National 12 - find out more...

The history of the National Twelve Class

In 1935 the only dinghy raced on a national basis was the expensive International 14, so to encourage dinghy sailing the RYA published the rules for a simpler and cheaper boat - the National 12. The original rules were simple:

  • Hulls must not exceed 12 feet in length
  • Hulls must not weigh less than 190 lbs (including floorboards!)
  • Hulls must be of clinker construction
  • Dinghies to carry no more than 90 square feet of sail.
  • Boats must cost less than £45 (inflation!)

These rules have been subtly modified over the years to take advantage of cheaper non-clinker construction methods and modern materials.

Early river sailing on the River Thames at Ranelagh

N1 "Gipsy" was designed by Uffa Fox and launched at Cowes in April 1936. The Twelve proved extremely popular and by the first championships in September of that year over 150 boats had been built. Gipsy has now accepted honourable retirement at Exeter Maritime Museum as a landmark in dinghy sailing history.

From 1936 to the present day the class has continued to develop. Rule changes have been made where necessary, for example, a minimum width rule was introduced in 1937, and a maximum width in 1980. Clinker construction went out in 1970 with the development of GRP hulls and 'four plank' wooden construction. 

Evolution. The all up weight of hull, riggin and foils has reduced as technology has improved

Ian Proctor started experimenting with metal masts to replace wooden spars in 1952 and terylene sails arrived in 1954. The minimum weight was reduced to 80kg in the 1980s. 

A further reduction in late 1990s and a recent reduction in 2000 brought the minimum weight down to the currently 78kg (this includes mast & centre board), reflecting the ability of even amateur builders to build lightweight hulls..

Vintage Twelves

Vintage Twelves are those with clinker built hulls. The earliest boats, from 1936 until 1952, are of traditional ribbed clinker construction. The most common designs are the Uffa King, Holt 500 series and the early Ian Proctor designs. At this time, designers (and everybody else) believed that 12 foot boats were too short to plane, so they all have deep-chested V's hulls. They are most satisfying to sail to windward, but they will only plane in strong winds.
N1 a fine example of early ribbed and clinker construction

In 1952 the first glued clinker boats were built, these were durable and easily maintained and so this method of construction became universal. In 1958 the first fully planing N12 was designed representing the most important land mark in the development of the class. The Proctor Mark VIII instantly outclassed all previous designs in open water conditions. Subsequent very successful designs were the Landamore Sparklet, Mike Jackson's March Hare and Phil Morrison's China Doll. A taste of the future was the Mr Jones hull - the first ultra-wide TWELVE. Lovely looking and fast but woe betide you if you heel this boat more than about 20 degrees - which isn't a lot!!

In 1970, the Class adopted four plank construction and several designs of this period appeared in both clinker and four-plank form, notably Phil Morrison's China Doll and Whisper hulls. In the early 1970's, glued clinker construction disappeared in favour of four-plankers and here our Vintage era sadly ends.

Proctor Mk6 sailing on the river at Trent Valley, Nottingham

Anyone buying a vintage boat should be aware that although most designs have been produced with the ultimate aim of winning the Burton Cup, some have been specialised for other purposes or have by accident produced boats which are particularly suitable for certain weather conditions or types of water. The Proctor IX was an outstanding light weather hull (but hairy in a blow). The Proctor IVa and the Mike Nokes Starfish were outstanding river boats.

Also, you cannot expect a Vintage twelve to be competitive with modern boats in planing conditions. Vintage boats are however surprisingly competitive on smooth water and in lighter winds especially if they are in good condition and down to weight.

Burton week. Massive fleets at the early National 12 championships

The TWELVE Association encourages the restoration and use of Vintage boats by arranging special events for them. There is a well established Vintage Section which looks after the interests of Vintage boat owners.

Help us make sailing more varied and more visually attractive by putting your clinker boat on the water. Read more about the vintage designs in the designs section.

Find out more

Join the association and receive;

The class handbook detailing the fantastic class history

The N12 magazines

plus Support the Association to;

 organise events &

promote the Class.

Read about the history of your 12 on the Boat database