The National 18 was born in 1938 following a design competition organised by the then YRA  (now RYA) and the Yachting World magazine.

The original idea was that of Frank Knowling of Whitstable YC (later to be known as the father of  the class) for an 18 ­foot sailing dinghy, suitable for day sailing, yet fast enough to be of interest to  racing sailors and at a reasonable cost. (The first rather hopeful restriction of the original class  rules was “Price not to exceed £125 complete with spars, all equipment and designer’s fee but  not including sails”).

The plan was to produce an affordable national alternative to the many local  one­designs of about this size to be found right round the coast of the British Isles.  Many of  these local estuary classes survive today, for example the Mermaid in Dublin, Thames Estuary  OD, Chichester Harbour 18 etc.

The well­ known designer Uffa Fox won the competition (over the Laurent Giles submitted  version) with his ‘Ace’ design for a clinker ­built wooden boat. National 18 No 1, ‘Hurricane’, was  owned by Stanley Beale and sailed at Whitstable, with No.2 ’Gust’ and No.3 Foam’’.

Initial enthusiasm was held back by the effects of World War II but a good deal of 18 building got underway soon afterwards, when mahogany was again available for boat­ building and the class  became active especially in the Thames Estuary area.  

By 1950, fleets had appeared at clubs  dotted all around the British Isles and Ireland, the Class Association having been formed in 1947.   

The first Championships, held in 1949, was hosted by the Medway Yacht Club at Upnor.

Although most boats were built to the ‘Ace’ design, the class had always been ‘restricted’ rather  than ‘one­ design’ and boats with a reduced number of wider planks were built when glued plywood construction was adopted and even one moulded carvel boat was built (252 ’Sabon’)

By the mid 1960s, competition from the ever ­increasing number of smaller, lighter dinghies,  especially the many new grp built classes, almost consigned the racing 18’ to history.

The first  generation of 18’ racers were moving to bigger boats or golf and their heirs were left with high maintenance, old­ fashioned looking boats. One step towards improving things, taken in 1967, was to reduce the minimum weight of the metal centreboard from 175 lbs to 65 lbs (ie: the same size and shape plate but in aluminium  instead of cast iron). However, the expense of traditional wooden boat building brought the production of new boats to a halt.

In the same year, the Class voted to allow grp construction and commissioned Ian Proctor to  design a new 18’, with the informal brief that these should not outclass the wooden boats  overnight. By 1969, the plug and mould had been produced and the first grp 18’ built was number  266 ‘Genevieve’ owned by Murray Vines.  Murray Vines was Class President from 1954 to 1989.

The grp boat gave the class a new lease of life with over 40 new boats registered within 5 years.  The excessive weight in the ‘over­engineered’ Proctor deck and floor plans ensured that the grp boats did not outpace the wooden ones; although the set­up of the wooden boats, which  continued to win the National championships up to 1977, didn’t resemble the original ones too closely.  

The last wooden boat to win the Nationals was the mahogany ‘Ace’ number 183 ‘Maid  Mary’ from the Isle of Man.

The 18 was still a restricted class and in 1978 a foam ­sandwich one ­off, ‘Woodstock’ (314) was  built in the Isle of Man, designed by (university student) Jonathan Hudson. This design was  rather like an 18 foot Merlin Rocket of that time with very little rocker, narrower waterline, flatter  run aft and a beam of 8 feet at deck level. Despite shortcomings in the foils and rig, this very  stable boat was unbeatable downwind and the leverage of moving the three crew out an extra  foot made her stiffer all round.

In 1980, the Class voted to grandfather ‘Woodstock’ and go back to the Proctor hull design for all  future grp boats. This was to protect the interest of existing owners, as the entire fleet may as  well have been scrapped there and then if further development was to be permitted. In the wake of the considerable fuss, a number of rules were changed to help up­date the boats.  

By 1982, 18’s were allowed: a full top batten, a single trapeze (though remaining a three person  boat), a 2540 mm spinnaker pole (instead of 1830 mm), air ­tanks (instead of polystyrene foam  blocks) for buoyancy, and a 10 kgs centreboard (instead of 65 lbs/29.5 kgs) – material optional.

Development of the standard grp hull 18’s now came on apace. Within certain limits, the rules for  the design of floors, buoyancy and decks still allow scope for experiment and many variations are  now to be seen. With less weight, better spars, sails and foils a lot more potential has been  realised.

Up to date 18‘s, with the carbon spars, seem to perform to about PN 950. Through the 1980s new boats were produced in England, by Chris Haswell (and others) and in  Ireland, by Jim McCarthy (and others). By the late 1980s both the existing moulds, one in Ireland  and one in England were well past their sell by date and were scrapped.

In the early 1990s Peter Hinds, Isle of Man, produced new hull and deck moulds for the Class  using number 330, a boat bought from Derek Newman in London. Derek was Class Secretary  from 1960 to 2000. From these moulds, Peter produced numbers 347 to 350 inclusive. In 1995  the moulds were transported to Ireland for the Cork Harbour fleet to build replacement boats at  the new reduced minimum weight.

For decades, there had been pressure from the racing fraternity for a reduction in boat minimum  weight and, after the building of the experimental number 348 in the Isle of Man, the weight was  reduced from 250 kgs to 200 kgs in 1996. This change made the boats a lot easier to handle  afloat and ashore.

Although 200 kgs still looks high these days, the deep­ chested 1960s hull  design means that any further reduction in weight just lifts the bow out of the water. No point in  having an 18­foot boat with a 16­foot waterline!  Following the trend in many classes, loose footed mainsails were also adopted in 1996.

