Campion Sail and Design

Iota - 11’ x  50”



The Iota has proven her ability to sail by racing against modern class dinghies over the last 9 years, in light and strong breezes, and in both winter and summer.  She will sail competitively against Toppers on most occasions and has only twice been beaten by Mirrors – not bad for a modest rowing and sailing dinghy from the 1930’s which, it seems, did not even merit a name.



Iota rigged at the shore
Detail of mast thwart knee

The prototype IOTA, launched in May '91, is an enlarged and slightly modified version of a 1930's design for a rowing and sailing skiff from the board of the naval architect and maritime historian H.I.Chapelle, who in turn was almost certainly inspired by the design of a sailing dinghy by H. J. Ashcroft. The result is an elegant, traditional - looking dinghy with a sweet sheer that is both practical and handsome, a sailing performance to match or better that of some class dinghies of comparable size, and an excellent rowing performance. Such a design is, however, more demanding and exacting to build than the usual flat - sheered, relatively slack bilged and full - bowed boats more commonly seen. Unlike many designs, both old and new, the IOTA is exceptionally well mannered in light, moderate and even fresh winds. Her light airs' ability is excellent thanks to her hollow waterlines forward, her moderate beam with a firm round turn to the bilge amidships and her well - lifted quarters. Even with the easily handled, low aspect ratio, balanced lug, IOTA does not appear to lose out to her gunter or bermudian rigged rivals to windward, and offwind she is noticeably faster. In addition, the prototype has consistently shown an unusual ability in light breezes: to sail herself, with the helm free - not tied or fixed in any way - for short periods. Yet she will tack very quickly and is very manoeuvrable on all points. When the wind starts to increase, IOTA remains well balanced and does not suffer from harsh weather helm - unlike lesser designs. In a fresh breeze, off the wind, she gives a stable, exhilarating planing performance; and like many good planing dinghies, the faster she planes, the more stable she seems to become. She is, as a result of the deep, marked forefoot, the hollow waterlines forward and the full, flared bow above the waterline for reserve buoyancy, drier than any comparable boat. Ashore, IOTA is easily handled as she is light in weight, and quickly rigged: the rotating mast is unstayed and is quickly stepped; the sail can remain laced to the spars and so is quickly set; and it is but the work of a moment to ship the lifting rudder and drop in the daggerboard. Under oars, IOTA quickly shows the excellence of her design: she rows exceptionally easily with one or two, tracks steadily yet is very manoeuvrable without a rudder, and has a good carrying capability - she is both less sensitive to weight and considerably more stable than any 'out-and-out' rowing skiff whilst giving only a little away in performance. The sharp entry and easy buttock lines, the good reserve of buoyancy above the waterline of the flared bows and full transom - together with a sheer that is both handsome in calm waters and effective in rough - provide a reassuring performance in choppy water under oars. Whilst most sailing boats can be rowed - after a fashion - very few can be rowed long distances for enjoyment; with her easily driven lines, IOTA can. IOTA's superiority derives from her lines which have not been compromised or simplified for mass-production, nor 'improved' to follow the vagaries or whims of fashion. She is pretty, distinctive and very able.


Too many wind-grabbing Wayfarers!

Early days racing at Haversham S/C.  Not a very good turn-out.  Still too many wind-thieving Wayfarers waiting to get in the way, though!


Snapping at their heels

Some ten years ago*, I was looking for a pretty, traditional-looking 11 footer that would both row and sail well.  Although there are some good designs readily available for predominantly rowing or sailing craft, few seem to combine well the dual function: the rowing craft tend to have sharply rising floors and thus tend to be rather tender; whilst the sailing boats are too beamy and too full-bodied to be a pleasure to row any distance, particularly in choppy waters.  In addition, a ‘U’ shaped full-bowed craft is often slow and wet to windward under sail in any weight of wind if driven hard.  And I was looking for a boat that would sail as well as any contemporary racing dinghy – a large slow boat may be acceptable and useful if you are not racing, but a slow small boat is nothing but aggravating.


It was then that I turned to Chapelle’s ‘Boatbuilding’.  I had often admired the unnamed 10 foot rowing and sailing dinghy, but had felt that it was a little too small; yet it had much that I desired: the sharp entry at the waterline, but with a full, flaring bow for reserve buoyancy; moderate beam and deadrise for rowing, but with a straight line in the rise of floor and hard turn to the bilge – much harder than most dinghies – amidships and aft, guaranteed to produce stiffness under sail once heeled a few degrees.  So…


Having set out the sections a few inches further apart, I relofted the boat, flaring out the midsection to avoid the tumblehome there and relofted the stem.  The forward waterlines were filled out slightly, though the hollow in the waterlines forward was kept.  The resulting boat is a little longer, slightly wider and somewhat more powerful than the original.


