Dragons return to Scotland
The Dragon is now a major international class with about 1,500 boats sailed by members of the class associations worldwide and possibly as many again still being used for pleasure though not racing competitively. In the past it was one of the Olympic classes from 1948 to 1972. It now attracts many top flight sailors, often with Olympic or World Championship medals for its combination of a really attractive, interesting boat, its competitive quality and its internationalism. There is a class circuit which extends from New Zealand to Japan, Russia and the US while being at its strongest in the traditional centre of the class in northern Europe.
The class has progressively evolved over the years. The photo of Argee, a boat built by Robertsons at Sandbank in 1937, gives a clear picture of the then state of the art. The photo of Rumours taken in 2014 shows the present stage of evolution. The hull shape and weight has remained the same as has the mainsail. However, a genoa has replaced the jib, a spinnaker has been added (subsequently increased in size), the spars are now aluminium and the accommodation has been eliminated. It is, however, still possible within class rules to build a carvel planked Dragon, and several remain very competitive, but the vast majority of new boats, of which there are about 45 each year worldwide, are GRP.
The Dragon’s origins were in 1929 as a result of a competition held by the Royal Gothenburg Yacht Club (GKSS) to find a cheap one design racing yacht which could be sailed from one regatta to the next in the Baltic. It quickly caught on and attracted the attention of Clyde based yachtsmen to whom the same design brief appealed. Anita (later K18), built by Anker and Jensen, the designer’s yard, was the first Dragon to come to Britain. She arrived on the Clyde in 1935 from Norway in the ownership of James Howden Hume and G.F.Paisley. Enthusiasm was immediate and in 1936 the McGruer yard on the Clyde built 10 Dragons, the first to be built in Britain. At the same time the Clyde Yacht Clubs Association took the very farsighted and generous step of presenting a small gold cup for international competition. This became known as the Dragon Gold Cup and remains one of the class’s premier trophies and is still administered by the CYCA in collaboration with the International Dragon Association.
The class thrived in Scotland. In 1958 there were 140 Dragons in the British fleet of which 23 were on the Clyde and 10 by then on the Forth. These fleets were based largely at Rhu on the Clyde and at Granton on the Forth. Racing naturally took place locally but the class also participated in West Highland Week, sailing to get there, and several Scottish sailors participated in both national and international events. Scotland, and particularly the Clyde, was an important centre for these early events. The British championship, known as the Edinburgh Cup because it was presented by the Duke of Edinburgh, now Prince Philip, has been held six times since 1951 on the Clyde and five times on the Forth. Rather surprisingly, none of these eleven renewals was won by a Scottish sailor, possibly because they often formed the preceding event to the Dragon Gold Cup and therefore attracted the top international sailors. Indeed only five of the eleven were won by British sailors. The other winners were widely drawn with only Denmark winning more than once.
At national level, away from home, Scottish sailors did much better, winning the Edinburgh Cup seven times. Among the winners were Sir Gordon Smith, originally from Aberdeenshire but based in London, Kenneth Gumley, a leading light of Royal Forth Yacht Club, and Gilmour Manuel, still much involved in yacht racing though not currently in the Dragon class.
The Dragon Gold Cup has been sailed for ten times in Scotland, eight times on the Clyde and twice on the Forth. On two of these occasions there was a Scottish victory, in 1961 for Sir Gordon Smith and in 1973 for David Young. Otherwise the event has had winners in Scotland from six different countries and has always been very well supported and been one of the highlights of the Scottish scene each year it has been held there.
Sadly the recent history of the Dragon class in Scotland has failed to sustain the earlier enthusiasm so that by 2000 there were only twelve Scottish Dragons in the British Dragon Association and currently, only a handful are left racing on the Forth. The class is holding the Scottish Championship and the Edinburgh Cup in Largs in June-July 2015 in order to re-launch the Dragon in Scotland and fire up renewed interest in the class. The sailing water between Largs, Rothesay and Wemyss Bay is ideal, and Largs itself provides every necessary facility so that there is everything required for a successful high profile regatta. The class hopes that the regatta will act both as a showcase and as a magnet for Scottish sailors keen to test their skills against both the best English and Irish sailors and even some from further afield. May be the pioneers from Royal Northern Yacht Club, McGruers and Robertsons will be vindicated and the Dragon will re-emerge, like a phoenix, in its original British home.