Flying Fifteen Legend and boat builder Roy Windebank has sailed away for the last time….
Roy Windebank (March 26th, 1933 – September 26th, 2014)
What a character! Knowledgeable, humorous, laid back, frustrating, modest and generous are just some of the words to describe this captivating man who made and left positive impressions on the people he met, most of whom will have their own Roy “story”. I believe some of the stories that have been shared with me are the best way for us to remember him…
Roy was bought up in the Gosport area of Portsmouth and was a keen sailor from an early age. As a young man he mainly raced International 14’s and Albacore’s and even in those days he questioned the boats designs and made his own improvements including the re-cutting of a brand new International 14 before it had even been launched! He won the Albacore nationals in 1956 and 1957 and was placed 4th in the International 14 Prince of Wales Cup in 1958 which was at a time when all the top sailors of the day were racing 14’s.
Roy spent much of his working life at Portsmouth dockyard repairing a variety of ships including minesweepers. However, his career took on a very different turn as he became involved in racing Flying Fifteens. In 1974 Roy’s long standing International 14 crew John Mitchell bought ‘FFrantic’, Flying Fifteen 218 (a Tormentor Mark I) for he and Roy to race. Roy then put the boat in a shed, removed the deck and cut the hull apart in two places much to the surprise and annoyance of John! However, Roy rebuilt ‘FFrantic’ with a beautiful wooden deck and one of the first angled rudder stocks, and she became by far the fastest boat in the HISC fleet – even when Roy lent her to other people.
Roy produced his first fibreglass Flying Fifteen (by modifying a Souter hull), ‘Invicta’ FF1700, for Bernard Fisher in about 1975. “Can’t you SEE”, Bernard was apt to say, in a rather poor mimic of Roy, “we’ll add 2 mil there, and just round it a little there, and can’t you SEE the difference that will make?”, well, no, you couldn’t, but it clearly did as Bernard won the first 6 races in a row!
‘Invicta’ was the plug boat from which Roy then made the mould for the successful Mark 1 Windebank’s. The first of these was ‘Summer Wine’ – FF1824 built for Gerry and Julia King. Roy and Gerry were old mates and had worked together in the Naval dockyards. Soon, Roy developed the Mark 2 and along came ‘Tearaway’ FF 2305 built for Mike Cave, in which Mike & Judy won every club trophy at HISC in 1980. About the same time, Roy built 2308 from the same mould for Donald Prideaux. Mike’s boat flew downwind, but was slow upwind, whilst Donald’s flew upwind, but was slow downwind. This had Roy puzzled until he measured both and discovered the keel position varied.
Anyone buying a boat from Roy had their own frustrating but amusing story. He was known to phone his favourite customers out of the blue and say “I’m starting on your new boat next week, what colour would you like the waterline?” When turning up at Hayling Island to collect their new dream machine it was quite usual that the deck would still be in the mould, or the keel would still need painting. A day or two later after many a “cup of tea?” and “someone I want you to meet” the owner would eventually drive home with their new boat having helped to build it!
When advising the owner on fitting out, Roy never appeared to measure anything, he just walked round a boat with a marker pen at various points for shrouds, cleats, sheets etc saying laconically, “That’ll be alright.”
Later Roy moved into the Porters’ shed in Emsworth, where they built Wayfarers. He was unable to resist studying the Wayfarer rules & drawings & helped Ian Porter build a Wayfarer called Scavenger, which became by far the fastest in the fleet.
Roy’s faithful companion was his equally laid back Labrador Lindy-Lou who lived in a basket in the corner of his shed and was often seen at HISC tied to a broom handle propped against the club wall with a bowl of water while Roy went off racing his Fifteen.
Roy “understood” boat design and boat speed. He used to try and explain it by saying “Don’t think of the hull shape (or sail shape), visualise how the water (or air) flows round the hull/sail”, and (something I always found surprising in one to whom things made natural/poetic sense) he knew all the theory and maths as well, and was quite prepared to explain things in mathematical terms!
What the Flying Fifteen class owes Roy is beyond computation. At its barest, he refined something probably rather old fashioned into the sleek and enduring boat it became. Some people thought he was “fiddling with the tolerances” for his own amusement but those of us who know how Roy worked knew it was for the interest of the class. He did get a lot of pleasure from trying to make the Flying Fifteen ever better (and why not), and just ask yourself if he hadn’t done it, where would the Flying Fifteen be today?
Those of us who were lucky enough to have sailed with Roy learned how to “feel” the boat as that is how Roy sailed. He was often described as one of the greatest natural sailors. He won countless Flying Fifteen races and could/should have won the FF Worlds in 1980 (He gave his own new Mark 3 boat to the winning team from New Zealand and by the time he had finished building another Mark 2 boat for himself he missed the first race and still managed 4th overall).
Even after he retired, Roy couldn’t stop thinking about development. He told Mike Cave to buy a new Ovington boat, without a deck, so that Roy could cut it open from keel to rudder stock, add a bit and, in Roy’s regular catchphrase, “That’ll be alright.”
Roy – we all hope that you, too, are now alright.
(I’d like to say a kind thank you to special friends of Roy especially Mike Cave and Sara Flower for their wonderful contribution to this obituary).