40 years of being “Part of Dart”!!

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)01-02-2009 20;09;45

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  .IMG_1422

  • 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.

1976 -78

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” .

Brian Phipps

DSC03341A member of the” Family of Dart” for 40 years

Dit artikel is eerder verschenen in het tijdschrift van de UKIDA. We hebben er zelf de foto van het eerste strandje bijgezet.


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3 reacties

  1. I hqave been fortunate to have owned 3 Dar 18 cats(lost one to a Fla hurricane) still sail 2of them one on Fire Island N Y & the other in Fort Lauderdale Fla, my favorite xbeachcat. Have owned 2 hobie 16s. 4 7,5.5sl,5.2. Am 77 still sailing actively f since I was 11, sailfish,sunfish. Bluejays. Cape coda, lightenings. Celebrity, aqua cats. I lost my Nacr 5.2 to Superstorm Sandy & my Tornado friend Malcolm Stitt turned won to Dart 18, thank u for developing the cat that enables me to keep on sailing despite Covid, 15 operations(5rotator cuffs,3kneeopations & then replacement,stent,etc & cancer) I use to own British sports cars((5TRs,Austin Healy 1800,MG 3) but Dart18 best designed,durable,dependent, fun English product ever,PS I was at Lincoln Colege Oxford student in 1962 and a wee bit familiar with the U.K. Please keep the Dart18 “alive”

  2. I worked at Panthercraft in the mid 70’s during the move from Ponsanooth to Penryn. Jack Keast was the Manager back then, real character! I, along with 3 others because we were the quickest Laminators, used to start at 6am to demould all the previous days production and gel the moulds ready for the rest of the Laminators to arrive at 8am. I can honestly say after nearly 50 years that was one of the most enjoyable jobs I’ve had. Great times.

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