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Ancient GP 14 Dinghy Gets Flowery Final Flourish

19th December 2023
Is this what it has come to for a once keenly-sailed GP14? Her extremely stationary condition is emphasised by the distant but very live background of Sutton Dinghy Club
Is this what it has come to for a once keenly-sailed GP14? Her extremely stationary condition is emphasised by the distant but very live background of Sutton Dinghy Club Credit: W M Nixon

Those intrepid spirits who venture westward on the road from the Most Serene Republic of Howth through Sutton Cross, and on into the wilds of nearby Ireland, always used to look forward to the first glimmering glimpse of Sutton Creek and Dublin Bay on their left.

This comes with the long panorama of the Wicklow Hills blending into the Dublin Mountains beyond, book-ended by the distinctive peak of the Sugarloaf Mountain to the east, while westward the stopper is the double exclamation mark (“screamers” as we call them in the verbiage business) of the two Poolbeg Smokestacks. They smoke no longer, but sentimental Dubs won’t let them go, as they see them as essential to the scene, even if they did make mighty objections when their construction started in 1974

Whither, O splendid ship? Outward bound with all flowers set towards the Poolbeg Smokestacks. The Poolbeg Twins don’t make smoke any more, but Dubliners, having furiously objected when they were built in 1974, now object with equal fury to any plan to demolish them. Photo: W M NixonWhither, O splendid ship? Outward bound with all flowers set towards the Poolbeg Smokestacks. The Poolbeg Twins don’t make smoke any more, but Dubliners, having furiously objected when they were built in 1974, now object with equal fury to any plan to demolish them. Photo: W M Nixon

This up-lifting wide-screen vista appears as you emerge from behind the shoreside line of properties now known as Millionaires’ Row. It wasn’t always thus, as the location close along a southwest-facing shoreline made older properties very sad-looking indeed if maintenance slackened.

But since Rainfall Radar and its various accessories arrived, the Sutton Cross area has emerged as the driest place in all Ireland, something previously unknown when the only statistics came from official mechanical gauges in relatively rain-swept places like the People’s Park in Dun Laoghaire.

THE DRYEST PLACE IN IRELAND

Sutton Cross - the Howth Peninsula’s isthmus or tombolo - is not Ireland’s sunniest place, for that’s still Wexford. But as news spread on the grapevine about scientific recognition of the lack of rain along Sutton’s south shore, the cute ones started buying up the properties, many of which were in the tired state of a house that’s been in one family for several generations.

Renovations and re-buildings got under way, while sensible folk created a wind-break of escallonia up and growing as soon as possible to keep the worst effects of the salty sou’westers at bay. On the road side, meanwhile, the appearance of wide gateways funneling into a solid hardwood automated gate confirmed the up-graded status.

 Vista for a lifetime. Even on a winter’s day of limited visibility, the Sutton-viewed panorama to the southwest of the skyline from the Sugarloaf to the Smokestacks evokes thoughts of “over the hills and far away.” Photo: W M Nixon Vista for a lifetime. Even on a winter’s day of limited visibility, the Sutton-viewed panorama to the southwest of the skyline from the Sugarloaf to the Smokestacks evokes thoughts of “over the hills and far away.” Photo: W M Nixon

As one who feels that the best houses are those that cannot be seen from a public road, I could not demur. But it did mean that the first glimpse of the bay and the mountains beyond as you put Millionare’s Row astern was even better appreciated. Until, that is, a distraction was introduced by some well-meaning souls who felt it needed the ornamentation of a herbaceous plot of brightly-coloured flowers, almost garish, in fact, and they’re all in a tightly packed display.

It’s reasonable enough as an idea. But when a retired GP 14 dinghy is used as the flower-pot, we enter a different word of distracted drivers and confused thinking. We’ve always had mixed thoughts about the widespread habit – not necessary just in coastal area – of using de-commissioned boats as flower beds. However, a GP 14 dinghy is something else altogether, for superficially she seemed in quite good shape, but any traces of a boat name or builder’s plate has been removed to ensure anonymity.

SCRAPPAGE FROM SUTTON DINGHY CLUB?

So everyone will assume that she was taken as scrap from the boat-park at Sutton Dinghy Club a mile or so along the coast. Thus the little boat’s fate seems all the more sad, for as you look nor’east across her, visible in the distance is Sutton DC with its dinghy park alive with masts flashing in the sun, its vibrant if distant presence emphasising the flowerbed boat’s completely de-commissioned state.

Yet what do we do with old boats that have gone past their useful years as seaworthy sailing vehicles? It’s maybe better that decisions such as seeking out a landfall site are postponed over days and weeks. After all, James Dwyer of Royal Cork YC’s wonderful classic 1976 Bruce Farr-designed Half Tonner Swuzzlebubble is now a successful and life-enhancing presence around Crosshaven.

Yet not so many years ago, she was in Greece and destined for an Athens land-fill, but fortunately the owner lacked that vital tool for action, the Round Tuit, and there was time for Swuzzlebubble to be saved by Mordy of Cowes.

