Letter to the editor

A recent picture of John, age 88, sailing the ‘American Classic’ 12-footer.

A recent picture of John, age 88, sailing the ‘American Classic’ 12-footer.


I was most interested in reading the Feb. 12 Lookout article featuring the Admiralty Dingy, its restoration and donation. In my early career in the Royal Navy (RN), I sailed, raced and maintained many of these boats.

They were designed in 1937 by the Royal Naval Sailing Association (RNSA) in its official capacity as advisors to the Admiralty in all matters of sailing and sail training. They were mainly used for recreational sailing, and most RN ships carried them for this purpose. In the UK, they were called the ‘RNSA 14s’. Other Commonwealth navies adopted the same boat design. In the UK, they stayed in service until 1959 and were replaced by the fibreglass Bosun Dingy.
I was introduced to these boats as a boy seaman aboard HMS Wessex, the Naval Reserve ship in Southampton. After seeing me sail, my divisional officer was impressed with my ability and informed me I had been chosen to represent the ship in the upcoming Naval Reserve Annual Regatta held in Portland Harbour. To everybody’s delight, I won the Presidents Cup and held on to it for three years out of four.

Following these successes, my commanding officer permitted me to have one of the 14s on loan in my home port of Poole in Dorset, where I raced it in all the local club regattas. My crew was Able Seaman (now Sailor Second Class) Frank Howell, who had served through the war and taken me under his wing to teach me seamanship and to keep me out of trouble! We became very good shipmates.
On one occasion, we entered a race for 14s in the Southampton regatta. I remember a stiff wind blowing, and Southampton water was rough. The boats were very wet and, having no decks, could ship a lot of water.  A helmsman and one crew staffed all the boats, jockeying for the start. Then, just before the start, a brand new 14 rolled up to the line with His Royal Highness (HRH) Prince Phillip at the helm. This was ‘Kiwi’, a 14 built in New Zealand and given to HRH as a gift. But there were three bodies aboard ‘Kiwi’! The extra weight would be an advantage in the conditions because, as water came aboard, the third person could bail, whereas the rest of us would have to come up into the wind to allow our crew member to bail. Obviously, we let HRH win!

I was in charge of all the boats (cutters, whalers, motor boats, surf boats and 12 RNSA 14s) while serving aboard HMS Warrior in 1957 as part of the British hydrogen bomb caper in the South Pacific. I spent weeks splicing and making up all the new rigging required and really learned to love those boats.

My final memory of the 14s was while serving aboard HMS Wave, flagship of the British Fishery Protection Squadron. We had just returned from the First Cod War off Iceland, and the squadron anchored off North Berwick in the Firth of Forth for the squadron’s regatta.

I was to represent the ship in the 14s race. All the ships were anchored in a straight line stretching about five miles. The course was to sail around the fleet. After crossing the line, it was a deadbeat to windward up to the lead ship. I realized the tide was about to turn and managed to squeak around, laying as close to the wind as I possibly could. Our boat was the downwind turn, and we rounded to great cheers – miles ahead of the rest of the fleet. Although we now had to fight the tide, we finished well ahead of the rest. That was definitely one to remember.

Years later, I saw several 14s in Esquimalt Dockyard, but they looked very sad. I also saw one repaired and looking great at the Victoria Classic Boat Show a few years ago. Sadly, it had been painted; all of ours were varnished, and the mahogany hulls always looked gorgeous. 

I am informed that many are cherished and sailing in the UK. It is wonderful to know that one now resides in the Calgary Naval Museum. There is also one in the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, N.S. I am sure that viewing these boats will bring back fantastic memories to many old sailors – like me!

– John Horton, Victoria

John Horton serves as Captain of the B.C. Squadron of the Royal Naval Sailing Association, which in June 2024 will hold the 50th anniversary running of the well-known RNSA Single Handed Race across the Gulf of Georgia. 
John helming a 14 in 1952.

John helming a 14 in 1952.

Filed Under: News ReleaseTop Stories


About the Author:

RSSComments (0)

Trackback URL

Comments are closed.