A History of the Tideway Dinghy & Owners’ Association

The first Walker 12ft clinker-built Gunter Sloop is believed to have been designed and built in 1954 by L.H. Walker Ltd., of Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. Early Walker boats were made in a number of lengths from 8ft to about 14ft and with many variations in fixtures, fittings, sails, rigs and hulls, but it was soon clear that the 12ft Sloop, clinker built in mahogany on oak with a sliding gunter rig, was undoubtedly one of the most popular.

By 1960 the complexity of variations had tended to resolve itself into three main forms of boat, depending on the extra features fitted to the basic hull; these were the ‘Popular’ (or ‘Standard’), the ‘De Luxe’ and the ‘Super’. These boats were sold as “Walker 12ft Sailing (or Fishing) dinghies” and are sometimes referred to by this name even today.

The Popular was undecked, had galvanised fittings, no stern locker, rear side benches only (usually solid), and was fitted with two separate pairs of holes for rowlocks. The De Luxe had a foredeck, but no side decks, had galvanised fittings, solid rear side benches and stern locker, but no forward side benches. The Super had fore and side decks, a stern locker, gun-metal fittings, a shelf under the foredeck, only one pair of rowlock mounts, and side benches both forward and aft, but made of wooden slats. Normally, fixed rudders were fitted to the Popular and drop rudders to the De Luxe and Super.

As a number of optional extras were offered, there were of course exceptions to these general patterns as particular features were built into a specific order, and on at least one occasion, to a customer’s instructions, the planks were glued together and clenched with copper boat nails in the traditional way.

Most early sails were of cotton, larger, fuller and of a different shape than at present, for the peak halyard was attached to a wire strop running along the gaff; this gave a sliding gunter rig which lay well out from the mast. This arrangement seems to have been changed for a track and slide on the gaff around 1962. From about 1960 all sails were of Terylene, which had gradually gained in popularity.

The first sail emblem was a large flattened ‘S’ with the small letter ‘L’ and ‘W’ at its extremities. It was variously a large ‘W’ inside a ring or disc, ‘TW’ inside a hollow ring, and appeared in some other forms. With the establishment of class status in 1964/5 it finally became ‘TW’ inside a solid disc of red or black. Several boats still carry the early emblems.

Early rudders were at one time spoon-bladed and angled back giving more weather helm. Hulls were frequently deeper than at present, often had more planks and a deeper transom. It was usual for early boats to have masts stepped through a hole in the front thwart into a box beneath, and belaying pins were not unknown. Side benches were made of solid wood, but of wooden slats in the Super to cut down on weight and materials.

Boats were built in Walker’s workshops at Leigh on Sea and at Great Wakering, some 10 miles away. Gaff jaws and some other fittings were cast to Walkers own patterns by the firm of Jays of Norwich; centerplates were made by St.Anns of Southend-on-Sea, and sails by Windward Sails. Sails are now available from a number of sailmakers who hold our drawings. Centreplates, gaff jaws, stemhead fittings and spars are available from the TOA’s official boatbuilders.

The growth in the popularity of the Walker 12′ caused many owners to express the view that it was worthy of class status, and largely on the initiative of Mr. R.E. Ferris, a meeting was held in London on 8th June, 1963, attended by thirteen owners. At this meeting, the TOA was formed, the name ‘Tideway’ adopted and a steering committee was set up. As many of the known Tideway owners as possible were contacted, dinghy registrations commenced, and in 1964, with nearly a hundred registered Tideways, the TOA affiliated with the RYA. A committee was elected at the first AGM in January 1965.

Attempts to find a sponsor club resulted in the Thames Estuary Yacht Club of Westcliff-on-Sea adopting the Tideway and organising class races, and also hosting the first Tideway Challenge Trophy Meeting, which was held there in June 1965.

The first hundred registration numbers were set aside for dinghies already in existence and were used up as applications were received. Thus numbers 1-100 represent boats built before or during 1963/64. After this, almost all boats were registered in the year in which they were built. It was decided in 1970 to issue numbers beginning with a zero prefix to accommodate older boats, not previously registered, commencing ’01’,’02’, etc. This ‘zero’ series is still being added to.

In 1979 production of Tideways ceased and the frames were later destroyed. The last few boats were sold in 1980, with sails numbered up to 370, but as the details of numbers 363-370 were not passed on to the TOA for registration at the time of sale these numbers have been held open. The total number of Tideways built is not accurately known. 370 sail numbers were allocated, plus those in the zero series. A further 28 Popular’s, 50 De Luxe and 56 Supers are known to have been sold prior to 1964 and never subsequently registered, but this may not include all the early Walker 12’s made. Thus at least 504 boats are known to have been built, by 1979 even if the zero series is not counted. In 1991 Tideway building re-commenced when a GRP version was produced by Tepco Boats of Leigh-on-Sea. At this point the existing committee commissioned Mr. Roger Bleasby to draw the lines of a Tideway so that the hull shape should be defined for future reference. The boat chosen was TW343, considered to be a good example of the class. It was intended that future boats should be built to these lines.

Tepco boats were approved by the TOA in 1993 and Tepco adopted as an approved builder. Tepco ceased trading in 1996 a succession of builders followed. In this period 8 wooden boats were built (7 traditional clinker and one glued ply).

In 2003 ‘Tideway Dinghies’ was formed and the class enjoyed a happy relationship with the builder, to the benefit of both. More than 50 GRP boats were built between 2003 and 2010.

In this period, the Committee also sought a builder of wooden boats. In 2009, the Good Wood Boat Company was appointed as the approved builder of wooden boats and Tideway Dinghies as the approved builder of GRP boats. Both companies were given three year contracts.

2010 also saw progress with the ‘TIDEWAY’ Trademark. This was acquired with the help of Tim and Chris South of Tideway Dinghies and is held on behalf of the TOA by its two Trustees

It was proposed at the first AGM to draw up complete class rules for racing. In practice the Class Rules evolved by common usage and general consent over the years, until formal rules were adopted in 1986 to enable racing certificates to be issued more easily. Generous measurement criteria allow for changes of shape through age, and design variations during the early evolution of the dinghy. Variations between the Popular, De Luxe and Super versions and between Gunter and Bermudan rigs have been found to make little practical difference in the overall racing performance of the boat, and thus a single Portsmouth Yardstick number has been acceptable (historically 1447).