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The Waldringfield one-design ‘Dragonfly’

It’s September 1948, an august body of be-blazered chaps and elegantly-coiffured gals gather in an (almost certainly) smoke-filled committee room to politely argue their respective cases for a dozen or so names including ‘The Deben Jolly Boat’, ‘Sandpipers’, ‘Peewits’, ‘Chameleons’, ‘Rainbows’ and ‘Fusspots’. It went to a vote and  Mrs Parker’s proposal, seconded by Dr Palmer, that the new class should be called ‘The Dragonfly’was carried unanimouslyNo less than 20 members had pledged a sum roughly equivalent to one and a half times the current working man’s wage to purchase one of the 14-foot Bermudan-rigged dinghies. £152.10s.0d including sails, rowlocks, Royalties and measuring fee. Later that winter the partly-built skeleton of a new Dragonfly was transported to Ipswich and hoisted up to the first floor of the Great White Horse Hotel to be star exhibit at the annual Dinner and Dance.

A bare four months later, with numbers carved into 18 new transoms at the yards of Nunn Bros. and Robertsons, building ten apiece, a draw was held to allocate the new boats to their proud owners. They were Dennis Moore (No 1. ‘Moppett’),  LE Ogden ( No2. ‘Fantee’),  AA Gibbons (No3. ‘Snap’), Paul King (No4. ‘Temper’), GA Revett (No5. ‘Wings’), Frank Mossman (N 6. ‘Ripple’), Jack Hoylans (No9. ‘Oriel’), D Thompson (No10. ‘Windrush’), Brian Hawkes (No11. ‘Francesca’), KEM Fish(No12. ‘Goldfish’), JS Alderton (No14. ‘Dinah’), Eric Wilde (No15. ‘Moon’), GW Barnard (No16. ‘Pixie’), Cyreil Stollery (No17. ‘Stinger), Ken Nichols-Palmer (No18.), Miss H Parker (No19. ‘Windsong’), Mrs Digby (No20. ‘Roseanna’) and Malcolm Poole (No21. ‘Katurah’).

May 1949 was spent fitting out the new fleet. Master Roger Stollery was aboard for the launch of No17 under the command of the owner of Robertson’s yard, when it was promptly dismasted. Nothing changes! On June 11, the Dragonfly fleet came to the line for their first race. Four boats competed; No11 won followed by 18 and 6. The fourth boat, No5. Was recorded as having had a late start. Nothing changes! By the end of that 1949 season 16 dragonflies had competed, Dr Palmer had taken the newly donated Regatta Shield and one-design racing had come to Waldringfield. The foundations for a pursuit of excellence that has nurtured national and world class champions had been laid. 

In 1963 there were 43 boats numbering up to 45 (8 & 13 were never built) and 24 swung prettily on mooring trots. A fleet of 18 came to the line for the Deben Week of 1978 as the class approached its 30th Anniversary. Great characters emerged from those early post-war river rivalries. A driving force in dinghy  racing, Cyril Stollery, Commodore of the “Democratic Sailing Club of Waldringfield” for 21 years, is remembered today as ‘someone who was always tinkering with his boat in pursuit of a bit more speed to no great effect.’ Class rules were always there to be stretched by some (Nothing changes!)Mr Garnham mooring his boat at the top of the tide line in an attempt to get round the 48 hours afloat before competing rule, Mr Sudell shaving a bit too much off the end of his stern  planking, Peter Fraser admitting after retirement to having taken his boat home just prior to Deben Week and attempting to reduce its weight with the farming family’s grain dryer. 

But the guaranteed way to get amongst the trophies was to put local boy, George Turner, on the helm of your Dragonfly. Brought up on the Deben and generally acknowledged to know the river better than anyone, George took the prestigious Regatta Shield a record ten times in the first 20 years. A member of his family once told me that as a young mill apprentice George took more in prize money, helming his employers boat in Deben Week, than he took home for a week’s work at the mill (I hope it’s true!).  Peter Fraser, trademark pipe clenched firmly in his teeth, did finally take home the Shield in 1973, sailing No32 ‘Linnett’the only Dragonfly to have been sailed every season at Waldringfield since its construction in 1952. No.32 is now in the hands of infamous pot-hunting boatbuilding brothers, Fred and Steve Larkman, watch this space!

Many mature members will (hopefully) retain fond memories of Dragonfly stalwart and renowned squeezebox player, the indomitable Charlie Taylor. Charlie’s Dragonfly days came to a dramatic end in the North Sea at Felixstowe when he was plucked from the turbulent waters of the Deben Bar. Sadly Dragonfly No 2. could not be saved. It has never of course been all about the racing. As a family club, members agreed from the outset  that they wanted something that would double as a ‘comfortable dayboat’. The enduring appeal of this 70-year-old design is that the Dragonfly is a very nice boat to just take for a sail. Whether it is picnics upriver of Wilford Bridge, riotous cricket on Felixstowe’s Horse Sands or a ladder rack of instant barbecues in a field at Methersgate Quay, the social side of the Dragonfly has always been a vital plank in the charm of the Class. Nobody remembers who was the first Dragonfly World Champion (‘cept maybe the winner) but everybody remembers the superb treasure hunt!

The class has had its darker days. Boats have disappeared from the area, decayed to a state beyond feasible repair and numbers on moorings dropped to a handful. But as she hits 70 the Dragonfly is enjoying a heartening revival, largely due to the efforts of two members of a family which goes right back to the beginnings. James Palmer, grandson of founding member Ken Nicholls-Palmer (D18 & D42) has give the class the best possible shot in the arm with production of a brand new traditionally constructed Dragonfly No 46 ‘Phoenix’. Completed in 2016 James was worthy winner of the Regatta Shield in 2017 and races ‘Phoenix’ keenly every Wednesday evening and trophy weekends. Meanwhile John Palmer,  Dad of James, son of Ken, has devoted countless hours in the last decade bringing two of the Dragonfly fleet ‘back from the dead’, helping and advising on the restoration of others and is currently working on the full restoration of D34. Greatly aided by the enthusiastic captaincy of Richard Smithson (D10) these efforts mean the class is in the best shape it has been in for years. A raft of septuagenarian celebrations is planned for 2019 culminating in a September weekend of socials and sailing when  the class plays host to our Irish twin class the IDRYU 14 from Howth, Dublin Bay who will no doubt sail us off the water and give us a masterclass in drinking.

Stephen Cooney
Waldringfield Sailing Club Dragonfly Class