Jonny Fullerton chats with Boat Builder Nathan Batchelor at Ovington Boats regarding the development of the Flying Fifteen and the future prospects for the class.
The Flying Fifteen is described as ‘the original sportsboat’ although unlike today’s modern sportsboats, it does not feature hydrofoils, bowsprits, asymmetric kites or carbon rigs. However, the class continues to flourish with good fleet numbers around the world racing every weekend and most importantly, enjoying club sailing!
Background on the FF class
The Flying Fifteen Is a two-person keelboat sailed and raced in many countries around the world on the sea, estuaries and inland waters. Club racing is the most important aspect of Flying Fifteen sailing. It is like a big dinghy with a keel so it is ideal for those who have sailed dinghies but are tired of or too old to cope with capsizes!
Unlike many modern sports boats you only require one other person to sail with you, crew combinations come in all sizes, genders and ages, it is just a matter of tweaking the boat to suit your combination. It is easy to launch by two people either off a ramp or using a hoist and it is also easy to tow behind a family car.
The legendary Uffa Fox designed the Flying Fifteen in England in 1947, and his vision of a high-performance planing keelboat continues to flourish around the world, thanks to some judicious and intelligent class management. By embracing and carefully controlling the use of modern materials, the Flying Fifteen has maintained it’s exhilarating performance without becoming too expensive to build or maintain.
Jonny Fullerton (JF) chats with Nathan Batchelor (NB) at Ovington Boats about the past and present Flying Fifteen versions.
JF: Can you provide some background on the relationship between the class and Ovington boats?
NB: Dave Ovington started building F15’s in around 1990 having obtained the mould from Roy Windebank.
The boat has been modernised over the years with Uffa Fox agreeing to changes towards the end of his life to improve the design specification and sail plan. In 2006 we designed and built a new deck mould to improve the ergonomics and simplify fit out and in 2012 we built another new mould and now offer a choice of non-slip on the foredeck. Most sailors choose to upgrade to having a carbon hull which makes the boat stiffer for longer.
JF: Can you tell me some more detail on the design changes along the way?
NB: The first Ovington built F15’s were built out of the MK 9 mould, which after 3 years was re-faired to take out the undulations in the hull and became affectionately known as the ‘Smoothie’. We built around 180 boats out of the MK 9 and the Smoothie moulds, before wanting to make more improvements and replace the ageing mould. The MK 10 mould came online in February 2002 and the hull shape has been virtually unaltered since then.
JF: What is the latest version and main design features?
NB: Although the hull shape has not changed much since the early 2000’s, we are constantly looking to make improvements. The most visible change since then has been the new deck design in 2006, this has revolutionised the look of the boat. As well as improving the cosmetics, it has significantly increased the amount of buoyancy, it is virtually impossible to swamp a F15 nowadays. During this time the hull construction has swapped from fibreglass to carbon fibre, the hulls are now much stiffer than previously when changing boats yearly was commonplace.
JF: What design changes and features are planned for the next Ovington version?
NB: We have no big changes in the pipeline but we strive to make small, continuous improvements. In the last 3 years, we have introduced under deck jib furlers, mainsheet tubes, (enabling you to centreline the boom in all conditions) and carbon bulkheads. The F15 has been around long enough, with well-written rules, which means that things evolve rather than taking quantum leaps. Each change we make does not outclass the existing boats, but the cumulative effect makes a difference over the years.
JF: What would Ovington like the class to adopt in changes to the current hull and rig to appeal to a wider audience of sailors?
NB: There is no magic bullet, small refinements are what is needed. We think the new jib is a positive change, also the previously discussed reduction in lead correctors would be a positive step. Simplifying things is essential to attract new sailors. Some of the more traditional rules need looking at. Why do we have buoyancy bags? We already have 4 watertight compartments. Spinnaker numbers? Sailors coming into the F15 find these small things frustrating, complicated and add unnecessary cost.
JF: What is Ovington’s view of the Flying Fifteen class at present and opinions on the future for the class?
NB: The class association is one of the most organised, professional and respected groups we deal with. The class is currently ticking along, however, we do not see much growth happening at club level, it is struggling to attract new members. This is not the fault of the class, it is a problem across the sport. There is hope for the future, the population is getting older and heavier and used boats turn over and have a longer competitive life.
NB: At Ovington Boats we are fortunate having Chris Turner sailing in the class for almost 10 years now, in which time winning three world championships! This experience from on the water, combined with the experience we have gained from building over 400 F15s puts us in a good position for the future.
JF: Many thanks for your input.