Thursday, October 3, 2013


Thanks to Mossel Bay Yacht Club for all these pics,
and to Tracy London for bringing them to my attention!

Its often said that many of the greatest racing drivers started with Mini-Coopers, and the same is often said of sailors and Dabbies. The Dabchick turned out to be one of the best sail training boats ever. This is the purest sailing you can imagine, although it helps if you have warm water! They are very sensitive boats and equally rewarding. Anyone sailing a Dabby develops strong instincts for the key elements of sailing viz. boat balance, sail trim, concentrating on the helm, anticipating the waves, weight distribution aboard etc - and a sense of how these can make you go faster or not. I think the element of single-handing comes into it as well, which in turns brings a level of resourcefulness and self reliance that is natural to Dabbie sailors. People who learn sailing on keel-boats often don't get this experience easily.

Dabbies perform uniquely well, especially in fresh winds. Their flat scow shape makes them quite controllable when planing at speed, and their well-balanced rig - main and jib - is fairly predictable and orthodox. Off the wind, they go like blazes, easily planing, and bouncing over the back of the waves as you surf over them.  When beating, they can be heeled over to an extreme angle - ride on the vertical gunwales - although this isn't the right way to go fast it did seem like fun at the time! Dead downwind - they can bury their bows and submarine while lifting the rudder out of the water if one had a fair load on board.

Dabbies are about the simplest boats to build and were very cheap then ... made of three sheets of ply, a few bits of meranti, Aerolite epoxy glue, a strip of fibreglass on the keelson, decent paint, and brass screws. No power-tools used. By comparison they seem quite high-tech now. My first Dabby had no bought components besides the mainsheet blocks and the stay wires, excluding the chainplates. All other fittings were simply fabricated from stainless steel off-cuts. The mast was wooden, with a track routed into each of  the meranti halves. The sails were "K" sails - made in Dacron by Jack Koper (well I seem to think his wife made the sails). The whole effort cost less than R100 in 1967.

Besides the low cost - the simplicity of Dabbies made them so attractive. The flat topped hull was light and easy to move and lift - making them manageable for even quite young children. Lifting onto car tops, storing in garage etc was also easier. Not to mention that the hull can't hold water - they were also relatively safe in that respect. 

The hull-design of scow dinghies is another fascinating point. Every boat needs a fine bow to soften the waves it hits. The bow can be soft in plan view or in the side elevation - i.e. pointy when viewed from above, or flat and tapered when viewed from the side... They each have pros and cons. For keelboats and displacement vessels, the pointy (plumb) bows seem attractive because they offer a longer waterline length, and create smooth lines to deep wineglass hulls. They usually track well. If waterline length isn't the key factor as in planing boats - then broad bows are good because they create a smooth run for water under the hull plus no sharp bends near the bow. When a V-bottom scow dinghy heels slightly - it is running on a flat underside which offers maximum lift and minimum wetted area. 

Key measurements:

  • LOA 3.6m
  • Beam: 1.2m   
  • Dry Weight 38.6 Kgs
  • Sail Area 5.6 sq.m

Note the length is exactly 1.5x a standard sheet of ply, and the width exactly equal to one sheet. No wastage here!

It is fantastic to see how the class is thriving in at least Cape Town, Hermanus and Mossel Bay at least - though I understand there are active classes all over the country and in fact many Dabchicks around the world now. Total numbers over 5000.

There can't really be a better boat for kids to learn sailing on....

See also the Sonnet reviewed elsewhere in this blog - also from the pen of Jack Koper. The Tempo has not been covered yet however.

Dabchick Class Association
See also