Well, let’s start off this personal review of 1966 with what didn’t happen – Germany did not win the World Cup. So let’s hear no more about that. No one had yet stepped on the moon (you’ll have to wait until 1969). The Electric Prunes however, did release a single “Ain’t it Hard “. Now that is significant! I was 13 years old and as far as I was concerned music did not exist in any form before then. Radio Caroline had been broadcasting for just two years and the Government (Harold Wilson) at the time were quite prepared to send in the Navy to sink it. What is Radio Caroline I hear you ask? It’s a pirate ship broadcasting from out in the North Sea to spotty teenagers hiding a transistor radio under their pillows – it could only be receive when it was dark and it was really, really rebellious. The ‘Disc Jockeys’ said things like ‘damn’ and ‘bloody’ and generally encouraging the youth of the day to ‘make love and not war’.
Throughout the country a few intrepid DIY enthusiastic sailors had decided to ignore The Electric Prunes and start a sailing club. During the 60's they sprung up at every available location as the leisure pursuits became popular. Members were arriving in their Ford Cortina’s (Mk1 obviously, the MkII didn’t come out until October). A few might had a Rover P6, described at the time, as the working man’s Rolls Royce. By far, the most popular car would have been the Mini. A new Mini Standard would have set your family back £495! Cheap? Not really, the National Average UK wage was £28 per week. And here’s one statistic for the oldies – a pint of Red Barrel, 1/10d (new pence its £0.0916). What’s that, you might ask? Well ‘bleeding Watney’s Red Barrel’ was Britain’s most popular beer until Monty Python got hold of it.
Our sailors however, were following a trend. In the mid 1960’s Britain went boating mad. What kicked off this extraordinary maritime revolution was waterproof glues developed for bomber aircraft. The availability of plywood and plastic transformed the economics of getting on the water not in a high speed Torpedo Boat or Mosquito bomber but as a family hobby. The TV played a great part with DIY presenter Barry Bucknell and boat designer Jack Holt producing the Mirror Dinghy. This was sponsored by the Daily Mirror (hence the red sails). They published plans for this affordable, self-build boat and over the years 70,000 have been built. You could have one built for you but more likely you purchased a kit and you did it yourself in the front room. The cost – well £63 11s. A few weeks work would have got you and your family on the water. Alongside would have been GP14’s which by then was well established in the sailing circuit. Especially so in our area, as the main kit provider was Bell Woodworking in Leicester. Merlin Rockets and Fireballs even today look modern and sleek, back in 1966 there were the ‘cutting edge design’ but even by then only 500 Merlin’s had been built nationally.
So as not to be accused of bias, other popular classes that might have been seen on in 1966 were:
International 14 (1928)
National 12 (1936)
National Merlin Rocket (1946)
International Moth (1929)
Fly – Dutchman (1950)
Flying Fifteen (1947)
National 18 (1930)
So, where is the Laser’? Answer - not even a pipe dream (real men smoked pipes in these days)! That didn’t get unveiled until 1971 in New York. So it was a few years more before they managed to sail across the pond to the UK. Interesting to compare this list with the PY chart for 2015 with over 150 different classes, arguably far too many!
So, Britain in 1966, what may have been the main worries of these pioneer sailing club members? Internationally, the Vietnam War was in full blow, anti –war riots in the USA - big style! Certainly, for me, in my Edinburgh home was that Radio Caroline in October dragged its anchor and ended up on the beach at Frinton. If Harold Wilson had not been on HMS Tiger at the time talking to Ian Smith, the Rhodesian Prime Minister I am sure he would have had it towed out to sea and sunk! An interesting point about his talks with the racist Ian Smith (we can call him that now) was that British Rail on the 15th July, had a ban on employing black workers at Euston Station overturned.