 James Dwyer’s classic Half Tonner Swuzzlebubble of 1976 vintage is a life-enhancing presence at the Royal Cork YC in Crosshaven, yet only a few years ago she was saved from a landfill fate in Greece. Photo: Robert Bateman James Dwyer’s classic Half Tonner Swuzzlebubble of 1976 vintage is a life-enhancing presence at the Royal Cork YC in Crosshaven, yet only a few years ago she was saved from a landfill fate in Greece. Photo: Robert Bateman

But the problem with a GP14 is she’s “only a dinghy”. Larger craft lend themselves to more stately ends. Back in 1968 I was returning from Spain on a solo coastal cruise around South Brittany, and called into Camaret, which in those days was very busy traditional fishing port in which cruising yachts were just about tolerated.

These days, the situation is almost exactly reversed, as the fishermen have been removed to a nearby commercial purely fishing port, and Camaret trades for tourists and cruising boats on the charms of the characterful harbour they left behind.

But in 1968, it was the real McCoy, with the solemn tradition that the old Tunnymen – some of them still with much evidence of their sail-driven past – were not broken up, but rather all re-usable gear was removed, and they were given their final resting place in ancient dignity on a foreshore beside the harbour, and there boat anoraks like me could wander reverentially around, savouring the lines of some of the best working sailing hulls ever created.

The End Game. Retired Tunnymen were achieving a certain dignity in 1968 in their final resting place on the foreshore at Camaret harbour. Photo: W M NixonThe End Game. Retired Tunnymen were achieving a certain dignity in 1968 in their final resting place on the foreshore at Camaret harbour. Photo: W M Nixon

We can’t see that happening with an old GP 14, but nevertheless you’d be forgiven for thinking that a new life as a flower-bed is a fate worse than death. GP14 means General Purpose 14ft dinghy. But even that very positively-minded genius Teddy Haylock, the longtime ideas-laden Editor of Yachting World magazine who got Jack Holt to make the GP 14 the corner-stone YW’s growing list of Build-Her-Yourself in 1949, can scarcely have imagined it would become a red-hot racing class with worldwide appeal.

GP? DOES IT MEAN GIANT PLANT-POT?

Thus it’s unlikely that you could persuade the many hundreds – thousands even – who continue to think that the GP14 is the bee’s knees to even think it’s slightly amusing if you suggested that GP can also be the anagram for Giant Plant-pot.

Nevertheless, it would surprise few of us if someone, temporarily traffic-jammed beside the flower-pot GP14 as kids pour out of the local high school, began to bethink to themselves of restoring it to full sailing condition, despite the fact that they wouldn’t have noticed it at all in its deteriorating state in the dinghy park.

Either way, can you imagine a flower-filled Shannon One Design at the roadside to welcome you to Athlone? Or a similarly-arrayed Water Wag in the approaches to Dun Laoghaire?

Published in GP14, Dublin Bay
WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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The GP14 is a popular sailing dinghy, with well over 14,000 boats built.

The class is active in the UK, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and parts of north-eastern USA, and the GP14 can be used for both racing and cruising. 

Designed by Jack Holt in 1949, with the assistance of the Dovey Yacht Club in Aberdyfi. The idea behind the design was to build a General Purpose (GP) 14-foot dinghy which could be sailed or rowed, capable of also being powered effectively by a small outboard motor, able to be towed behind a small family car and able to be launched and recovered reasonably easily, and stable enough to be able to lie to moorings or anchor when required. Racing soon followed, initially with some degree of opposition from Yachting World, who had commissioned the design, and the boat soon turned out to be an outstanding racing design also.

The boat was initially designed with a main and small jib as a comfortable family dinghy. In a design philosophy that is both practical and highly redolent of social attitudes of the day the intention was that she should accommodate a family comprising parents plus two children, and specifically that the jib should be modest enough for "Mum" or older children to handle, while she should perform well enough to give "Dad" some excitement when not taking the family out. While this rig is still available, and can be useful when using the boat to teach sailing, or for family sailing, and has some popularity for cruising, the boat is more commonly seen with the full modern rig of a mainsail, genoa and spinnaker. Australian boats also routinely use trapezes.

GP14 Ireland Event Dates 2023

  • O'Tiarnaigh (Apr 22-23) Blessington Sailing Club
  • Ulsters (May 20-21) East Antrim Boat Club
  • Munsters (Jun 17-18) Tralee Bay Sailing Club
  • Leinsters (Jul 7-9) Dun Laoghaire Regatta
  • SOYC (Aug 19-20) Rush Sailing Club
  • Nationals (Sep 1-3) Sutton Dinghy Club
  • Hot Toddy (Sep 30-Oct 1) Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club

 

At A Glance – GP14 Dinghy Specifications

Crew 2
Draft 1,200 mm (47 in)
Hull weight 132.9 kg
LOA 4.27 m (14 ft)
Beam 1.54 m
Spinnaker area 8.4 m2
Upwind sail area 12.85 m2

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