3. The Birth of the Finn

For the Finnish Yachting Association (FYA), organiser of the yachting events in the 1952 Olympic Games, selecting the keelboats may have been fairly easy. Not so for the singlehander. The Firefly, from 1948, did not appeal to many Scandinavians. Neither did the German Olympia Jolle.

Actually, Scandinavia lacked a dinghy for International, or even inter-Scandinavian competition. Finland had a fleet of Snipes, Denmark heaps of Pirates, Norway some Snipes and plenty of Oslojollen. Sweden, in the middle of the others, had a few Pirates to the south and some Snipes to the east, but vastly outnumbering them were 500 sailing canoes of a special Swedish breed, found nowhere else.

When the FYA decided on a design competition for an Olympic dinghy, their prime interest may have been to find an inter-Scandinavian dinghy, which also could be used for the Olympics. Not the reverse. The FYA left all technical details to the Swedish Yachting Authority, supposed to have more knowledge about designing and sailing small boats. A committee of 5 Swedes sat down to discuss size, shape, material and safety. You want to know what sort of people they were?
Designer of the Finn Rickard Sarby

Sven Thorell - Olympic Gold in singlehander, Amsterdam 1928. Top designer of sailing and paddling canoes; Arvid Laurin - Olympic Silver in Star, Kiel 1936. Well known designer of 5 m R-yachts or bigger; SYA secretary -keen on Folkboat racing, and generally working for youth sailing; SYA measurer -Previous Star helmsman; Rickard Sarby -Either because of a few canoe designs, or the freshest taste of Olympic water (capsized a Firefly in Torquay 1948).

January 1949

On January 1st 1949, they came out with the following description (shortened):
'The Finnish Yachting Association invites entries to a design competition for a single-handed dinghy to be used at the Olympic Games in 1952, and which is also suitable as an inter-Scandinavian dinghy. The dinghy shall give high class sport for well trained helmsmen, but shall also be usable for less tiring pleasure cruising in all conditions where sailing is done within the Nordic countries.
Building methods and materials are free. It should be possible to build hulls and rigs so equal that competitors taking part in inter-Scandinavian racing need only bring their own sails.
The first Finn,
first time afloat

The following, not binding data, are set down for the design:

Hull: Round-bilged. LWL 4.5 m, Beam max. 1.5 m, floating without tanks. Sail: 10 m2 in one sail, not fully battened. Rig: Hollow mast, grooved for luff rope. Boom arranged for roll roofing and grooved for foot rope.

Designers should also provide a bundle of plans, predict a total weight, invent a name and a sail mark. Closing date for the competition, May 15th 1949.'

Designing, and building my prototype, was done early in 1949. At this time fate was a bit rough. An electric cutter snatched off a couple of digits from a finger, and I was plastered up as a real singlehander with plenty of time to kill. The plans were quickly drawn, in the usual canoe manner - full size. When the lines are finished in this manner, the building frames are almost finished simultaneously, without enlarging from scale.

One hand can build a mast, a boom and a rudder, but not a complete hull. Two of my brothers - also boat crazy - came to help. The shell was built in a sort of double diagonal strip planking, which proved to be a quick way of building. The two layers were of pine strips, 5 x 20 mm. The layers were glued to each other, glued and screwed to keel, floors, timbers etc. The prototype was launched the first week in May 1949. Total weight 150 kg.
Everything was not quite finished, but every piece was on board. The ship appeared to mirror the intentions. And the plans could be sent to Finland, if only a name and a sail mark could be found. A brain pressed for time does not work properly. What it worked out was the name 'Fin', which in Swedish adds a positive sense to practically anything. And to fit this name a black shark fin resting on a blue beam. What a mess. And how bleak. Happily, this mark was never sewn to a sail. This prototype was still sailing in 1971, still fairly shipshape. Considering the glue quality of 1949, the building method must have been a hit. Anyhow, the shell was very rigid.

We kept track of time and money for building her: Working hours: 120. Remember, we were amateurs, with limited tools. Total material cost Skr. 670: (Dinghy 390, Sail 280). Money must have fallen badly ill later!

June 1949
A jury sat down by the FYA decided: First prize in the designing competition went to a Swede, Harry Carlsson for the design 'Pricken'. Second prize to Andersson, Finland. Third prize was split between Thorell, Sweden and Rehlander, Finland. The FYA intended to build some of the best designs and try them out sailing. Later I was told that my design was put aside, because the dinghy was too small. Maybe they were polite - somebody wrote somewhere that a good boat always looks small.
One building frame for each pair of timbers
The first strip of planking is put in place
During Summer 1949 the first and second prizewinning designs were built in Finland. When the FYA got to know that my design had already been built, they invited me to take part in trial races. 'Fin' was brought to Finland in late September.

October 1949
We had a wonderful week - sailing and sunbathing in soft breezes, boiling in their steam-hot saunas - and what not. Two more dinghies entered the little fleet. Another Finnish design, by Kynzell, and the German Olympia Jolle. Kynzell was a well known designer of very big yachts.
The shell freed from the frames
A Finn in autumn 1949 in Finland
The helmsmen changed dinghies every race.The final impression was that Pricken and Fin were just about equal as to speed.Fin may have had a slight plus, because she was roomier and easier to move about in, but also a small minus - some helmsmen thought the boom too low. But there was one more impression. In the prevailing light winds, the Olympia Jolle was just as fast, or slightly faster. She set an enormous looking sail though, the boom practically sweeping the deck.
After racing, the FYA had a meeting to discuss experiences. The FYA decided to ask the designer of Pricken to redesign her on the basis of the trial experiences. They intended to build the new dinghy, and arrange new trials in the beginning of May 1950. All prizewinners - and me - were invited to take part in these trial races at their own expense.
Deck beams and coaming
Quite naturally all Olympic visions were scrapped. But in Sweden something else happened. Yachting papers, always hungry for any stuff, presented the Fin plans less the shark fin and under the name 'Fint' which in Swedish means almost the same as Fin, (or the English 'fint'), but is a little easier to say

Winter 1949-1950
The simple building method appealed to amateurs. During winter 1949-1950 twenty five Fints were built. In spite of my warning everybody that the new Olympic dinghy should be very similar.

