Over 14 months ago Dr. John Mills of Marion, MA, generously donated his beloved 1949 International Fourteen Foot Dinghy Ariel to the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston. Unfortunately, due to the closure of the US/Canadian border during the COVID-19 pandemic, we were unable to travel to the US to pick up the boat. However, with the reopening of the border to non-discretionary travel on October 8th, Za and I (Board Member Rob Mazza and his wife Za) immediately made plans to drive to Massachusetts, and we were able to deliver Ariel to the Marine Museum on a snowy December 9th morning.
John was Ariel’s original and only owner, and raced her very competitively out of the Royal St. Lawrence Yacht Club in his native Montreal. John tells us that Ariel was named after the famous Tea Clipper of the same name. During his time at RSLYC, he won the 14’ Dinghy Championship four times and often took Ariel to Regattas in the US where he twice won the Connecticut Cup in Essex, CT. It was during these trips that he developed a liking for the US Northeast, and in 1960, after graduating in Medicine from McGill, took a position with Massachusetts General Hospital, taking Ariel with him. He remained with Mass. General for his entire career in medicine. It was there he met his wife Nancy and together theyraised three fine sons and now have many grandchildren. However, when he arrived in Massachusetts, John found that there was little Int’l 14 sailing, and the demands of a medical career and raising a family meant that Ariel remained in the garage, well loved and well maintained, for over 60 years. Not to say that John gave up sailing. He owned and raced a Peterson 34 out of the Beverley Yacht Club while the sons were growing up. It was over the last two years, during COVID isolation, that John refinished Ariel by hand, inside and out. She shines like a brand-new boat.
Ariel is a very significant boat in the history of the International Fourteen Foot Dinghy and in Canadian sailing generally. The Int’l 14 is a “development class”. That is, there are few design and construction restrictions. As long as the boats were completely open, were no longer than 14’-0” in length and 5’-6” in beam, and didn’t weigh less than 225 lbs. and had no more than 125 sq.ft of sail area, any design or construction innovation was allowed. Because of that, the International 14 pioneered almost all advancements in small boat sailing over the last 100 years, including planning hulls, hiking straps, the boom vang, gybing centerboards, light weight construction, the trapeze, asymmetrical spinnakers, etc. The “rules” defining a Fourteen evolved over time so that a modern International Fourteen bears little resemblance to their classic and vintage ancestors. Ariel is unusual among boats of her vintage in still having her original wooden mast and cotton sails!
Ariel was designed by noted Canadian dinghy designer Charlie Bourke of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, and built by Greavette Boats in Gravenhurst, ON. Greavette is better known now as builders of classic mahogany Muskoka launches of the 1920s and 30s, but in the late 1940s, after the Second World War, they ventured in the expanding market of competitive small boat sailing and built a series of 12’ and 14’ dinghies. Ariel was the last of about 20 Int’l 14s that Greavette built to this 1948 Charlie Bourke design. Even at that time, hot and cold molded plywood 14s were being built in the US, Britain and in Canada, so that the lightweight ribbed construction methods employed by Greavette in building Ariel were rapidly becoming obsolete. The Marine Museum is fortunate to have also recently received a 1965 W.A. Sutter built Kirby III Int’l 14 from Steve Sewell named Windborne. Windborne, also originally from RSLYC, was built in the cold molded plywood fashion, dramatically illustrating the differences in the methods of construction.
The drive back to Canada with Ariel in tow behind our Subaru Outback was largely uneventful until we approached the Canadian border at the Thousand Islands. It seems that snow had been falling all day, and while we were occupied dealing with Canadian Customs with regard to importing the boat on behalf of the Marine Museum, it started to snow even more heavily. By the time we cleared customs at about 5:30 it was very dark and still snowing, prompting us to abandon the heavy truck traffic on the 401 in favour of a nearby Holiday Inn in Gananoque, with the delivery of Ariel to the Marine Museum waiting until next morning.
We are pleased to have a boat of Ariel’s significance at the Marine Museum. She represents an evolutionary step in small boat design and construction that was only eclipsed by molded plywood that is so well illustrated in Windborne. We are particularly pleased to have two 14’ dinghies that represent the best design work of the top two 14’ dinghy designers of the 20th Century, Charlie Bourke and the late Bruce Kirby. In fact, Bruce Kirby and John Mills used to race against each other when Kirby was still in Ottawa, and remained lifelong friends, especially when Kirby too relocated to Long Island Sound. One of the highlights on the drive home with Ariel in tow was dropping in to see Margo Kirby in Connecticut.
It is interesting that Bourke’s and Kirby’s design careers did not in fact overlap, with Bourke’s last 14 design being built in 1958 while Kirby’s first design came out in 1959. But Kirby designs would soon quickly dominate the race course, with Bourke designed 14s becoming treasured examples of a past generation of boats. In fact, both Ariel and Windborne exist today because their owners cherished them as the finest examples of the art of design and building in their day. And that is what the purpose of a museum should also be, to reflect what was cherished in a moment of time. Both Windborne and Ariel were certainly well cherished by their owners.