International Snipe racing dinghy

Ali Kirkpatrick who donated Sirius to OHBS in 2018

Sirius was built by Ali Kirkpatrick, helped by friends Jackie Rendall and Erland Stout, in the top floor of the Girnel (now Orkney Sailing Club) in Kirkwall. Built in 1954/55 she was launched in 1955 and first sailed at Holm, still the main Snipe club in Orkney.

The Girnel, prior to being bought by Orkney Sailing Club in 1972 for use as a club house, was a disused grain store with malting loft and at that time was owned by Kirkwall  merchant PC Flett.  The top floor had been cleared and used by various enthusiastic sailors to build the new designs of racing dinghies that were sweeping the racing sailing scene in Orkney in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. Several Merlin Rockets had already been built in the Girnel.

Plans for racing dinghies designed by famous designers such as Ian Proctor, Jack Holt, Uffa Fox, etc could be bought relatively cheaply and any competent amateur boat builder could build highly competitive boats.

The International Snipe was one such class, designed by William F. Crosby in 1931 for easy home building and suitable for towing behind a family car to regattas.  The original Snipes were built using boards and at 15’6” long could be built from a standard 16’ plank.  However, by the time Ali built Sirius plywood was the preferred material because the boats could be built lighter.

With only had a ‘Table of Offsets’ at his disposal (dimensions of the hull lines with respect to the three reference lines: centreline, baseline, and station 0) Ali could draw (loft) the full-size hull shape on the floor and take accurate measurements from the lofting in order to build the frames on which to build the boat.

A table of offsets

The Girnel top floor was ideal for lofting boats as it was large enough for drawing out the full-size half plan. Previous amateur builders had constructed a long straight bench along one wall suitable for making the wooden mast and boom. The only problem with building in the Girnel was getting the finished boat out. They had to be manhandled down though a large hatch in the top floor and out through the front door, itself on the first floor, over the railings outside and down onto the street all in one manoeuvre.  This difficult exit meant It wasn’t possible to build boats any larger than the Snipe

A boat under construction

Ali Kirkpatrick was a very competent and successful sailor who began winning trophies at local regattas in 1950 when, aged 13 years, he took first place in the Local Boats (yawls and small dinghies) class at the Holm Regatta with the 12 ft dinghy ‘Margaret’ in stormy conditions. In the following year, at the same regatta, he won in the Orkney type Dinghies class, being described that day by the local press as the ‘boy wonder’. He returned to Holm the following year taking the All-Comers Race, again in ‘Margaret’, beating a field of 16 boats in a stiff westerly breeze, described by the local press as a day that required the crews to demonstrate ‘daring and skilful seamanship’.

Although he stopped taking Sirius to regattas in the 1980’s, he never lost his love of sailing and if he wasn’t crewing for someone in a yacht, he would be regularly helming the Orkney Yole Association boat ‘Lily’ to regatta success across Orkney throughout most of his 70s.  He won the Yole class trophy at Kirkwall regatta in 2017 at the age of 81.

He was a keen member of OHBS and had a vast knowledge of Orkney boats of all kinds.   He was keen that Sirius should be added to the collection of leisure sailing dinghy classes popular in Orkney and kindly donated Sirius to OHBS shortly before he passed away at the end of 2018.

 Sirius is a very good example of a wooden Snipe, in good condition and is ready for display without further work.