12 metre yachts racing off Teignmouth in 1939 – Updated

18/11/2014


Photographs recalling these historic sailing giants of 75 years ago have recently been donated to the Teign Corinthian Yacht Club.  These graceful yachts were competing in Teignmouth Regatta between the 30th August and the 1st September 1939.  These dates are resonant because it was on the 1st September 1939 that Hitler invaded Poland.  Britain declared war two days later.

Most notable amongst these yachts was Tomahawk, owned and sailed by Mr T. O. M. Sopwith, later Sir Thomas Sopwith, arguably one of the most outstanding British aviators and industrialists of the 20th Century.

 

12 metre "Tomahawk" T.O.M. Sopwith

12 metre "Tomahawk" T.O.M. Sopwith

The picture above shows Tomahawk crossing the finishing line practically opposite the current Teign Corinthian Yacht Clubhouse, a location still used for yacht race starts and finishes today.  In the background are the Parson and Clerk headland and a motor yacht owned by Mr Sopwith which was being used as a committee boat.  This craft, Philante, was taken over by the Royal Navy for the duration of the war and later sold to the Norwegian Royal Family.

The first day of the competition saw Tomahawk competing against two other 12 metre yachts, Blue Marlin and Trivia with a forth yacht, Flica ll failing to make the start.

12 metre "Tomahawk" T.O.M. Sopwith

12 metre "Tomahawk" T.O.M. Sopwith

The conditions were poor with stiff rain accompanied by an easterly wind causing the abandonment of most of the other sailing matches.  The three 12 metre yachts duelled over the 22.5 mile, two lap, triangular course.  Tomahawk ran home four minutes ahead of Blue Marlin with a time of 1 hour 14 minutes and 21 seconds at an average speed of 18mph. (22.7knots) It is interesting that the time elapsed between the first and last boat was only 5 minutes 26 seconds.

The designation 12 metre yacht does not refer to the length of the boats but to a combination of factors determined by a set of equations intended to encourage innovation and invention.  The boats were typically 20 to 23 metres long.  Between 1907 and 1987 170 of these yachts were built internationally, over half of which are still in existence.

 

12 metre "Flica II" Mr. H L Goodson

12 metre "Flica II" Mr. H L Goodson

Tommy Sopwith had caused Tomahawk to be built for the 1939 season in conditions of great secrecy.  He incorporated the latest developments using techniques evolved in the aircraft industry.  His intention was to compete with his American rival Mr H.S. Vanderbilt and his yacht Vim.  Mr Vanderbilt had previously beaten Tommy Sopwith in the Americas Cup of 1934 and 1937 in the much larger J Class yachts.  Overall Vim was more successful earlier in the season than Tomahawk.  Mr Vanderbilt returned to America before the Teignmouth Regatta to contest the racing there.

 

"Tomahawk" crossing the finish line

"Tomahawk" crossing the finish line

12 metre "Trivia" Mr. V W McAndrew

12 metre "Trivia" Mr. V W McAndrew

The second day started with a heavy mist but conditions improved when the wind changed from easterly to a slight south-south-west breeze, which strengthened as the day wore on. Four yachts contested that day with Tomahawk crossing the start line last. A close race ensued with Tomahawk finally finishing two and a half minutes ahead of Trivia.

On the third day Tomahawk dominated over the three other boats and again finished first.

This was the last in a series of regattas competed in by these yachts in 1939, including Ryde, Weymouth, Dartmouth and Torquay.   No doubt Mr Sopwith would then have been engaged elsewhere as chairman of the Hawker Siddeley Aircraft Company notable for its creation of the Hawker Hurricane and numerous other aircraft.

Teign Corinthian Yacht Club continues to contest the ground where the 12 metre yachts once sailed and clubhouse hosts visiting clubs and maintains an active social programme.

There is also the dinghy section sailing all year round from Coombe Cellars on the Teign Estuary.

These previously neglected pictures evoke a bygone era of wealth and glamour beyond the dreams of the ordinary person, although many of the crews were ex-fishermen and other working seamen.

12 metre "Blue Marlin" Mr. K Westhead

12 metre "Blue Marlin" Mr. K Westhead

And now for something a little smaller.....

Teign/Dart One Design No. 1 being sailed by Mr. Morgan Giles

Teign/Dart One Design No. 1 being sailed by Mr. Morgan Giles