“Talking Sailing” from my archives. The Finn Dinghy

Bruce McCurrach offshore Durban.
pic by Richard Crockett

by Richard Crockett

I recently tumbled to the fact that the Finn Dinghy made it’s debut at the Olympics in 1952 in Helsinki. That’s 70 years ago – and this class is still a powerhouse in international sailing. It was designed by Rickard Sarby in 1949, specially for the 1952 Olympics.

On checking my archives I have four large folders of information on the Finn dinghy, and especially Finn sailing in this country.

There is too much info in those files, and too many pics to use in just one feature, but what is offered today is a start, with more to come sometime in the future.

There are also 26 pics to accompany this feature, and tons more to choose from in the future.

The best way to kick this off is reference from the book “Yachting in Southern Africa” by Anthony Hocking, who had this to say about the Finn:

“It was through Durban too that the new Olympic monotype was introduced to South Africa. Abe Benningfield of the Royal Natal was responsible. He had been crewing with his fellows of the ‘Three Narks’ – usually Noel Horsfield and Joe Ellis-Brown Brown – at the Helsinki Olympics in a 5,5 Metre, and had been impressed with the looks of the Finn, the newly introduced monotype which Helmut Stauch had to sail. Benningfield imported a Finn to Durban for his own use, and others followed suit. The first home-grown Finn was built in East London, and the class rapidly gained popularity throughout the country. .

“The Finns’ first outing as a class at a National Regatta was on Durban Bay in 1957. There is nothing like starting at the top. Gracing the fleet on that occasion was the Dane Paul Elvstrom, the reigning Olympic champion with three successive gold medals to his credit and a fourth coming his way in 1960. Elvstrom mentioned the Durban series in his autobiography, “Elvstrom Speaks on Yacht Racing”:

“1957 was really a fantastic year. After the Olympics in Melbourne I went to South Africa, to Durban, to take part in the South African championships in Finns. They invited me and they sent me an aeroplane ticket. When someone invites me and spends a lot of money on an aeroplane ticket and they show me hospitality and so on, then I am always so scared not to be able to do what they expect and these kinds of races make me awfully nervous. So I tried really hard to win and even though it was a hot climate and I sweated I still put on all the wet clothes to be sure to win. I won all the races I competed in, except one light wind race where I was second and another race when I broke my mast when I was leading. So I won the National Championship and I was happy, mainly because they got what they expected. I feel responsible to do my very best when people invite me.”

“There was an interesting comment on his performance from Rupert Ellis Brown:
I watched Paul Elvstrom the thrice Olympic Gold Medallist, sail during the
recent regatta in Durban, and in spite of his proven prowess I do not think his skill as a helmsman greater than that of quite a few of our local skippers. His success over them was in the hard work he put in, not only during the race, but in preparing himself beforehand, and his unremitting concentration from the five minute gun to the finishing gun. To many of us, this seems more like hard work than sport, but perhaps it is characteristic of the times we live in.”

So that’s how the Finn Class came to be in South Africa, and over the years many South Africans have competed in the class internationally – and done well too. This is not the place to mention names in fear of missing someone out.

Instead there are several articles from my archives, plus from the International Finnfare magazine with specific reference to our local Finn sailors.

1966 Finn Gold Cup Report & Results. SEE THOSE HERE:  1966 Finn Gold Cup Results – 001978 – OCR

1967 Finnfare article on SA Nationals. READ IT HERE:  1967 Finnfare – 001976 – OCR

1968 Saldanha Bay SA Nationals report & results. READ IT HERE:  1968 Finnfare – 001975 – OCR

1969 Finn Gold Cup Results. READ IT HERE:  1969 Finn Gold Cup Results – 001977 – OCR

There are 25 Finn pics below:

All the atmosphere of a hard-fought yacht race is conveyed in this picture with its contrast in style. Nearest the camera is Peter Collins, putting every ounce into his effort. In the other boat is Jimmy Whittle. His sail number literally came unstuck – the judge was astonished to see that 171 became 17, then 1, then noting!

Natal skipper Dave Booth hanging well out to show good balance and trim. He is followed by W Gardiner.

Ernie Shaw. Note the blanket which he used as a weight jacket – legal in those days.
pic by Richard Crockett

Ernie Morrison.

Lionel Fridjohn in ‘Flamefin’ was top in the Finn class. The forst provincial win by a member of the False Bay Yacht Club.

At Clube Maritimo Professor Norinha Feio, Director of Sport for Mozambique, hands the Finn prize to overall winner Stuart Donkin.

Before the start of the first race. Flags gaily decorate the club and Hans starts putting on his sweaters on the slipway…

All this nonsence about plastic or wooden, American, Dutch, Swedish or South African hulls! Johan Louter has solved his problems, he sails without a hull! (Just outside the shark nets off Durban).

A start of the Finns.
L-R. Johan Louter in ‘Fox II’; James McCall in ‘Para Finn’; Peter Collins in ‘Faux Pas’; Peter Cardwell in ‘Fezant’ and Bob Nuttal in ‘Finomenal’.

John Sully took to Finns for the week and is seen here in Nick Hancock’s Maarse Finn ‘Fillibuster’.

Harvey Blogg, Bob Nuttal and Johan Louter on the beat.

Peter Gent of Pretoria demonstrating how not to sail a Finn to windward, although it does give a better view of one’s opponents!

No detail is available for this pic!

John Domett leads the fleet. 29 December 1980

Dereck Lourens of Imperial Yacht Club sailing ‘Minx’ off simonstown. 28 May 1967.

Finns offshore Durban with the SA Navy vessel ‘Nautilus’ as Bridge Boat. 24 March 1977

Legend has it that during a Finn Nationals offshore Durban the Race Officer called a “recall”, but as Ross Robson had such a poor start he bellowed “general recall” to which the Navy ratings assist on the bridge complied much to the annoyance of the Race Officer.

Ernie Shaw racing off Durban.
pic by Richard Crockett

Ross Robson sailing off Durban.

Trevor Donald sailing off Durban.

David Booth ahead of two unidentified competitors.

Ali Serritslev, this years national champion and South Africa representative at the 1977 Finn Worlds, crosses the finish line to win the 5th race.

Terry Reynolds. “Aha – look astern – I’m gaining on Ally!!!” (Ally being Alan Serritslev).

Finn Highveld Champs at VLC – November 1975.
Al Leenstra, winner of the Finn Highveld Championship, sailing during the quiet wind conditions which prevaled during all the races.