Boating revolution

Chris with the museum's Enterprise
Chris by an Enterprise, in the entrance hall of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

The left-leaning New Chronicle, controlled by the Cadbury family, launched Jack Holt’s plywood Enterprise in 1956. But the paper was failing, even with a circulation of over a million, and was absorbed four years later into Lord Rothermere’s right-wing Daily Mail.

It was not the end of newspaper sailing promotions, because two years later the Daily Mirror, with a largely working class readership, took up the theme with the Mirror Dinghy; it was also designed by Jack Holt, with the help of a then famous television DIY expert called Barry Bucknell, who devised a new and even cheaper method of boat construction in which the plywood hull shell was stitched together as if it was made of stiff fabric, with copper wire as the thread, and then glued along the joints with resin and glass fibre tape.

A child plays on part of a Mirror hull at the museum
A child plays on part of a Mirror hull at the National Maritime Museum

It was the first of a succession of very cleverly designed low budget boats promoted by the newspaper, culminating in the Mirror Offshore, a miniature cruising boat with a tiny sleeping cabin, which was marketed as a craft that would allow enthusiasts with low budgets to enter the then even more expensive and exclusive world of yacht cruising.

I checked boat prices on a visit to the  London Boat Show, but found that even with the enormous sum of £70 to spend (more than £1,500 today) there was no sailing dinghy built in the traditional manner that I could possibly afford. Luckily, one of Jack Holt’s smaller designs was within my budget.

The Heron was a scaled down version of Holt’s GP 14 which had been launched in 1949, both using a plywood and glue technology which had been proven in the construction of light, high-speed naval craft during the war.

The Enterprise’s pedigree has now given it the status of a prime exhibit in the entrance hall to the rebuilt National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Herons, too, are still sailed today, more than 60 years after the first, which is in the National Maritime Museum’s site at Falmouth. A large piece of a Mirror dinghy, which like the Enterprise is still widely raced, can now be found in use as a bench for children in the Greenwich entrance hall, while Mirror Number 1 is at the Falmouth site.

Postscript

Tony Kennedy, co-owner of Spring Fever, also built a Heron in his youth, and then briefly owned an Enterprise, before going to sea professionally, where his later craft were measured by the tens of thousands of tons.

Swapping sailing tales with a friend in London, Trevor Davies, I discovered that he built a Heron dinghy in London in the early 1960s, not in a working men’s institute but in the even less likely surroundings of Limehouse river police station, where his father worked.

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