All builders shouted for a sail mark. To teach them a lesson, I asked them to send suggestions for a sail mark; suggestions which I duplicated and returned to every builder. Everybody should vote for what he liked best. Twelve suggestions arrived, and the blue waves collected twice as many votes as the next best. Wasn't this a good idea? The present sail mark is absolutely 'right' for the Finn. The designer was a young enthusiast, - a 'finnatic' - living in the very heart of Sweden, at the big lake Siljan, where dinghy sailing was hardly heard of before.

By the way - when digging through a package of dias recently, I detected that the two mourning earthworms, too often allowed to mix with Finn insignias, edged in on one side of a sail, as early as 1951!

From left to right; Pricken II,
Pricken I, the 'Anderson' dinghy,
the 'Rehlander' dinghy
In March 1950, when asked about the trip to Finland, I plainly refused, because the new Pricken was built and put on show at an exhibition in Copenhagen as the new Olympic dinghy. Even the price was fixed. (Paul Elvstrom sent me pictures and cuttings from Danish papers). The FYA swore themselves free of the exhibition incident, blaming the builder. You know about builders - always at least one notch ahead of reality.
SYA insisted that I should go, and in the end they coaxed me over once more; with the same dinghy, but a new sail. The leach was shortened 150 mm to lift the boom, and the cut-away area moved to the roach. This small alteration provided a much better profile - more 'speed' in it. When you have plenty of time to spare, sit down and try to estimate what this alteration meant economically, in mast breakage and sail experimentation - you will stagger at the figures. And yet, with the original sail the design may not have been so interesting, i.e. popular.

Trial Races 1950
The 1950 fleet was of a different consistency compared to 1949. There were Pricken I and Pricken II, the second prizewinner. Andersson, again, but also the two designs sharing third prize, Thorell and Rehlander, and finally Fint.
The new Pricken
Missing were the Kynzell dinghy and the Olympia Jolle. Thorell, at this time well over fifty years old, was accompanied by his son-in-law Edding, to sail his dinghy. A good helmsman - we fought many battles in canoe sailing.

Weather was close to horrible: rain, cold and strong wind. The whole situation was a little peculiar. Actually I hoped that somebody else should sail Fint, at least in the first race. But there seemed to be some resistance, so I had to take her. I also sailed Fint in the third race, which was sailed on the longest course, and went out where the Olympic course should be. I like to imagine that this race was the most decisive. After starting in sheltered water, the course took us between a couple of islands to open sea. The immediate problem was to find a special sea mark in a forest of marks. A motor launch was out - watching us, not guiding us. The mark I found was not the right one, so I had to go chasing the others, a nice lead lost.

The average wind speed was 5-6 m/sec with puffs to 8. You never called 5-8 m/sec a strong wind? Well, things have changed a little. Remember, there were no self bailers and no extra buoyancy but a very spacious cockpit. And I had to stay upright. There were no wet suits, no lead shirts, no bendy mast, no cat rig technique. Lacking all this 0 m/sec is plenty of wind!

But Fint really did her best on the long dead run. (You may have seen a picture from this run in the little booklet 'Finn Fibel' by Curd Ochwadt). Most of the others were broaching hither and thither, the Andersson and Rehlander dinghies capsized, the latter was damaged and out of the series, while Fint managed to sail an absolutely straight course. At this time I had developed a kneeling-sitting stance on the ran, which looked very calm and comfortable. You know how calm you can be, in spite of today's safety and gadgetry, when wind is puffing to 8 on a dead run.

Three Finnish helmsmen sailed Fint in race 2, 4 and 5. In the 6th race Fint was sailed by Edding, while I sailed the Thorell dinghy. Very interesting. These two dinghies really matched each other. The same length beam, sail, boom slot, cockpit area and centreboard. Thorell was in 1916 the initiator of the club I belong to, and I had built and sailed canoes from his design. This may explain why our thoughts ran in the same grooves. Yet these two dinghies were very different from each other. Of the body shape, the T-dinghy was more or less a round-bilged Sharpie on a slender underwater body, which may have been 100 mm narrower than on Fint. However nicely she cut the waves, she was not one, but two handfuls to keep upright when worked to windward, and three when running. I did not use my usual downwind stance. The redesigned Pricken was not a 're', but a completely new design. In many ways looking and behaving like a negative of Pricken I.

As far as I have been able to reconstruct from notes and cuttings, the results looked like this:
On May 15th, 1950, the FYA decided to adopt Fint as an Olympic dinghy, to change the name to 'Finn', and use the blue waves for a sail mark. Later the FYA acquired uninhibited right to the design.

On October 11th, 1953, the Scandinavian YA adopted the Finn as a Nordic class and a Nordic Championship was established. Legal right to the design was transferred to the ScYA.

1 1 1 1 1 2
2 3 2 3 3 1
Pricken I
3 5 4 4 4 5
4 2 ret 2 ns 3
Pricken II
5 4 4 5 2 4
6 6 ret ns ns ns