Project” was moved out for security reasons, those Russians had spies and spies get everywhere !!! It was a windup!
Those stories could just keep coming but here are just a couple more .
- The boat was launched and tested here in Falmouth from a secluded beach. Launching hull covers were used to hide its unique hull shape until it was in the water, just in case those Russian spies were hiding behind a rock! Testing took place all over the autumn / winter of 1975 and Dart No1 can still be seen in the Maritime museum Falmouth along with its minor equipment modifications pre-production. Dart No.1 actually made its first TV debut accidently on a BB1 program that winter as it sailed past, hull in the air, a local oyster fishing boat that was being filmed for a documentary!!!
- ISAF (or the equivalent in those days) was looking for an official feeder class for the Tornado. Numerous catamaran designs were entered, from all over the world , but the Dart 18 demonstrated it was head and shoulders above the competition, both in design, class rules, ability to be righted by one person etc., etc. This complete Dart catamaran package and presentation of concise class rules and strict manufacturing criteria so impressed the selectors the choice was unanimous and the Dart 18 was selected as a feeder class for the Olympic Tornado. At the same time the UK military was showing interest and placed a hold on the Dart 18 hull design being too close to some secret military development program.! Anyway that got sorted and the Dart made the 1976 London Boat Show, Earls Court with a launch price of £650, yes £650! ready to sail, colour options:- hulls white with red line or red with white line.
I had moved on from Panthercraft attending Shoreditch teachers training college as a Design technology teacher but I managed to get a crewing job with John Savage (by name and nature) in “Vengeance of Armageddon” in those days boats had names! The first nationals I can remember was in Exmouth, which is also the first time we saw a Windsurfer. We all had a go, fell off and said it will never catch on! The only person to master it was a very great Dart sailor Jeff Osmond who worked for Panthercraft and a talented engineer.
By 1980 I was out of teaching and back at Panthercraft as their technical sales person working alongside the appointed sales director Doug Tilling who sailed the Dart “Stop Me & Buy One” Doug really put the Dart product on the map across the whole of Europe over the next few years along with its big and little sister the Stampede (Dart 20) and the Spark (Sprint 15), Panther craft was producing 1000 boats + a year. The first teach-ins were developed by ourselves , run at Grafham residential centre and sponsored by Canada Dry. We got involved in various TV programs over those years, “Go with Noakes”@ Stokes bay, Out and about with Peter Scofield and this Goffer, The great outdoors with Toyah Wilcox , I guess only the older Dart sailors will recognise these UK household names!
1982 saw the launch of the first Windsport business , when Doug Tilling , myself and a fine Dart sailor Ron Thomas joined forces to market the Dart products in the UK , while Panthercraft focused on the European and world stage. We travelled the length and breadth of the UK introducing the Dart to clubs and sailors for a number of years with our 4 boat demo trailer long before the motorway system ever came even close to Cornwall!
Life moves on and having meet Cookie on the Dart circuit Cookie and I decided to take a couple of years out and travel the world with a back-pack and a tent. Things changed at Windsport also and the UK Dart product went back to Panthercraft who needed a salesman hence the arrival on the scene of Peter Ewing who continued the UK sales program with Panthercraft, moving on to Laser Centre when they took on the Dart production and marketing linking the class with some well known sponsor brands such as SABB and others .
1985 and Cookie and I were back from our travels having had many, many adventures that included, a shipwreck and sharks, swimming with crocs and driving through the middle of Australia in the original mini named, Willit, “will it” make it or no? We had a business plan to run a specialist watersports centre from Mylor Harbour near Falmouth with a very unique sailing school called the “Cat Clinic”. Working with Kim Stephen at Panthercraft we set up the Cat-Clinic with Dart 18 cats and developed a series of training programs and training modifications to make the Dart more user friendly for sailing schools. Working with Panthercraft and later Laser Centre we encouraged more people into catamaran sailing, provided a training service that no other sailing school could offer at the time and made sure when you bought a Dart as your first catamaran you had the support and knowledge to sail it confidently .
Over the following years it was a combination of running the Cat-Clinic, going to events whenever possible, including the first Dart World championships with I think 300 Darts + on the start line! Competing in the Dutch Round Texel race and almost winning outright in a Dart (that’s another story) but finally finishing 7th overall out of 1000 + cats, continuing test work for Dart on new product and equipment upgrades whilst managing two young children Tom and Katy, well Cookie did most of that!
1990 + By this time catamaran sailing was about to do a full circle as boats with gennakers , pre- bent masts and double trapezing became the next step in performance. For many this was a new and exciting development “F18 racing” and a few of us got well involved starting with the Dart Hawk. Great as it was it soon became clear that box rule racing is very different from “production one design sailing” and to keep up with developments and performance improvements you needed deep pockets plus a regular and determined crew if you wanted to stay competitive.
The Dart 18 fleet also dabbled in the possibility of adding a gennaker for racing but the strength of Dart 18 “ production one design racing”, where the racing skills of the sailing team, simplicity of the boat and rig far outweighed the few extra knots of speed meant a gennaker was available just for fun. The Dart 18 product and class continued, just as it does now, the perfect catamaran that attracts a diverse range of sailors to catamaran sailing and delivers great class racing and fun on a level playing field.
1998 ish. Laser Centre moved production to South Africa with limited success aiming to reduce production cost and finally gave up the builders licence and returned it to Ian Fraser, Bryher Mouldings in 2009
It looked like time was up for Dart 18, Ian Fraser was retired and all the tooling was in South Africa, but some very determined international Dart class sailors , like Nicolette Van Gorp and others persuaded Ian Fraser who owned the design rights that the Dart 18 was still a very much need and loved catamaran class. Ian Fraser responded and contacted myself to join in the challenge of putting the Dart 18 production back on the tracks in Europe. Over a period of seven years after significant on-going investment in replacement tooling the Dart 18 is definitely back on the tracks, built in the UK, alive and kicking with a great following of club sailors with quality and serviceability of the Dart 18 even better than 40 years ago! Sadly the price has not stayed the same £650 ready to race! But then that was 40 years ago when the average salary was £70 a week, a gallon of fuel was 75p ( 17p a litre) and a brand new MK IV Cortina £1,950.
As Doug Tilling used to say 40 years ago when someone said their catamaran was faster and better than the Dart 18 ? FASTER & BETTER TO DO WHAT ? capsize, rig, right, tack, gybe, assemble? Being the fastest catamaran on the water was never in the original Dart specification, other catamarans can claim that, but there are many , many other things that the Dart 18 is fastest and better at and getting you on the water and sailing with friends is one of them!
So here ends my short pocket history (abbreviated) of my life with Dart over 40 young years. May all Dart sailors continue to enjoy the Dart not as the fastest catamaran on the water but as one of the most enjoyable for all the family and friends who make up the “Family of Dart” .
A member of the” Family of Dart” for 40 years
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