The distinctive Squib has quietly sold over 800 boats, making it one of the most popular one-design keelboats at events such as Cowes and around the country. Rupert Holmes took one for a spin…
Approaching its 40th aniversary, the Squib is quietly one of the most popular classes in the UK. Turnouts at class events are consistently high — last year’s nationals, for instance, saw 89 boats gather at the Isle of Wight’s Royal Victoria YC. It was the ninth largest championship fleet of the season and the most numerous keelboat nationals. It’s also one of the more popular classes at Skandia Cowes Week — before the rise of the SB3s, it was second most popular in White Group, behind only the XODs. The annual inland championships at Rutland are always oversubscribed, with the numbers capped at 50.
Almost 850 Squibs have been built in the 39 years since the prototype was launched in 1968, and class builders Parker Yachts build a dozen new boats each year. The association has over 600 active members, sailing in 23 fleets throughout Great Britain — from the South Coast to Scotland — as well as a further five fleets in Northern Ireland and Eire.
Why is the Squib so enduringly popular? ‘It’s an affordable, low maintenance, closely matched onedesign class and only needs two people to race, so there are no hassles with organising crew,’ says Steve Warren-Smith, vice commodore of RVYC. Owner Hilary Martin adds: ‘It’s an easy boat to sail, but it’s very hard to sail it well — there are many very good sailors who don’t make it to the front of the fleet.’ Another secret of the class’s success is perhaps that it appeals to a wide age range — competitors at last year’s nationals ranged in age from 10-84. With its inherent stability the boat is also ideal for people with disabilities and has been used extensively for RYA Sailability purposes.
The Squib was designed by Oliver J Lee as the first design for a then-new boat builder, Hunter Boats, and was an immediate success.
In the late 1960s the Squib was very much a state-of-the-art design, with a short low-centre of gravity keel and high aspect ratio rudder set well aft. Flat aft sections promote surfing in moderate conditions. The boat’s light displacement offered good light weather performance and allowed it to be towed by almost any car. Heavy weather performance was also good — a 50 per cent ballast ratio, with much of that weight in a bulb at the bottom of the keel, gives the ability to keep sailing even in Force 6-7 conditions.
By comparison to today’s standards, the boat is somewhat heavy, the draught moderate and beam relatively narrow, which restricts sail-carrying ability and results in a comparatively low powerweight ratio. In addition, the symmetrical spinnaker is rather small.
The Squib design quickly spawned a number of offshoots. First was the Sandhopper — the same boat but with shoal draught and triple keels, enabling them to be kept on a drying mooring. Some 45 Sandhoppers have been built to date, including five recently by Parker. They are popular on the East Coast, with active racing at Thorpe Bay YC and Maylandsea Bay SC.
In the early days of Squib production, Peter Poland of Hunter Boats asked Oliver Lee if he could put a lid on a Squib, so that he could go cross-Channel JOG racing in a boat that would cost ‘…less than a full set of instruments.’ The result was the Hunter 19. It was another instant success and was followed in 1974 by the Europa, which used the same hull, but had a larger coach roof, more interior space, and a self-draining cockpit.
It would be unthinkable now to turn such as small boat into a cruiser, but perspectives were different in 1970 and they proved to be excellent sea boats, capable of far more adventurous voyages than their small size would suggest — demonstrated beyond doubt when David Blagden successfully completed the 1972 OSTAR singlehanded transatlantic race in his slightly modified Hunter 19 ‘Willing Griffin’.
Nowadays the oldest boats — those with sail numbers up to 150 — are particularly coveted, partly because their keels came from a very fair mould. Later boats (up to numbers in the mid-late 700s) were effectively mass produced — at one stage Hunter was producing one every other day and attention to detail inevitably suffered.
Sailmaker Dick Batt owns No. 51, which is in immaculate condition. Despite being near 40 years old, boats from this era are still winning races, although many have been stripped to the bare mouldings and keel, before being comprehensively rebuilt.
Oliver Lee held the license to build Squibs until his death in 1993, although they were moulded by Hunter Boats. In 1994, the license was awarded to Barker Brewer boats, who built 12 Squibs, until building passed to Parker Yachts in 1997, with boat number 783. Since then, some 70 Parker boats have been launched and an average of nine new boats are currently built each year. These are a match performance-wise for the coveted early boats, but at a price.
New boats must adhere to the strict one-design rule, however, Bill Parker says they have made improvements through paying close attention to detail. This includes tight control of the weight of each element of the boat, fitting beams and floors while the hull is still in the mould so there’s no distortion of the hull shape and properly sealing all wooden parts to prevent weight gain and degradation due to water absorption.
A move to laminate sails is being discussed, although the distinctive tan colour would be retained. Despite the higher initial cost the longer life of laminates is appealing, especially for jibs, which can loose their shape relatively quickly.
Our test took place in a Force 3-4 at RVYC, on a bright and warm Sunday in November during the club’s Frostbite series. The club is home to one of the largest fleets in the UK, with over 40 Squibs, at least 25 of which regularly race over the summer.
We sailed ‘Hussar’, boat number 501, owned by Anne and Martin Harrison. They have owned the boat for three seasons and Anne in particular has sailed Squibs for some time, first at Sea View YC, and later at RVYC. They have extensively upgraded the deck gear, including traveller, mainsheet, a powerful 12:1 kicker and backstay controlled from the helm — the crew controls almost everything else. There are no winches — luff tension is achieved via a mainsail cunningham and a tack downhaul for the jib.
The Squib’s a comfortable boat to sail, whether hiking in a breeze or sitting on one of the cockpit seats in light airs. Built in buoyancy tanks fore and aft, plus small bags under the seats, provide overall neutral buoyancy, so the boat won’t sink if it’s swamped, but also it can’t be sailed unless it’s bailed out and it may not support the weight of the crew. Putting this is context, this is better than a Dragon — three of which sank in the Solent during the 2006 season — but not as safe as later designs with self-draining cockpits.
The Squib is responsive and reasonably quick to manoeuvre and in some ways comparable to a big dinghy. The position of your weight, and the way in which you move it, is vital to success, the boat should be kept flat upwind, and pumping the kite on the wave tops will promote surfing in moderate conditions.
Roll tacking whenever conditions allow is also beneficial, but unlike a dinghy, the boat will slow in the tack. Therefore, minimising the number of tacks in an upwind leg is important, as is maintaining clean air. Also, the boat is not close-winded compared to more modern designs, so maintaining boat speed is more important than pointing.
The boat is very sensitive to the amount of twist in the sails, especially in light airs — matching mainsheet/traveller with the barber-hauler position and jib sheet setting is crucial. Although warned about this at the outset, I raced with the main rather too flat to my cost.
Our photo shoot took place separately, during the Southern Area Championships, hosted by Hamble River SC. Despite light winds the racing was close, with mini ‘races within a race’ clearly going on at different levels of the fleet.
National Squib Review: Verdict
Around £14,000 including VAT will buy a well setup new Squib that’s ready to sail with owner’s choice of deck fittings. Second-hand boats in need of TLC can be bought for less than £2,000 and £3,000 will buy a good example. At this level, there is virtually no depreciation, apart from the ongoing replacement of sails. Boats that have recently been reconditioned on a no-expensespared basis are an exception and may cost considerably more.
The Squib shows that fantastic class racing can still be enjoyed, even at prestigious events, without a huge budget being required. Keep an eye on those tan sails!