In the late 1930’s the then Commodore of Looe Sailing Club, Wilfred Neale, approached the well-known designer Uffa Fox with a commission for a sailing dinghy that would be both reasonably cheap to build and seaworthy enough to cope with the rough and tumble of seas off the South Cornwall coast. What Uffa came up with was a fourteen foot long (4.27m) boat of clinker construction, well-stayed rig and with a heavy iron centreplate to provide stability. However, appearances can be deceptive since the “Looe Redwing” as the new boat was called, had a firm turn of bilge, buoyant sections and a flat run that gave her the ability to keep a sea and also plane off wind.
Mr Neale had six boats built at his own expense, in 1939, five of which he gave to members of Looe Sailing Club who otherwise couldn’t afford a boat of their own but wanted to sail, and number 1 he kept for himself.
After the Second World War interest returned to sailing and more boats were built to the Redwing design. The building and class rules were closely monitored by the Class Captain Mr Neale to ensure that each new dinghy was alike – a “one-design”. The Redwing’s popularity grew and spread throughout the West of England, so much so, that in 1947 it was adopted as the principal local one-design racing class and became known as the “West of England Conference Redwing”. 1947 was also the year in which the first Redwing Championship race was held.
By the 1950’s the Redwing’s reputation as a good sea boat had spread and fleets became established all over the West country and Pembrokeshire in West Wales. In 1954 jurisdiction for the class was handed over to the Yacht Racing Association (Now the Royal Yachting Association) and the Redwing became a “National” class.
Over the years there have been a few, mostly minor and sympathetic changes to the rules governing the class. These have generally been to encompass the developments in sailing rigs i.e. the adoption of aluminium alloy spars and synthetic sails. However the hull remains unchanged and new boats are still built exactly as the original plans. Of these changes the most major came in 1966 when it was decided to allow the use of a wooden centreboard in place of the original iron centreplate. This caused a furore at the time but now it is an accepted feature of the boat. Naturally the Redwing became a lot less stable without the benefit of the ballasting effect of 125 pounds of iron and hence a trapeze was tried and adopted in the 1970’s.
Around this time was the low point of the class with competition from dozens of other classes of more modern construction methods. However the enthusiasm of people who have fallen in love with the Redwing as a boat, coupled with the durability of the clinker construction, meaning that 30 and 40 year old boats can still win races, has won through. Since 1988 there has been a resurgence in new Redwings being built both in Cornwall and also North America. Redwing Number 1 now approaching 80 years old is still regularly racing near her birthplace in Cornwall.