Graduate Dinghy Association

The History of the Graduate Dinghy

 
by David Wilson
 
 
The Graduate dinghy originated in 1952 at the hands of Dick Wyche. The plan had been to produce an economical one design dinghy which would sail as well as contemporary designs but could be made at lower cost. This was achieved with the use of new improved plywoods based on a simple wood frame. The design incorporated built in buoyancy tanks eliminating the troublesome plastic bags in use at the time.
 
 It is alleged in early trials in 1952 on the river Trent that the prototype Graduate was faster but less stable than a National 12 and therefore the original sail area was reduced to 83.5sqft from 90sqft. National 12 production at Dick Wyches company (Wyche & Coppock) was a mainstay and a similar performance dinghy could have affected sales so this might have been a good reason to slow down Graduate performance.
 
The first production boat was sold by Wyche & Coppock in 1952 to a member of Beeston Sailing Club who commented "…I am satisfied with her performance, she points very close to the wind and planes well, given a good blow". At this time the boat was available with a 20ft mast and this allowed the use of a 90ft or 83.5sq ft sail area.
 
  By the end of 1953 over 100 boats had been registered. In those days some owners built from kit, others by construction from the plans and boats were made by Wyche & Coppock. By 1956 the class association had been standardized on the 83.5sqft sails although they were still being manufactured in Egyptian cotton. The boat was also sailed overseas in Northern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Bahrain, Bermuda, Cyprus, Eire, Qatar and South Africa. Even today we still have registered owners in Australia, South Africa and France.
 
  By 1959 Terylene sails had become available which had a superior performance to the cotton alternatives. A further development in 1965 was an experiment with a spinnaker and a slightly larger jib sail. The larger jib sail was adopted in 1967 although enthusiasm for the spinnaker was muted perhaps because of the resulting instability downwind! The resultant change in jib size resulted in a sail area of 90sqft - back to square one!
 
 Also in 1967 the issue of glass fibre boats was raised together with the question of metal masts. However it was not until 1969 that a GRP protoptype appeared built by Wyche & Coppock 1970 saw the start of production with the Wyche & Coppock "Supergrad" design. Despite serious arguments about the merits of wooden masts, metal masts became de rigueur. Odd to think that experienced sailors could defend wooden masts!
 
 In 1972 composite construction Graduates appeared, the hull being moulded in GRP but the bulkhead, and upper decks were made from plywood. These boats were successful and provided a good alternative to GRP or wood boats made from the plans. Stitch & Glue production methods were also experimented with and in 1974 and these also proved to be a good lower cost alternative.
 
Following the design and manufacture of the wooden 'Rebel' Graduate of 1975 by Cliff Francis, George Robson and Adrian Baker introduced the 'Alpha' wooden Graduate and many were sold not only finished but also in kit form for home construction.
 
At this time Wyche & Coppock were still selling GRP 'Supergrads' but sadly they ceased production in 1987. From 1994 to 1997 Mike Wakefield of Sevenoaks Boats designed and made not only wooden Graduates but also the FRP Sprinter variant which became popular particularly in the south of England. Mike also produced some nice wood boats, some with comfortable rolled side decks which were kind to crews ribs. Nowadays, the GRP boat is manufactured by Rooster Boats http://www.roostersailing.com/merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Store_Code=1&Category_Code=sobp
A modern deck layout and fast hull shape make this a winning machine!
 
The Graduate dinghy is still fundamentally the same animal as envisaged by Dick Wyche 50 years ago. A 12ft 6inch dinghy, economical in manufacture, easy to handle both in and out of the water, but with a competitive sailing performance.