© Vanessa Bird - First published in Classic Boat Magazine, June 2007.
While there are many British clinker-built designs that have proved extremely popular within the UK - Sea View One-Designs, Water Wags, West Wight Scows - relatively few have achieved recognition worldwide, and certainly not in the numbers that this one has.

Remarkably, though, for a boat of British origin, the International 12ft dinghy is now relatively unknown in the UK. It had a large following in its early years, with around 200 built by 1920, but now it has all but disappeared with only a handful in regular commission.

In Europe, however, the design is still very successful, with large fleets of 200+ boats in Italy and the Netherlands, as well as smaller numbers in Turkey, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Austria. There's even a fleet of 50 in Japan, where the design was first adopted in 1933.

The 12-footer's international acclaim is even more remarkable when you consider its humble roots. It was designed in 1913 by George Cockshott, an amateur boat designer from Southport, Lancashire, who won a competition organised by the Boat Racing Association (BRA). The BRA wanted a new sailing dinghy that would also serve as a yacht tender, and Cockshott's design with its single, high-peaked lugsail fitted the bill.

Although an amateur, Cockshott had already produced several designs for clubs in the area, including the Star for West Lancashire Yacht Club, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. His design for the BRA was for a 12-ft one design that had a pretty sheer, a generous sail area of 100sq ft (9.3m2), and was built of white spruce on rock elm.

Since then its hull has seen relatively few changes, although attempts were made after the First World War. Well-known designer Morgan Giles was asked by members of the class association to redraw its lines to improve its performance to windward, but the decision proved unpopular with members of the Dutch and Belgian fleets and the changes were never made.

Following its launch in 1913, the dinghy quickly gained popularity, both in the UK and abroad, and by 1920 had been granted 'international' status - the first one-design to receive such a commendation. This in turn led to it being chosen as a class for the 1920 and 1928 Olympic Games, a move which brought it to the attention of the Italians. Tito Nordio achieved sixth place in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, and his fellow compatriots were so impressed that within a few years most clubs in Italy raced the design. Five years later, it was adopted as Japan's official racing class, and remained so until 1972, when it was replaced by the 470.

Like other classes, the International 12ft suffered during the 1960s from the influx of new, modern designs, and it lost its 'international' status in 1964 as a result of waning interest. Thanks to a proactive class association, however, it has since re-established itself with the introduction of GRP hulls helping it further.

In recent years 40 new boats have been launched annually and at the end of April 35 wooden 12s were due to sail in a regatta in Naples. It's an enviable position for a design nearing its centenary.

view complete article