Taking the country by storm at the time was The Beatles. 1966 was the year John Lennon said they were more popular than Jesus. Fact was, it was true, but it didn’t stop Mary Whitehouse (who she?) having an apoplexy fit over the youth of the day (THAT WAS ME!) They produced an album called ‘Revolver’ …The Beatles that is, not Mary Whitehouse! This I can say without fear of contradiction was one of the most significant pieces of music ever, ever produced in the whole world at least up until their next LP - ‘Sgts Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band’ a year later. That then became the most significant piece of music ever, ever produced………….etc. Well……it was, until a festival called ‘Woodstock’ in August 1969, by then I was 16 yrs old. That changed my life! Long hair, Afghan coat, tie-dyed, cheese-cloth shirts – the lot. If you want to imagine what I looked like think ‘Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention’. Students in these days were properly active and in the modern parlance ‘in your face’. It’s a shame I wasn’t a real one – working class ‘like wot I was’ went to College – although to be fair it was ‘proper’ college with real subjects and today would be called a ‘University’. The next few years remain a mystery to me I next remember being 21 and waking up in Leicestershire.
Anyway, this is about sailing in 1966– one of the most influential groups in my life was the Scouts and yes, we went sailing and for the life of me I have not got a clue what it was I was in. For the Scout Movement, of course, 1966 was an important year with the publication of ‘The Advance Party Report’ – no more Boy Scouts, baggy shorts and wide brimmed hats. What I do remember was canoeing. We built them ourselves using a canvas covering with a PVC lining, a wooden framed monstrosity that weighed a ton. Despite their short comings I had great and memorable experiences (unlike the rest of the 60’s) exploring the shoreline of the Firth of Forth. Just a group of lads – no rescue boat – wearing canvas ‘lifesavers’ filled great lumps of cork. It gave me a yearning for the ‘water experience’ that stayed with me until the mortgage was nearly paid many years later.
And as for music, well main stream music lost its soul a long time ago, gone is originality, computer technology in the studio replacing the musical instrument and even the voice. Everybody knows music died in 1970 with the passing of Hendrix and again with Jim Morrison in 1971 and even again with Marc Bolan in 1977…. and so on. And don’t give me any rubbish about the 60’s groups not standing the test of time because I am talking about the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, The Who, Pink Floyd, The Kinks and Led Zeppelin. I do however, ask myself, has sailing lost its soul as well? If I replaced these names with Merlin Rocket, Fireball, GP14, Solo, and Wayfarer etc does it confirm my suspicions? Have they stood the test of time? Of course they have, not only that – they got better. Are the boats of today even going to get a mention in 2066? My argument is that by then all boats will look the same…Oh! Wait a minute … perhaps we don’t need to wait another 50yrs for that to happen!
In 1966 if you wanted to sail you probably built your own boat and like the 1966 members you also built your own clubhouse at the same time. Today we listen to computer generated music and buy computer generated dinghies. I watched Ben Ainslie in the Americas Cup this year with a lap top permanently attached to the front of his buoyancy. Hmmm… don’t worry all you techies, Gill or Musto will have one suitable for club racing very soon.
There was however, one oldie of the period that made the news 66-67. Sir Francis Chichester, aged 65 sailed into the record books and the nation’s affection by circling the globe in Gypsy Moth IV, stopping only for a cold beer in Sidney. Could any sailor of the modern era do that again without the aid of a microchip – I very much doubt it. I am sure the 1966 members would have been standing at the bar drinking their Watney’s Red barrel, toasting this ‘old fella’ and moaning about the youth of the day! Because of the minimal technology at the time it was mostly down to character, stamina and resourcefulness not battery recharging cycles or 24 hr instant communication with home base. Am I talking rubbish well I am a little bit – nothing should stay the same, if you can improve something – do so, whether it’s music or sailing but let’s have it from within the person not from microchips. Otherwise it’s just down to those with latest technology and therefore with the most money that wins.
Let’s see the next 50 years of sailing continue to develop the individual, to make people, and not just young people, more resourceful and practical. Do not expect other to do it for you – get off your back side and do it yourself. Join the committee, join a work party, above all - go sailing! Just aim to be more Sir Francis Chichester and less Sir Ben Ainslie, please.