A few other changes were made: a foil-shaped daggerboard replaces the low aspect ratio centreboard in the interests of better windward ability, making the boat lighter to handle ashore and giving a little more room inside.  The rudder was changed to a high aspect ratio lifting pattern for better control in rough water and ease in beaching.  The rig, too, was changed: the mast, whilst remaining unstayed was increased in both diameter and length to take a new balanced-lug rig of some 60 square feet instead of the low aspect triangular sail.  Construction details were changed to suit glued-clinker planking and some steamed oak ribs were riveted in for extra stiffness, strength and looks – as there were to be no floorboards to add unnecessary weight or to hide the mud, grime and grit which are the lot of a racing dinghy on an ex-gravel pit in mid-winter.


In use, the boat has certainly come up to expectations – and raised many an eyebrow by her sheer sailing ability.  She is quite handsome both on and off the water and has received many compliments.  She rows very easily two up as expected and is very manoeuvrable despite the relatively deep bow and skeg.  Under sail, she slips along easily in light winds, accelerates well, is stiff when heeled ten degrees or so when working to windward in fresh breezes and planes fast and easily for an eleven footer though perhaps not quite as early as a ‘Topper’ – though this may have more to do with the fourteen and a half stone of her middle-aged helm and the lightness and youth of the opposition than her lines!  Her forte is undoubtedly a fresh breeze to windward with a bit of a lop when she has surprised even larger craft – though they have naturally left her standing after the windward mark.  It is one thing for a reviewer to claim that a particular boat is fast and handy when it is sailed alone without any direct comparison, quite another for a dinghy to race against good club racing dinghies of various designs and acquit herself well, week in week out, year in year out, winter and summer - for much of her nine years.  But that is the history of Chapelle’s little unnamed, unsung wonder.


* This was written in the year 2000.


Iota reaching in light airs
Iota planing downwind

Giving a British Moth and a Pico a race for their money - or at least their reputations!  This must be towards the end of the race as in the background can be made out the leading Lasers which started some 3 minutes before us and which will soon lap us.

Out-sailing a British Moth and Pico
Iota sailing in light airs - broad reaching
Iota sailing light airs - running
Iota from the lee
Iota sailing in a moderate breeze
Iota planing in a fresh breeze
Iota planing on run - fresh breeze
Iota racing to windward in a moderate breeze
Iota at the shore
Ready for rowing

The Iota has proven her ability to sail by racing against modern class dinghies for 9 consecutative years until the year 2000 - and off and on since then when the mood took - in light and strong breezes, and in both winter and summer.  She will sail competitively against Toppers - boat for boat - on most occasions and has only twice been beaten by Mirrors; not bad for a modest rowing and sailing dinghy from the 1930's which, it seems, did not even merit a name.


And just to clarify matters for the doubting Thomases over her sailing ability, Iota sails off a Portsmouth Yardstick Rating  of 1200 - quite ridiculous, but there we are.  As a comparison, Wayfarers sail off 1099, Solos sail off 1155, Toppers off 1290 and single-handed but sloop rigged Mirrors off 1372.  Clearly, good balanced lug dinghies must be handicapped out of existence to avoid causing too many red faces among the plastic brigade! Can't have a "funny looking boat" - as it was so endearingly referred to recently - stealing the chaps' silver, now can we?


And as for those knowledgeable souls who, from their vast experience of handicap racing, maintain that lug rigged boats are inherently inferior to contemporary boats,  and who spout long and loud about the impossibility of lug rigged boats pointing high or sailing fast - I do hope that a certain forum has some members whose ears are burning brightly - please come and make your wisdom known to the handicap committee of Haversham Sailing Club.  There's a good bar, and I'll stand you a good few pints.  It'll be worth the spectacle.



Foot-note to the above: I believe that I have not raced the Iota for about 4 years, sailing a Moth amongst other things.  However,  earlier this year I did dust her off and sail her for two races one light wind day when sailing the Moth would have been just too uncomfortable in comparison [such is my dedication to racing!].  The results, as published by Haversham Sailing Club, are at the bottom of the page, and the positions are no better than about half or three quarters the way down the results' table.  Just remember that the Iota was, as ever, sailing off a yardstick of 1200 with a fourteen and a half stone helm as crew. Now, if only the PY were the same as a West Wight or Solent Scow, and the crew weighed the same eleven and a half stone as he did thirty years ago!  Yeah, right, dream on, lad....