Between 1996 and 2006, twenty­ seven (grp hull and deck) boats were built by O’Sullivan of  Tralee to the standardised ‘Irish’ version, producing a near one design 18’ fleet in Cork…and with  so many boats on the water they enjoyed the best of racing. Cork Harbour is the stronghold of  the racing 18 and has supplied the Class Champion in all but 10 years since 1965. The ‘Results’  page has details.

The building of wooden 18’s seemed to be forgotten with rule changes aimed at the grp boats.  So in 1997 when Peter Collett (Falmouth) came along, keen to build a new wooden 18, the  Class, still smarting from ‘Woodstock’ perhaps, decided to limit new wooden boats to the familiar  Uffa Fox ‘Ace’ hull design. The modern method of clinker building using (6mm) plywood glued  planks would give a much cleaner interior than the original ribbed version. As far as is known,  this is the only new wooden 18’ built since the mid 1960s.

However, the wooden Classics have undergone a revival, particularly at Bosham, where around  a dozen have been lovingly restored.  These graceful boats race regularly and the oldest, the pre war No 15 ‘Tinkerbelle’ is one of the best.  

Championships were now on a four year cycle – Findhorn, Cork, England (variously Datchet, St  Mawes, Portland and Hayling) and St Mary’s IOM.  The accent was on inclusivity of all varieties –  Ultimates (lighter grp Proctors), Pen­Ultimates (heavier Proctors) and (Wooden) Classics.

In 2012, the Class was at a crossroads because the moulds were now worn out.  Do nothing and  die – but what to do?  There was much debate at the Findhorn AGM that year and it proved to be  a turning point.  The Class ‘elders’ felt there was enough support to try something new and  turned to Phil Morrison for a modern hull design that was largely within the current rules and  would accept existing spars and sails.  Furthermore, they put their hands in their pockets and  funded a prototype built by the Boatyard at Bere.

Launched in Cork in October 2013 and named  ‘Odyssey’, she was trialled extensively in UK and Ireland for 9 months. She was sleeker, lighter,  faster…and more comfortable than the Proctor and great to sail.  She received rave reviews and  the design was ratified at the 2014 AGM in Abersoch.

White Formula of Brightlingsea were appointed builders in the Autumn, tooling was funded by the  Class, the Royal Cork Yacht Club and White Formula and the first production boat was ready in  time for the RYA Dinghy Show 2015.  This is 18 No 401 and named ’Hurricane’ in memory of  the18 No 1 ’Hurricane’ built 77 years before.  She is part­ owned by Jeremy Vines whose father  Murray bought the first grp Proctor 46 years before.   In fact many 18 sailors today are the  second and third generation of families who have long appreciated both the rather special boats  and the lifetime friendships within the Class.

Later the same year, eleven new boats raced outside Cork Harbour in a very breezy Championships.  This 3 year regeneration project was a remarkable Anglo­ Irish team effort.

Within the Class the Morrison designed 18 is known as the ‘Ultra’. So now there are four  categories.  The Ultra joins the Ultimate, Pen­ultimate and Classic and we like to think they coexist quite happily and the Class makes the effort to be all inclusive.


Nat 18 book front

The history of the class was published

in an excellent book by Brian Wolfe,

to coincide with our 75th Anniversary, in 2013.

Book can be ordered from:

Ivan Wolfe Framing
Hazelhurst, Castle Terrace, Monkstown, Co. Cork, Ireland.
Tel: +353 21 4842284




2016  Square top main introduced and max spinnaker size set at 21 sq m (Ultra only)

2015  Spinnaker max size increased and mast shieve lifted by 250mm (Ultra only)

2009  Carbon mast and boom permitted 2014  Morrison design approved (min wt 160 Kg)


1938   Uffa Fox ‘Ace’ design adopted as the first National 18’ 18’ No.1 was ‘Hurricane’   [see Hurricane Cup]

1949   Minimum weight increased from 500 to 550 lbs.(250 kgs) 1954   Self ­bailers and glued plywood planks (8” (200mm) max exposed width) permitted.

1965   Spinnaker pole increased from 5ft to 6ft and spinnaker increased to 18’ luffs, 12’ maximum foot and half heights.

1967   Centreboard minimum weight reduced from 175 lbs to 65 lbs (29.5 kgs) ie: aluminium instead of cast iron or steel plate. 900lbs of positive buoyancy (polystyrene foam or similar) becomes mandatory. Grp hulls permitted.

1969   First boat built to the Ian Proctor design – number 266 ‘Genevieve’

1980   Following construction in 1978 of the one ­off 314 ‘Woodstock’, development of hull design is stopped – Proctor hull design adopted for all new grp boats­ ie: from Class mould(s) only.

1981   Single trapeze permitted. Full top batten permitted. Centreboard minimum weight reduced to 10 kgs with material optional. Built­ in buoyancy tanks or air bags permitted to replace polystyrene. Spinnaker pole length increased from 6 ft (1830 mm) to 2540 mm.

1996   Hull minimum weight reduced to 200 kgs. (and max correctors 5kgs). Loose­ footed mainsail and zip ­luffed jib permitted. New wooden boats limited to Uffa ‘Ace’ hull design and minimum plywood plank thickness reduced to 6mm. Maximum beam across the deck (grp boats) fixed at 2365 mm and maximum extension of gunwale outboard of sheerline 125 mm (all boats).

2001   Carbon ­fibre spinnaker pole permitted. 2008   Spinnaker hoist height raised 150mm to 5940 mm above sheer level.

2009   Carbon mast and boom permitted.